Jetlag will not be tolerated. None of this easing into a time zone that turns night into day and day into night. The sun was up and we were out. We tackled the sites around the base of the Acropolis. We’ll go up to the Acropolis tomorrow.
Monument of Lysikrates
Our first stop was the Monument of Lysikrates. This monument commemorates the victor of one of the annual choral and dramatic festivals held at the Theater of Dionysus in Classical times. Lysikrates was the wealthy sponsor of the winning group, which, in this case, was a chorus of boys. This is the only surviving monument of a festival winner.
We started at the Monument of Lysikrates because a course we watched—The Great Tours: Greece and Turkey, by Professor John R. Hale, PhD—recommends starting here. It’s probably the only thing we’ll do precisely as suggested, but it was our nod to a course and professor that we greatly enjoyed. We’ll be looking for other sites and images from the course, recalling nuggets of info when we run into something familiar.
Running into something familiar happened right away when we visited Hadrian’s Arch, which we’d also seen in the Tour course. There it was: A crazy Roman arch standing all by itself on the other side of a multi-lane highway, with cars and buses zipping past.
It brought back memories of our trip to Italy, triggered thoughts about what I know of Hadrian and, of course, some of what we learned in courses we watched recently about Greek history. I knew that on one side of the arch (the west side) words spelled out “This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus,” and on the other side of the arch is written “This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus.”
We learned the Greek alphabet and some pronunciation before coming, so I looked hard for these statements. I didn’t know if they were visible or eroded away, and I didn’t know if I’d recognize them if they were visible, but I aimed to try.
I searched the monument for letters. High? Low? No idea.
Ha! There were some letters—I certainly couldn’t see them all, but I saw some. I looked more closely. In time, I found this:
That’s it! That’s “Hadrian.” Eureka—I found the treasure of the hunt!
It starts with an A, not an H, but that makes sense, as the H sound would be made by a diacritical mark: a little symbol above the A. We learned that in the Ancient Greek Language class we started but didn’t come anywhere close to finishing.
In Italian, I’ve seen “Hadrian” spelled “Adriana,” but this is Greek, so I think the diacritical-mark explanation seems most plausible.
And, ohmygosh, what fun it is to piece this all together!
It was harder to get a good view of the other side of the arch—what with traffic racing over the spot where I wanted to stand—but I managed to pick out Greek letters spelling “polis,” which is “city.”
Ta-da! Another score!
Temple of Olympian Zeus
The Temple of Olympian Zeus is the largest temple on mainland Greece. We think the columns are still the largest of their kind—and they are impressive. In its heyday, the temple had 104 columns; sixteen remain. Construction began in 515 BC, but it wasn’t completed until Hadrian had it done some 700 years later. The two-story arch which we’d just seen, built in 131 AD, was a thank-you from the Athenians to Hadrian for finishing the temple.
Another course we watched prior to coming was about ancient engineering. I confess I didn’t expect to like this class as much as I did. It was fascinating! Having watched the course, we were able to discuss how the columns and temple were constructed, recalling architectural terms we learned as well as tools and techniques.
One of the columns lies in pieces where it fell, showing clearly the different segments and hinting at how they were connected and finished.
Theater of Dionysus
The Theater of Dionysus (built from 342–326 BC) seated 15,000 people and is said to be the very first theater. It was the site of Classical Greece’s drama competitions (won by Lysikrates’s boys’ chorus one year, remember), where the plays of Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides were first performed.
In the Classical time, plays were not performed throughout the year or even, say, the summer season. They weren’t weekly or monthly events. Rather, there was that choral and dramatic festival and the competing plays were performed all in a day or perhaps in a couple of days. There was no six-month run of a show; plays were performed once. People would come and sit all day, watching performances, one after the other. On marble benches! Do you think people brought their own cushions?
The large figure here is the comic satyr, Selinus, whoever that is. I haven’t gotten around to looking him up yet. What I see is a giant dude holding up a floor or ceiling for a row of small people who have all lost their heads. Mighty nice of him, I think, to be looking out for those headless folks.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Very near the Theater of Dionysus is this modern theater, built in 161 AD, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Yeah, I’m playing fast and loose with the term “modern.” Except this theater is somewhat modern: It’s maintained and used today, June through September. Luciano Pavarotti and Elton John have performed here, and ancient plays are still performed here.
This is one reason to come back during the busy summer months—or September, anyway. Wouldn’t it be fun to see Antigone—or pretty much anything—here?
The guide book says the Filopappos Monument is “partially destroyed,” but I’d say “largely destroyed.” Or perhaps I was just tired and ungenerous at this point.
However, the walk up Filopappos Hill, through trees that provide cool shade in the sweltering summer, and the view from the top of the hill, were lovely. In ancient times, it was known as the “hill of muses.” I think that’s a high-faluten excuse for well-to-do gents who fancied themselves artists and philosophers to lounge about in the shade, I do. According to the guide book, these days, on the first day of Lent, Athenians flock here to fly kites. That could be a pretty sight.
This is actually the Church of Agios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris. No sign of “Bombardier” there, eh? We just happened upon this when walking down from Filopappos Hill. We weren’t looking for it and didn’t know what it was (besides a church—du-uh!) when we found it.
I liked it immediately because of the piecemeal, “patchwork” construction. But I liked it more when Mike and Barb looked it up in our guidebooks. There’s a story that goes with it.
In 1648, an Ottoman commander planned to bomb this church, but he was unable to do so because lightning struck his canon. So the church was renamed “Saint Dimitri the Bombardier.”
The birthplace of democracy. After Athens became a democracy in 508 BC, the first-ever democratic congress met here weekly, with great—and, I’m sure, not-so-great—thinkers engaging in thoughtful political discourse—and possibly some gossip. Speakers, including Themistokles, Perikles, and Demosthenes addressed crowds of up to 6,000 people as they hammered out vital political processes and positions.
It’s sobering to be here now, when democracy in the US is a shambles and ignorance reigns.
I like saying “Aeropagos” (air-ee-OP-uh-gus). I don’t actually know this is how it’s pronounced, I guess, but that’s how I’m hearing and saying it. It’s sometimes called the Hill of Ares (Greek god of war) or Mars’ Hill (Roman god of war).
We walked up it and enjoyed nice views all around.
This is where Athens’ ruling council met, and it’s also where the apostle Paul addressed the Athenians with his sermon “On an Unknown God.”
We didn’t go into Hadrian’s Library, just took a peek at it below the current city street level as we walked by en route to the Roman Agora.
Roman Agora and Tower of the Winds
Our last stop of the day was the Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds.
There’s not much to the Roman Agora save some pillars around a forum. The Tower is in fairly good shape, though. It was a weather vane and water clock constructed in the 2nd century BC.
We learned about water clocks in our Ancient Engineering course. Think: sand through an hourglass. With a water clock, you’ve got water draining from a cistern over a certain, known period of time. The tower is octagonal, and each side has a frieze of one of the 8 winds. The two friezes we see best in our picture here are of the North (Boreas) and Northwest (Skiron) winds.
Phew! It was a long, full day, but as I logged the events, I made everyone pick a single favorite thing about the day.
Happening upon the Bombardier church.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus because of the size of the columns and architraves. (Architraves are the beams that span the columns at the top. We learned that in our engineering class.)
Finding and recognizing the words on Hadrian’s Arch.