Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Magnificent parthenon highlight of day in Athens


Since we had only a short time in Athens we decided to take advantage of the hop-on-hop-off bus, stopping where we wanted. Our bus stop was at Syntagma Square, the centre of Athens, crowned by a large, Neo-Classical Parliament Building. You will be familiar with this building from news coverage of elections and bailout votes. Walking around Athens is not really pleasant as the fumes from the motor vehicles are literally breathtaking. Fortunately, it wasn't as smoggy as the previous day.

Much of the architecture was quite uninspiring with busy cramped streets. Although sprawling and congested, Athens has a compact, pleasant tourist zone capped by the famous Acropolis — the world's top ancient site. This was our first stop. The temples on the “Sacred Rock” of Athens are considered to be the most important monuments in the Western world, for they have exerted more influence on our architecture than anything since. The great marble masterpieces were constructed during the late 5th century BC reign of Pericles, the Golden Age of Athens. Most were temples built to honor Athena, the city’s patron goddess. Still breathtaking for their proportion and scale, both human and majestic, the temples were adorned with magnificent, dramatic sculptures of the gods.

From here we walked down to the Temple of Zeus, the majestic temple to the ruler of the pantheon was the largest on mainland Greece. Inside stood two colossal gold and ivory statues: one of the God and one of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Though the temple’s construction began in 515 BC, political turmoil delayed its completion nearly 700 years. To thank Hadrian for finishing it, in AD 131 the Athenians built a two-storey arch next to the temple, whose inscription announces Hadrian’s claim on the city. It seems that everywhere we go we encounter arches to Hadrian.

We walked up some small pedestrian streets to a lovely square where we had some lunch and people-watched for a while. Then we continued walking to the New Acropolis Museum. Officially opened in mid-2009, this beautifully designed museum has been built to give a fitting new home to the famed marble sculptures of the Acropolis. Glass walls allow a direct view of the Acropolis temples from within the museum, while the glass floor offers a view over the ruins of an early Christian settlement. The New Acropolis Museum houses around 4.000 artefacts including some lovely statues and items of gold.

We ended our tour back at Syntagma Square and then walked down Ermou Street, with its modern fashion stores, cafés, pubs and restaurants and touristic shops. You can find anything you want. And we did, a Marks and Spencer's.

If you let a flight of fantasy take over it is fantastic to think that you are walking in the footsteps of the great minds that created democracy, philosophy, theatre, and more...even when you're dodging motorcycles on "pedestrianized" streets. Some of the pebbles caught in my sandals may have plagued Socrates long ago. You have to wander where things went so badly wrong in today's Greece.




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