The birthplace of democracy

athens1 The Erechtheion (built about 420 BC) and a view of the porch of the Caryatids. The temple was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon. The Caryatids shown are replicas. The real ones are protected in the Greek museum of archeology. 
athens2 The Theatre of Dionysos on the south slope of the Acropolis. This is ground zero for theatre and drama for the world. Here the playrights Euripedes, Sophocles, Aeschylus and Aristophanes first staged their plays. While most of the seats are long gone, 17,000 citizens of Athens could attend the latest tragedy or comedy. It is still impressive and to walk on the stage is an awe inspiring feeling. athens3 The column tops of many missing columns on the Acropolis. Amazingly, the Acropolis and the Parthenon was in decent condition until the great destoyers of the ancient world - The Venetians and the Turks inflicted more damage than 2000 years had done. A Venetian artillery shell ignited a powder room in the Parthenon blowing off the roof and one side. 
athens4 Maybe the greatest single building from the ancient world. It is an archetypal image. No single image reflects the beauty and accomplishment of ancient Greece. Built around 440 BC by the great statesman and general Pericles, the building is a perfect blending of form, art and architecture. The building's proportions maintain a universal 9:4 ratio (length:height, column spacing:diameter etc.). Knowing that the eye suffers from an optical illusion that makes straight lines look like they are bending away, the architect bowed the columns and the sides of the building to correct the illusion (i.e. the temple lines incline 12 cm over 70 meters) to give the illusion that the building is perfectly straight.  It was built as a temple to the city's patron: the Goddess Athena Polias. Originally it would have been painted bright colors. Missing, of course, are the famous reliefs on the frieze known as the Elgin Marbles which were stolen by a British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.  Lord Elgin had asked the Turkish government for permission to excavate and remove stones with inscriptions for study. He interpreted that as the right to pry off anything he wanted and ship it back to England. His intentions became pretty clear when he sold the stones to the British Museum.  The Greek government has repeatedly asked for them back and for some reason the British government (or British Museum) refuses. I guess receiving stolen property is not an offense when the British government does it. Hopefully, the marbles will be returned to their rightful homeland. By the way, Parthenon means virgin chamber and originally referred to one room in the temple. athens5 The Beule Gate entrance to the Acropolis. To the right obscured by trees is the Hill of Mars where the Council of Nobles once met and where the Judicial Court was located. It was here that Saint Paul preached his athens6 Long after the Greek city state became a shell of its glorious past, the Romans ousted the Macedonian rulers in 146 BC and occupied the town. They built a new Roman section that has now mostly disappeared. Athens still had formidable intellectual power and it became a seat of learning in the Roman empire (Cicero and Horace were educated here). Hadrian bequethed the Temple of Olympian Zeus, a massive temple that was really built over 200 years. A few impressive columns remain. athens7 The Thiseon (Temple of Hephaistos) overlooking the Agora. The first building of the Pericles program was dedicated to the patron of blacksmiths and metalworkers. athens8 View of the Acropolis from across the Agora (market). The Acropolis has been the focal point of Athens at every stage of its development starting some 5000 years ago. It was leveled by the Persians in the 5th century BC. Around 440 Pericles rebuilt the whole Acropolis in a massive public works project. What you see today dates predominately from that rebuilding. It was done in an amazing short time (10 years or so) and included works from the best architects of the time. The result was a masterpiece of which only the skeleton can be seen today.  The Agora was the markletplace and the center of ancient bustling Athens. Here Plato and Socrates debated. It was excavated by Americans in the early 20th century. The result is a pleasant field of column parts and building foundations. Sadly, a large chunk of old Ottoman Athens was destroyed by the work. The Plaka is what remains, the charming tangle of streets directly below the Acropolis. athens9 A pleasant view of the Agora with its poppy fields. athens10 Alexander the Great, son of Philip of Macedon who conquered Athens in 338 BC (from the Acropolis Museum). Pericles, while a great general and leader of Athens made a mistake involving Athens in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta. The great general died shortly after the war began and the less than competent leaders who took over led the city into a disaster. The Athenian navy was wiped out in the Dardanelles and the city suffered a disasterous defeat. While the city recovered slightly during the age of Plato, the city was no match for the great warrior Philip of Macedon who conquered much of the ancient mediterranean. His son proved to be an even greater warrior. Educated in Athens under Aristotle, he proceeded to route Darius III in Persia and conquer most of the civilized world. A brilliant strategist and politician, Alexander not only conquered more land than had ever been conquered, he was able to pacify and incorporate his gains. He would reach as far as India conquering most of the Middle Eastern empires. He also downed Egypt and the Western mediteranean. Only his death stopped him. After his death, the empire soon split becoming a one-hit wonder although no man more affected the ancient world more than Alexander. The bust may actually have been made during his lifetime although he was a popular subject for centuries after. athens12 View of the entrance to the Acropolis. The wear of feet over the centuries has worn down many of the stones but even more dangerous is the acidic air of Athens which has been slowly turning the marble to dust. athens13 View of the Acropolis from Filopappou Hill or Hill of the Muses (taken with a really cheap camera). It was from here that the scandalous Venetians shelled the Acropolis.

All material Copyright 2003-2004 Drew Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.
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