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Michael’s Travel Diary

Friday, 14 Apr 2006

Location: Athens, Greece

MapEntry 22A - Recap of Athens

Well, the more I thought about it, the more I was certain that I brushed over Athens WAY too quickly, given that I actually liked the place as much as I did. Probably mostly due to the internet at the hostel being the most expensive I've come across so far, the most crowded, and the most unforgiving. As soon as your
time is up, it cuts out, and if I'm in the middle of an entry - goodbye, all gone. So, I've started this one on the PDA, whilst sitting in a souva joint in Olympia! I still can't go straight to the webpage from the pda, but I can email myself, then cut and paste once in a cafe from hotmail to planetranger. Besides the numerous photos still to be uploaded and my adventure to Olympia, I will first detail the sites that I visited in Athens just a little more, with some in dot point to save a bit of time.

Athens first Full day (9th)
*Caught train from Akropoli Metro a couple of stops up the line to Omonia. €0.80 gets you 1.5 hours anywheer in Athens Metro system, on any transport (Train, bus, trolley bus)

*Omonia Square was full of people trying to sell anything they can, including plastic babies and steak knives- go figure! It wasn't a market, just a mass of people setting up a table on street corners to sell stuff.

*About 5 minute walk to the museum with the Russian/Canadian kid leading the way (from the basketball game). Given he'd been in Athens for almost a month, it seemed the logical decision.

*Sunday's were supposed to be free. Well, we just happened to be there on the first Sunday in over six months that wasn't free. All Sundays are free from October 1st, thru to March 31st, and then the first Sunday of every month. We were there April 9, second Sunday of the month, and first to pay since September! Got in for €3 though, the student price, so can't complain too much.

*A lot of the artifacts were taken from the area around Athens, particularly the Acropolis. But they didn't have a few examples of each, they had dozens. Dozens of almost identical naked men marble statues and draped women. It got a bit tedious after a while.

*Okay, enough of the bloody pottery, I get the idea. There was a stage when they used lots of pottery, and every museum in the world seems to have some on display. I don't need to see another broken vase/plate/jug/jar/cup that has been re-assembled and glued together ever again.

*Favorite part of the museum had to be the bronze statues. Probably because there were a lot less of them and they were more individual. The statue of Poseidon (Zeus) was very impressive, even if there is debate over who it is - the trident (or thunderbolt) has been removed from the statues hand, giving the identity crisis. The statue of the 'jockey boy' on the horse from Artemision is also impressive.

*The large fresco wall paintings in the city of Attriki on the island Thera (Santorini) were also really impressive, mainly due to their state of preservation. The whole city was covered in ash years ago, and was finally in excavations. The city was left exactly the way it was when the people left cos of the erupting volcano.

Day 2 in Athens (April 10th)

The Parthenon (the main building everyone associates with the Acropolis) would be one of the most impressive monuments ever created in its day, but at the moment it looks dreadful. They are in the middle of a massive restoration project (3rd in the last 100 years) that's progressing slower than the Eastern Freeway extension.

They are actually removing columns and re-creating them and then re-installing them. This in itself causes a problem in that they are a motley color of 2000+ year old marble, and marble that has been quarried in the last decade. Whilst this acts a natural definition of new/old, it really takes away from the wonder of the building.

Plus you can't get inside the building as it is a construction site. Maybe I'll need to visit it again when the restoration is complete to give it a fair chance.

But it does pose another question that starting nagging at me in Egypt. How much work can be done in preservation or restoration before an item becomes new instead of ancient? Does the item get an * next to its name in the history book saying 'this item was re-built in the late 20th century to what the consensus believed it MAY have looked like'? It's kinda like Ben Johnson running the 100m world record on roids... the record is (was) there as the fastest ever, but there's a big fat asterix next to his name, or the recent asterix era of baseball.

Elsewhere in the Acropolis, the small Temple of Athena Nike has been closed to the public for years now, but you couldn't even see it through the scaffolding. The scaffolding was there for the restoration of the Propylaea, which is essentially the entrance to the Acropolis, so again it was much less impressive than it otherwise would have been.

The Erechtheion was a pretty building on the Acropolis that appeared to be untouched by the hands of the present. That's until you read that the 6 figures of Caryatids, that support the porch on the south side of the building with their heads, are all plaster-cast replicas. One was taken to England by Lord Elgin, and the other 5 are in the Acropolis Museum. Only 4 were on display, the fifth required further 'preservation'. But at least the building wasn't hidden behind scaffolding.

Ancient Agora
*Huge area where shops, baths, and civic offices for the city of ancient Athens was set up. It was considered the civil and social centre of the old city.

*The best building there was by far the Temple of Hephaestus. It is still in immaculate condition, and is apparently where Socrates spent much of his time 'expounding his philosophies'.

*I actually stood there and thought to myself that the like of Socrates and Andronicus (Syrian astronomer - more later) and many of the greatest philosophers and scientists of all time once walked these paths. Yet the thought never crossed my mind on my 'Christian Crusade' that I was following the footsteps of Moses. Guess we can see where the majority of my 'respect(?)' lies.

*The Stoa of Attalosis a massive building (120m long) that comprised of many shops. In the 60's, the Rockerfella Institute of the USA reconstructed the building and it now houses a museum (yay, more pottery). Whilst it is a pretty building, and is a valuable reference to what buildings would have looked like when the originally built, there is no need to do the same for the rest of the buildings on the site, or any other site in Athens. It just had a very cold modern feel to it, rather than the 'aura' and walking over a 2000 year old building.

Perhaps there needs to be a clause for only reconstructing a building where NOTHING exists any longer, or only the buildings foundations? I duuno, it's a tough call.

Roman Agora
*The Roman Agora is much smaller than its Ancient counterpart, with most of having been leveled, besides the mandatory still standing columns in the middle of a grassy field.

*There are remnants of a 2000 year old public toilet that remains, with channels below the rock base that had running water to wash away the waste (who knows where to though!).

*The most impressive building was built by Andronicus, the Tower of the Winds. It is an octagon shaped tower, about 3 stories high, with each face pointing directly at one of the 8 main compass points (N,S,E,W,NE,NW,SE,SW).

A bronze whether vane was on the top of the tower, and each face also had a carving depicting the character of each directions wind (Stormy, good for harvest, warm winds etc.)

The best part though was the bronze rods that stuck out near the top of the tower. Grooves were carved into the tower, and as the sun moved during the day, the bronze rods cast shadows across the grooves, with each groove corresponding to a time of the day. A nice little sun clock.

Theatre of Dionysos
*Sitting at the base of the southern wall of the Acropolis, this was a massive theatre set into the hill side. It used to comprise of 64 tiers of seats and hold 17,000 people, but now just 20 rows 'survive'.

*Some of the stone chairs from the front couple rows were still there, and looked more like thrones. After the first 5 or so rows, all the seating was bench seat style.

*A promenade was created, The Stoa of Eumenes, to shelter the theatre goers from one theatre to another. The question is why? The theatres were open air, so why build a sheltered walkway between the two?

*The second theatre, the Theatre of Herodes Atticus, was built in the roman times and has been well preserved / restored and is used every year for performances during the Athens Festival. The rest of the year it is closed to the public, but you can climb the hill behind the theatre and look down onto the performance area.

Temple of Olympian Zeus
*What was once the largest temple in Greece i snow little more than an odd placement of columns. The temple comprised of 104 columns, each measuring 17m high and 1.7m in diameter at the base, and took a staggering 700 years to build.

*Now just 13 columns are still standing at the east end, and 2 columns at the west end. The sheer size of the columns is best realised by looking at the one fallen column at the western end, that fell into where the temple once was. Each of the sections of the column now lie stacked like fallen dominoes resting on top of each other.

*What happened to the other 88 columns is anyone's guess, but the rock has probably been used over the years for other buildings.

So there you have it. My time in Athens take 2. Next (in the next couple days, promise, I will tell you of my time in Olympia with the Earthquake, Delphi, back in Athens, and finally in Thessaloniki where I'm staying with Stefanos from uni. Sorry for the recap, but I didn't do Athens justice the first time. More soon, promise.