Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Beyond the Sights - The National Archeological Museum and The New Acropolis Museum

June 3rd, 2014

Our second full day of sightseeing was dedicated to museums. Our strategy for today was to take a taxi to the National Archeological Museum, arriving as it first opened to avoid the crowds. This worked out really well, as we had the place practically to ourselves.


I think that the first thing that struck us was just how long ago man had occupied this area of Greece. As far back as 2,300 BC, in the Early Cycladic Period, people were living in this area and fashioning art objects, like these figurines or vases or painted pottery pieces.


As early as 3.200 – 2,800 BC, people were using black Obsidian knives to carve beautiful marble vases.


This is a burial mask once thought to belong to King Agamemnon (c. 1200 BC), but later found to predate him by several hundred years.


In the center of this first picture is the gold burial plating for an infant. on the right, is a very detailed gold ornament.


The sheer amount of gold leaf on display at this museum and the detailed construction of the pieces left us very impressed…..

Along with gold ornamentation, there were many examples of bronze weaponry…..


As well as bronze pots and cooking utensils.


I think what we most enjoyed about our tour of the Archeological Museum was following along with Rick Steves Audio tour and learning all about the evolution of artistic expression.


There were many examples of Kore (clothed women) or Kouros (naked men) which are life sized statues in the Egyptian form, with stiff, bodies and blank, or serene, facial features. This statue is c. 650 BC.


As the art forms evolved, people were depicted as much more proportional, and life-like, and often in motion.


C 460 BC, this bronze statue of Zeus or Poseidon (they are not sure which, because the staff he held is gone) is symmetrical, proportional, and shown with dynamic tension.


The facial features are serious (not serene) and expresses noble strength and heroism. Greece was entering her Golden age, having emerged victorious over Persia, and the art reflected that pride.


This is a small scale (1/12th) replica of the 40 foot statue of Athena that stood in the Parthenon (c. 438 BC) Athena was said to love snakes, which shed their skin, signifying renewal. The small statuette of Nike which is held in her hand would have originally been 6 foot tall.


There were many of these carved marble tombstones on display. They represent Greek Golden Age Art……


With a mastery of the body to convey emotion.

And finally, this bronze statue of a young boy (he is a jockey riding a horse) c 140 BC. A good example of Hellenistic art, the boy has the features of a non-Greek (perhaps Ethiopian) and shows unbridled emotion.


This evolution of artistic style, something that we had never been exposed to, was a real learning experience.

From the Archeological Museum, we took the metro back to the area of our hotel and walked over to the New Acropolis Museum. This museum was opened in 2009 and was built to show case the treasures of the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Though it had far fewer exhibits than the Archeological Museum, it was impressive and well done.

Unfortunately, picture taking was prohibited, so we don’t have pics to post. However, I pulled these pictures off the Internet to give you an idea.

cantileverd top

The building is modern and the top floor is set at an angle to parallel the Parthenon.


As you first walk in, you are greeted by a display of statues that are either original, or replicas of those taken from the  Acropolis.


This display is of the Caryatids (the women from the porch of the Erechtheion). These are four of the original statues, the fifth and sixth figures are on display in other museums.

The crowning glory of the Acropolis Museum is the top floor dedicated to the Parthenon Marbles.


This floor is set up to duplicate the size and layout of the Parthenon. You stroll around the outer edge, with the carved marble panels of the Parthenon frieze depicting the Panathenaic Parade- horses, oxen, dancing girls, and all – encircling the perimeter.


The marble reliefs are displayed in their entirety, with signs telling you which are original, and which are replicas of those that Sir Elgin took with him to the British Museum. This is a bit of a sore subject for Athens, as they now have a place to display the missing marbles and REALLY want them back.


This display put the final touch to our experience of the Acropolis and the Parthenon.

They say that you need a couple of days to see Athens….and then get out! This seemed about right. Athens is a big city, after all. We were glad to have had two full days to sightsee, but felt as though we saw what we had come to see.

The next day, we would have a bit more time to look around, then we would be boarding our cruise ship for a 9 day cruise of the Greek isles and Turkey.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Zeus

June 2nd, 2014

After touring the Agora, we happened upon a lovely little square with outdoor dining, just in time for a much needed lunch stop! We ordered the Gyros, and were surprised that they were served on a plate, not in a pocket pita.But they were delicious! and, after a hearty lunch, we were on our way.

We were touring Athens on our own (with the help of Rick Steves travel guide and audio tours) and on our feet. We walked down a number of shopping streets, but we were headed back in the direction of our hotel, and the Temple of Zeus. At the end of the street, just in front of the Temple of Zeus, was Hadrian’s Arch.


This Arch was built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD. Hadrian wanted to properly mark the end of the ‘Greek’ section of town, and announce the start of this ‘new’ Roman subdivision. It was kind of neat, but not overly impressive, but it does give insight into the tensions that come with conquering and occupying a nation.

The Temple of Zeus, just behind the Arch, is currently  surrounded by a grassy, park-like area, that, though hot and sunny, provided a nice setting to enjoy sitting and soaking up the sense of ‘antiquity’ while resting a bit.


The building of the Temple of Zeus was started in the 6th century BC, but was not completed until Hadrian took over 7 centuries later.


15 of the original 104 Corinthian columns still stand, leaving the reconstruction of the Temple to our imaginations.


I think that I was most impressed by the sheer size of these columns…….


And the decorative details……


Note – This is a ‘Corinthian’ style capital (or top for the column) with the leafy decorations. The workmanship that went into these buildings is just amazing!


This fallen column shows the discs or ‘drums’ that make up the column. The construction of all of the columns in all of the ruins that we have seen is almost too much to comprehend!

Our touring had taken us back to The Athens Gate Hotel, which was just across the street from the Temple of Zeus.


We stopped for a much needed rest and ‘cool down’ before we headed out again.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mars Hill and The Agora

June 2nd, 2014
At the foot of the Acropolis, was a rock out-cropping, known as Mars Hill (after Mars, a god in Greek Mythology). Pretty nondescript, but known as the place where the Apostle Paul once preached.
After Rome conquered Athens in 86 BC, Mars Hill was used by the Athenians for matters of minor governance. In the first century AD, Paul seized this platform to speak to the citizens of Athens against their worship of false Gods. The Athenians were not very receptive, however, and Paul only won a handful of converts, before moving on to Corinth, where he was better received.
We are not Bible scholars, but this was fascinating to us…..
So we climbed the steps up to the top of the hill, being very careful of our step on the very slippery stone which had been worn smooth by time.
As we stood where Paul once stood, we could feel the presence of this great man…….

Next up, the Agora (or gathering place) – the real heart of ancient Athens. For 800 years, from its founding in the 6th century BC to it destruction by barbarians in 267 AD. the Agora was the center for socializing, commerce, even politics and minor sporting events.
We kept trying to put ourselves in the frame of reference of ancient Greece, picturing the people and the city of Athens as it was in its Golden age. It was here, at the Agora, the center of everyday life, that we could really get a 'feel' for ancient Athens.


This is the great Panathenic Way, the wide road through the Agora that leads up to the Acropolis. It is quiet now, but this would have been a bustling thoroughfare. Ancient Athens probably had a population of 100,000, and this was the main intersection in town.
Anyone and everyone spent time here. It was here that the philosopher Socrates, and his student Plato wandered about, talking with and learning about people. (I don't know about you, but this just gives me 'chills').  And here that the Apostle Paul probably had his greatest influence. 

The Agora developed over time from an open air marketplace, to a kind of shopping mall, with stores and offices. These ruins are what is left of the columns and supports that would have been where a Stoa, or enclosed shopping center, would have stood. This is where one might come to buy groceries, clothes, household goods or any of a number of other items.
The Agora was also the center for politics. The broken column in the center of these ruins marks the Tholos. The Tholos was a rotunda shaped building with a conical roof, which held Athens city council, or ministers, who ran the day to day affairs of Athens. The Tholos housed the headquarters, offices and meeting hall for the ministers.  Many of the 50 ministers lived here, as well, as the law required that a third of the ministers be on the premises at all times.
Athens originated the first model of Democracy. It was a new idea at the time that issues that concerned the people should be voted on by the people. Thus, people were allowed a platform to speak, and voting took place on everything from electing leaders to setting the price of commodities. When a leader became too powerful in the peoples opinion, a vote was held by writing that person’s name on a broken shard of pottery – an ostrakon- and when that person garnered enough votes, he was banished, or ‘ostracized’.  I just find it amazing how much of our culture we owe to the Athenians.
The Agora was also a center for minor religious observances. One might stop by a temple to make an offering to the gods.This Temple of Hephaistos is one of the best preserved and most typical of the temples of its time. Built in 450 BC, it is similar in design to the Parthenon, only much smaller and less elaborate.
Like the Parthenon, this temple was decorated with marble friezes along its perimeter.
These marbles are more intact, and depict different stories and myths.
The Stoa of Attolos, is a good example of the kind of ‘shopping malls’ that dominated the Agora.
Originally built in the 2nd century BC, this Stoa was reconstructed in the 1950’s. It is a typical 2 story Stoa constructed of Pentelic marble, with porticos and Doric and Ionic columns. The covered walkways of the Stoas provided protection from sun and rain for the shoppers and business people.
This Stoa has been turned into a museum. There were so many amazing artifacts that I could not possibly post pictures of them all!
This marble carving was part of a monument base, celebrating a victory at the 4th century BC Panathenaic Games.
This is a bronze shield dating back to  425 BC.
Also on the grounds of the Agora is this little church, The Church of the Holy Apostles. It was built around 1,000 AD to commemorate St. Paul's teachings in the Agora.
It has a typical Greek- cross floor plan with 4 equal arms topped by a dome. IMG_4556IMG_4561
This church contains a number of interesting Byzantine style frescos…..though faded, they are still very moving.
From the Agora, we walked on through the streets of Athens……..