The Rambling Writer Explores More Greek Islands, Part 3: Around the Athens Acropolis

Before Thor and I take you with us to some fabulous Aegean islands, we’ll take a quick tour around and atop the Acropolis–sites too beautiful and historically important to skip!

NOTE: Since our trip last fall to Greece to research more settings for my novel-in-progress, THE ARIADNE DISCONNECT, Thor and I knew we had to return to this magical region. My first post in this new blog series posted here on Saturday, 10/20/2018. It gives an overview of our rambles from Athens to seven islands in the Dodecanese and Cyclades groups, ending our ferry-hopping pilgrimage on the anciently sacred island of Delos.

Our very windy ramble around Athens took us from Syntagma Square (see last Saturday’s blog post) and past the National Garden. We were disappointed that it was closed due to the dangerous winds breaking branches, and we realized later that this was merely the buildup to Cyclone Zorba, which would hit Athens in a couple days and cause a lot of damage to ports there and in the Cycladic Islands. Meanwhile, we held onto our hats and kept our sunglasses in place amid swirling dust. Past the garden, we visited the imposing Temple of Olympian Zeus (top photo, with the Acropolis and Parthenon in the background).

The massively impressive temple was begun in the 4th century B.C. on the site of an earlier archaic temple to Zeus, ruler of the Olympian deities. After starts and stops, it was finally finished in the Corinthian style, which features elaborately carved capitals atop the columns. The Roman emperor Hadrian completed it in 132 B.C. as part of his work to beautiful the city and expand it under his rule. It was one of the largest temples of the ancient world, 110 meters by 44 meters. Alongside a huge gold-and-ivory statue of Zeus inside, Hadrian installed a statue of himself, as he considered himself divine and to be worshipped alongside the Olympian god. Watch that hubris….

With the usual vicissitudes of invaders, earthquakes, and storms over the centuries, much of the original temple fell into decay. Of the original 104 columns, only 16 survived until 1852, when a really fierce storm toppled one of them. It’s still lying on the ground, displaying the pieces like fallen dominoes.

The large sanctuary site also held Roman houses and baths, with remnants still scattered over the ground, including this lovely relief carving:

At the edge of the sanctuary, Hadrian also build a large triumphal arch to mark the boundary of the old Greek city and his newly developed Roman district. The arch combined a lower Roman style with an upper structure based on Greek architecture. On the Greek side, he inscribed “This is Athens the ancient city of Theseus.”

And on the Roman side, he inscribed “This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus.”

So, sticking to the ancient Greek side, we headed toward the Acropolis:

Along the base of the natural cliff, we glimpsed this tiny Byzantine-style chapel among the piles of carved marble fragments:

Entering the Acropolis site, we more or less followed the ancient Panathenaic Way along the base of the towering cliff and fortified walls, past the Stoa of Eumenes with its long colonnade of arches.

Climbing higher, we could look down on the Odeion of Herodes Atticus, built around 170 A.D., which originally was roofed and the site of dramatic performances. Now restored as an open-air theater with its wonderful acoustics, it houses productions of ancient plays. (Because of the high winds, the seat cushions had been stored in the black bags on the marble seats.)

Continuing along the Way, we could see above us on the Acropolis the small Temple of Athena Nike, built between 427-424 B.C.

Here is a pamphlet drawing I unearthed among my boxes, a relic of my first trip to Greece in 1982, which shows a reconstruction of the Acropolis temples during the Classic period:

At lower right of the drawing, the Way climbs past a small gate and the Athena Nike temple to the massive Propylaia gateway:

Just past it, the ancient pilgrim would have admired a colossal bronze statue of Athena, patron goddess who named the city of Athens. She had won naming rights via a contest with the god Poseidon, when her gift of the olive tree outshone his gift of a saltwater spring. The statue was probably forged in a foundry at the base of the Acropolis, and according to tradition, the top of her helmet and tip of her upraised spear could be seen by ships approaching the port.

Past the statue’s base, we admired the Erechtheion, with its beautiful columns in the shape of graceful women, the Caryatids.

And finally, of course, the destination of the ancient pilgrims, the Parthenon. This temple epitomized the classic proportions of beautiful architecture and housed another famous statue of Athena. It has suffered terrible damage from time and warfare, but ongoing restoration efforts hope to keep it more or less intact. When I first visited in 1982, there was scaffolding across the outside, and now cranes and scaffolds continue the work from the interior. Despite everything, it is still a breathtaking presence.

Many of the carvings of the friezes and pediments along the top of the temple have been lost, and many were taken by Lord Elgin to London when he feared the Turkish invaders would destroy them. The Greeks have petitioned for their return, so far to no avail. (For more photos and history from my previous blog series last year, see

https://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2017/10/07/the-rambling-writer-returns-to-greece-part-2-ancient-athens/

A beautiful fragment of the original pediment carving of the Olympian gods remains, with the chariot of the sun rising from the sea, and the god Dionysos lounging:

Heading back downhill and around the fortified walls of the Acropolis, Thor and I stopped at the site of the ancient Aesculapeion and sacred spring, one of the many healing centers in the ancient world that honored the god Asklepios. I’m particularly interested in these healing centers, as they figure in my novel-in-progress, and later we’ll see an extensive site on the island of Kos.

Farther along the south slope of the Acropolis, we visited the sanctuary of Dionysos (god of theater as well as wine and ecstatic ritual), with the original theater that housed the productions of the Dionysian Festival. The works of many famous dramatists, including Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, competed for honors here.

The backdrop of the stage retains its carved figures, with a central large figure of a crouching Silenus, the  drunken companion of Dionysos who often figured in comedies.

Above the theater, along the buttressed fortress walls, are two remaining choregic columns commemorating winners of the dramatic festival. Below it, in the largest of the outcrop’s natural caves, is the marble entrance to what was a temple, later adapted by the Byzantines to a Christian chapel.

This base for an altar to Dionysos features the carved mask of a silenus or a satyr, another wild companion of the god.

Thor enjoyed this very hairy Silenus who clearly felt no need to “manscape.”

Surrounded by these spirited creations, a legacy of beauty and celebration that has endured for thousands of years, we raise a glass and dance to Dionysos: “Chairete!” Rejoice!

Next week: Off to the rugged island of Karpathos and some new friends!

*****

You will find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from Book View Cafe is available in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection.  It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?”  The novel has received the Chanticleer Global Thriller Grand Prize and the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Sara has recently returned from another research trip in Greece and is back at work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect. Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter at www.sarastamey.com

 

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