Sunday, March 16, 2014

Tour of Athens

Since our house is less than an hour from the center of Athens by public transportation, we will be taking many trips to Athens, so I am likely to be doing multiple posts on the city.  We have already travelled to Athens twice and feel that it would take months in the city to explore all of its wonders. It has archaeological sites and artifacts dating back to the Neolithic, about 6800 BC. It has extensive structures that date from the 8th and 9th century BC through the modern era.

Our first trip into Athens we took the bus from Rafina to Athens until it stopped.  We did not really know where it would end. As it turned out, it stopped about 2 km north of the city center and the Acropolis. Using our handy-dandy iPhones, we mapped our way to the Acropolis and took off for a walk. We had decided not to bring a stroller for the kids, because we have found the sidewalks in Greece to be variable. This meant that we soon had two kids riding on our shoulders. About half way along the walk, we decided to stop for a morning café. The place we chose was outside of a nice large building that obviously looked important.  After asking our waiter, we found out that we had landed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, which was one of the sites that we wanted to see. You might think that we should have been able to figure this out from the maps, but most of the maps (including the iPhone map and Google Maps were mostly in Greek and we are still figuring out the alphabet). The museum was amazing, but the kids where not so psyched about walking through room after room of artifacts that they were not allowed to touch, so I took them outside to play with the pigeons so that Karla could enjoy the museum in some peace.

From there, we walked the city streets towards the Acropolis which you could see on the hill through the city buildings. We passed many nice shopping streets and many old churches. The number of ancient buildings in Athens is amazing and the way that they are integrated into the modern city landscape is interesting. L2 was getting very tired and actually fell asleep with me carrying him, so we stopped on a stone wall north of the Byzantine Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea on Ermou Street.  This is one of the oldest churches in Athens and was built in the 11th century. It is surrounded by modern architecture and lots of shops which makes an interesting dichotomy with the church.

We passed through the Monastraki area (which has a handy metro station which we started to use as our access point after that). This square has an old Pantanassa church monastery from the 10th century in it (for which the square is named). This area is the junction of many small city streets with cafés along the alleyways and a flea market off of one side. It is also very close to Hadrian’s Library and the access to the Ancient Agora.

The Ancient Agora was the central public space of ancient Athens and is thought to have been built in the 6th century BC. It is located at the base of the Acropolis with great views up to the Parthenon and the temple Erechtheion which was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon.

Many sculptures are housed in the Stoa of Attalos in the Agora which was originally built in the 2nd century BC. This original building was also destroyed by the Heruli (an East Germanic Tribe) in 267AD when they sacked Athens and was reconstructed between 1952 and 1956.
There are many street artists throughout the city. They produce all types of art from drawings of you that they will do while you wait to Byzantine icons that are printed on paper made by the artist and aged and illustrated.

There is a small scale tourist train that goes around the acropolis in about one hour and leaves form Constitution square.  I think we will take this at some point in the future as L1 would really enjoy the train ride and it is an easy way to get around to see the sites.

The old royal palace was built by King Otto of Greece in 1843 and today houses the Hellenic parliament. It faces Syntagma Square which has another very handy bus stop. The building has a ceremonial guard which has a very elaborate changing of the guard ceremony.

We finally found our way through the winding alleys to a road that went up to the Acropolis and passed by the Roman Agora. Construction of the Roman Agora started in 15BC.

The Parthenon is an amazing building that was originally built in the 5th century BC. The Ottoman Empire used the building as an ammunition dump and the building was partly destroyed when these munitions where ignited by Venetian bombardment in September 1687. In 1975 the Greek government started a concerted effort to restore the Parthenon. That work continues today using marble from the original quarry which stands out as a bright white, but will weather to a similar tan color as the aged stones. Previous restoration work had used iron bars to support some of the structure, but the resulting oxidation and rusting caused the iron to expand which has actually caused more damage to the original stone. Any modern reinforcement is made of titanium.

From the top of the Acropolis, you can look down in to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus which was completed in 161 AD. It was originally a covered structure, but the building and roof were destroyed by the Heruli in 267AD. It was renovated in 1950 to seat 5,000 people and is used today as an outdoor theater for concerts and plays.

I have been impressed with the graffiti throughout Greece and other locations in Europe. I had always thought of graffiti as a US art form, but it is interesting to see the ancient structures in Europe next to these modern graffiti paintings. I was also impressed that much of the original archaeological work throughout Athens was instigated by the expansion of the metro system. The excavations for the metro unearthed many archaeological sites and created an interesting landscape that is a combination of ancient structures, more modern buildings, modern metro rails, and recent graffiti in bright colors. 

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