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With the Acropolis behind us, it was now time to explore some of the other sites within central Athens. They actually have a pretty good system worked out for all of this, you buy one ticket at the Acropolis which is actually a set of tickets that get you in there as well as to the other various sites in the area.

First up was the Roman Agora, a smaller and more organized development than the Ancient Agora we had visited the day before. Looking up at the sky past what remains of the entrance one starts to get a feel of the immensity of this former marketplace.

As opposed to many other locations, touching the columns was allowed here which affords us an opportunity to really appreciate the scale of these structures, even in photographs. Keep in mind that the tops of the columns here are missing, so the actual structure was even larger. Though it is still hard to express in words the feeling of awe that one gets when wandering around these locations. Even when not much is left of the previous glory, it is still possible to imagine the activities which took place. Here we would have seen commerce being transacted as folks visited the shops and offices within the structure.

The octagonal  Tower of the Winds, also known as horologion or timepiece, built in either the first or second century BC, is the most preserved of the ancient structures within the agora. In ancient times it functioned as both a weather vane and a water clock. Additionally it contained a number of sundials.

While Aeolus, the son of Poseidon, was the god of all of the winds in general there were also gods of each of the 8 winds. Each is sculpted on the corresponding face of the tower. These gods are collectively known as the Anemoi which comes from the Greek word for wind, anemos, which in turn is the root of anemometer, the device used to measure wind speed. Below each frieze was one of the sundials.

  • Boreas (N) was strong and violent and was often depicted with the conch shell through which his wind whistled
  • Kaikias (NE) carried a shield full of hail stones
  • Euros (E) carried a vase pouring out the rain he carried from the east
  • Apeliotes (SE) often caused a refreshing rain welcome by the farmers and was often seen carrying fruit
  • Notos (S) was known to bring the storms of late summer
  • Livas (SW) was often seen holding the stern of a ship
  • Zephyros (W) was the gentlest of the winds known to usher in spring
  • Skiron (NW) was a bearded man who carried a cauldron as the sign that winter was coming

The Fethiye Cami (Mosque), built in 1456, commemorating the fall of Constantinople, is also fully intact, not surprising given it’s youth and the fact that it still functions as a storehouse of archeological material. It is technically not part of the Roman Agora standing just outside of it’s once grandiose walkways, we only “stumbled” upon it since it as in the same ticketed area.

I am not sure how they related to the sites we were visiting, but there were some very interesting earthen urns right outside of the mosque.

We spent a little more time wandering around the enclosure and noticed that there was still a remnant of the water that used to flow through the area. Sources state that in addition to the shops and offices at this location there was a public restroom built for 70 people. It probably looked something like the ones described here, only larger. Despite my recalling what our guide would later tell us on Delos about the toilet actually being a social gathering spot where folks would linger awhile, one can only imagine the number of people that must have frequented this agora to require space for 70.

Having taken in everything we could here, we left and meandered the streets in the area a bit as we headed towards our next destination. We were in the neighborhood known as the Plaka a wonderful location with a lot of character in both the streets themselves and the folks frequenting them. Yes, it is the center of the tourist area and you have shops selling just about everytrinket available, including many of the evil eye charms or nazars that I had purchased the day before. The streets are narrow and often stepped making motored navigation extremely interesting. And many of the restaurants take every spot they can on these terraces for setting up tables, when Steph and I say this we knew we had to come back here for dinner on one of our free nights. We didn’t actually know, or really care, which one of the restaurants we dined at, we just figured it would be a unique experience.

Our next destination was the Temple of Olympian Zeus which I had been seeing from a distance for days and thus I was really interested in getting an up front view. It was worth the wait.

Both the grandeur and the detail are stunning. From the elaborate Corinthian capitals to the columns themselves it was both awork of art and a feat of engineering as here again we see the perfection in the spacing of the 24 flutes. Despite most of the remaining structure being in one corner, thankfully two columns remain at the opposite end to give one a sense of the scale of the ancient temple.

Here we also finally see evidence of how these columns were constructed in pieces which where then stacked skyward. If you look closely you can even see the notches in the stone where stabilizers were inserted between layers. While they didn’t extend through layers adding even more support, the fact that they existed at all is a huge testament to the knowledge the creators had, especially when you note that Greece is in one of the most active seismic zones in the world..

On the way out we got yet another glimpse into the scale of this temple as can be seen here where I am sitting on the remnants of one of the columns that didn’t fare so well. And also when you look back across some other partial columns towards the Acropolis.

Given that we now had about an hour until we needed to meet back at the hotel to head off on our cruising adventure we didn’t feel we had the time to visit the Panathinaiko Stadium and instead wandered across the street into the National Gardens of Athens where I had spent some time my first evening.

This time we went further in and discovered quite a bit of art work throughout as well as a small fountain, a fairly dried up man-made lake, and a small zoo. There was actually quite a lot for such a small corner of land in the middle of central Athens. And we also just got to do some people watching as we strolled through.

We also heard the voices of another set of protestors likely marching at or near the nearby parliamentary building.

A very full morning complete we headed back to an organized yet slightly frenzied departure from the hotel to our cruise ship as we had to somehow get 18 people, complete with luggage, into 6 cabs in a matter of  minutes.

Shortly after arriving at the our Variety Cruises ship for our Jewels of the Cyclades cruise we were ushered into the salon of the M/S Galileo, a 51 meter motor sailor with 26 cabins, to wait for our cabin assignments. We knew we were going to be treated well as soon as we sat down as we were immediately given glasses of juice and made to feel quite welcome by the sharply, yet casually, dressed crew.

This was not the same type of cruise as I had been on in November on board one of the mega ships operated by Royal Caribbean, nor would I have wanted it to be. The Greek islands are best explored by being able to anchor here and there and duck into some of the less commercial harbors. Not that we would be able to do as much of that as if we were sailing on a 40-50 foot private charter, but we would make much faster time between ports allowing us to see more islands in our short one week at sea.

Finally, after two days of living out of the top of a suitcase it was possible to unpack, as we were not changing rooms every night any more. We then headed back up to the salon for a safety briefing followed by the all important welcoming cocktail party including drinks and wonderful lamb, cheese, and olive appetizers. It was a great start to what would turn out to be both a fun packed yet relaxing week of sun, sea, and islands.

As we headed out onto the Aegean Sea we got a glimpse of the two of the newest Olypmpic stadiums built for the 2004 Summer Games, the bowl shaped Athens Olympic Stadium used for, among other things, the opening and closing ceremoniesand the New Karaiskaki Stadium, with it’s signature red iron work, home of football during the games.

Upon boarding we were informed that our itinerary was being changed, as was noted as a possibility when we signed up, due to weather. This is the one downside of being on a smaller ship, you can’t sail in all of the conditions that the big boys (or should I say girls since ships are generally referred to in the feminine) can play in. So instead of heading for a quick stop at Poros we left a bit later with a destination of Santorini mid day the next day. Once underway, we explored the ship a bit more, making our way up to the sun deck fairly early on where you see our fearless leader, Ihla, hanging out.

Along the way, just before dinner we stopped for a short swim under the Temple of Poseidon on Sounion which lies at the southernmost tip of the Attica peninsula of mainland Greece. The change was a bit confusing as there is also a sanctuary of Posiedon on Poros that I had on my “like to explore list”.

While it was cloudy and thus a bit chilly I figured that it was necessary to test the waters, especially in the shadows of Poseidon, it is not good to get him on your bad side when sailing. It turned out to not be bad at all and I actually stayed in for around 15 minutes and thus got to know some of the new folks a bit more. You will probably laugh at me for the next revelation, it wasn’t until I was in for some time that I remembered we were in salt water and thus I didn’t really have to work all that hard to stay afloat.

We also skipped our swim stop at Kimolos and our walk of the upper city at Foelgandros but would make up for it with additional stops added later in the trip.

We were then treated to a reasonable sunset, we weren’t sure we were going to have much of one due to the cloud cover, and things cleared just enough to get us enough color in the sky to make us really feel like we were sailing, or at least motoring.

The first dinner on board was a pretty elegant affair with a choice of menu options for our entree as well as a nice starter and salad. It was a sit down affair and the food was excellent. The only complaint was that we had been led to believe that local wine was included with dinner and this turned out not to be the case since we had had access to an old brochure. It didn’t matter that much anyway since they were not really up-selling it too badly, charging only 3 Euros a glass. Given that we were a captive audience they really could have charged quite a bit more.

Oh, there was one other thing, since the seas were a bit rough, a few folks were not feeling the best upon sitting down to dinner. I can relate to this having had a similar thing happen on our Mexican cruise, which surprised me then given my sailing background. Though at least there I was able to make it through dinner and just needed some Perrier and fresh air to calm my stomach. For the folks here, the real trick was to stop eating and just sleep the night away hoping for calmer seas and/or the seasick meds to kick in by morning. For me this was back to more of the motion I am used to with this boat being much closer in size to what I am normally on, much bigger but closer, than the 15 deck luxury liner in Mexico.



My first full day in Greece got off to a relaxing start as I slept in long enough to almost miss breakfast at the hotel. Then it was time for the real adventure to begin.

Step one was to move to another hotel where I would meet up with Steph and the rest of the tour group. It was a short walk between the two places so there was no need to grab a cab as I still had only one suitcase to lug around. After arriving and leaving my bags with the concierge as our rooms were not yet ready, I felt the need for a bit more caffeine so I set off in search of a cold beverage, it was already warming up quite nicely so more coffee was not really an option. Mission accomplished I returned to the Hotel Herodion and waited in the lobby for the rest of the group to arrive.

Steph and I were the last ones to have our room ready, which for me wasn’t horrid as I didn’t need to do any freshening up and after taking my bag up hung out in the atrium of the hotel. I must say that while both hotels were nice I would definitely recommend the Herodion, especially if you can get a similar rate. I was able to do that for my last night in Greece and not for the first which is why I stayed at the Airotel Parthenon the first night. While both were clean and comfortable, the feeling at the Herodion was that of a much posher hotel and they had the added advantage of having jacuzzis on the sun deck.

A number of folks from the group decided that they were going to seek out a spot for lunch and then decide what to do, Steph and I were more interested in beginning our explorations, so in the hottest part of day we started our trek to The Acropolis. It was pretty much right around the corner from our hotel so within minutes we were transported into the past. While there are many acropoleis in Greece, the one in Athens is the most famous and is thereby referred to as The Acropolis. Sitting 150 m above the shore of Athens at least portions of its 3 hectare plateau and the buildings that sit on it provide stunning views for spectators in the surrounding area.

As we approached we were first greeted by the Odeon of Herodes Atticus which is a theatre that is still in use today especially during the Athens Festival which I remembered reading about and noting that we should look into the possibility of attending something in one of the ancient venues given that we were in town during the festival. So both Steph and I made that note again and planned on researching our options when we returned to the hotel. Had the box office not have been closed, due to it being that hot midday time, we would have done so right then.

Before reaching the top of the plateau we spent some time wandering around the embankment heading towards the Theatre of Dionysys, seems like a theme is developing here. While this theatre, one of the first ones built in the world, was likely quite impressive at the time, it has not, at least not yet, been restored to show off it’s previous grandeur.

And maybe that is OK. I actually have mixed feelings about seeing things in various states. While it is quite impressive to see things as there were back in the day, if too much new material has been added during the reconstruction what are we really seeing? Many of the reconstructions we saw throughout the trip made it obvious what was old and what was new and that is probably the best approach, along with showing photos of how things looked when they were first discovered and throughout the restoration process.

Thankfully we are learning more about how to do this and thus will hopefully avoid actually damaging what is left through efforts to preserve and reconstruct as is what happened with some of the original efforts for the Parthenon. In that case, generic metal supports were used and sadly began to rust causing further damage. They are now being replaced by titanium rods which are being positioned in such a way that things can be moved around in case new knowledge comes to light about how things used to look.

After that detour, we finally arrived at the Propylaea, the gateway that serves as the official entrance to The Acropolis, and did so as well in ancient times. As this was the first entrance we would navigate, it was quite impressive, as would any more be during the next couple of weeks. The fact that it was a very clear day with a gorgeous blue sky just added to the feeling of awe. After snapping photos from many angles we passed through the gate and were greeted by the Parthenon.

While only a portion of the exterior columns survive and even less of the frieze and pediments it is not hard to imagine the grandeur that this temple once inspired. Also gone of course is the statue of Athena, the Greek goddess of war (among other things) to whom the temple was dedicated. While there are debates over certain elements of its construction, I tend to believe that the curvature used during the construction was done on purpose thus giving the appearance of straight lines. Also, while many people believe that much of this type of construction was possible in such remote locations (here remote due to the steep approach) due to the use of slave labor, I have heard that that was not the case for everything. Specifically, since this was a temple, it was thus built on sacred ground, and in general slaves were not allowed on sacred ground, thus could not have been involved in all facets of the construction. That is not to say that they did not play a role, just that other labor was used as well.

Directly opposite the Parthenon one finds the Erectheum. The Old Temple of Athena which was actually destroyed in 480 BC, it has yet to be determined whether it was partially restored after this, actually sits between them but since the only remains are scattered on the ground it often goes unnoticed. The Erechtheum is most famously known for the “Porch of the Caryatids” or maidens that are the graceful and feminine supporting columns that have each proven to be unique. The temple was dedicated to Athena and Poseidon, the famous trident carrying Greek god of the sea.

Here again we can note another ancient engineering marvel as the temple was built on a hill and thus the NW corner is 9 m lower than the SE corner.

Of course no excursion to an elevated location would be complete without a few images from the top looking down at the surrounding area. Here we have one that looks back at the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Pananthinaiko Stadium that I had visited briefly the day before and will have more tales about later. We also have a shot where we see the city glimmering in the sunlight, this is due to the high concentration of solar panels. I had not thought of it before seeing the glimmers but it makes so much sense in a Mediterranean location such as Athens to actually rely on solar energy.

Turning back to ancient times we get a sense of the intricacies and the massive amounts of stone that were used in building everything when we look closely at some of the toppled remnants. Specifically notice how uniform the spacing of the groves in the columns appears. We will see more of this in the coming days and I will probably bore you with my constant amazement at how this was achieved without all of the electronic aides that we have at our fingertips today.

Also, here is a close up view of the curvature of the columns that I mentioned earlier. While these particular columns are not part of the Parthenon, they clearly show that optical illusions were are work, whether or not by design.

Leaving the Acropolis area we started wandering towards some other buildings and wound up in the Ancient Agora. Note that none of the core areas of ancient buildings are very far from each other, so we didn’t have to wander far. To start to give you a sense of distances, here is a map of the agora area.

Along the way we passed another a look out location the steps up to which were a bit tricky to navigate given that we were not wearing athletic shoes since it was so warm. While these steps are quite worn, many of the others we had already trod were quite smooth making us glad that as hot as we were, given our choice of the time of our adventure, we were awfully glad that it wasn’t raining as in that case things would have been quite treacherous.

Agoras were the market and gathering places of the ancient societies.

Seemingly out of place as we neared the agora, was the Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles. While by most standards it is quite old having been built in the 11th century, the fact that it is 1200 -1500 years or so younger than the other things in the area makes it stand out. Though it is definitely not so modern that it is an eyesore and it is quite impressive in its own right.

The Stoa of Attolas was built between 159 and 138 BC by King Attolos II of Pergamon. It used a popular combination of Doric exterior columns with Ionic ones on the interior and is quite striking as the sun casts shadows of the columns across the polished floor. It also provided a nice respite from the sun.

From a distance it actually appears more modern than the church due to the reconstruction that has been done, there aren’t many actual ancient buildings that still have complete roofs. And if you look back at the pictures of the light angles above you also realize that you are looking at a building that has undergone major renovations. Maybe the water fountain and the restrooms inside were also tell tale signs of this fact.

I guess in the end it makes me realize that a mix of the fully renovated with the renovated to still appear old is good, though I think I prefer the latter to be the better part of the mix. While it was nice to get out of the sun and actually enter one of the buildings. And it was nice to see the statues that were inside, yet still actually be outside as this wasn’t a climate controlled, glass door sort of environment.

That said, I think the way things have been recreated in the New Acropolis Museum which I will also talk about in a later post is the better way, leaving the actual structures with a much older feel and enclosing the recreation and the precious artifacts in a controlled environment.

While there were only a few standing structures to visit, there were many other remains of what used to be a center of activity. Some of them had toppled to the ground and others were cut off with only a small portion of what used to be remaining. And of course there were many random looking pieces of stone which make you realize how amazing it is that the archeologists are able to sift through what they find and come up with what seems to be a realistic view of the ancient buildings and the lives of their inhabitants.

There were also outlines of many ancient buildings, similar to what Steph and I had seen when we visited Vaison la Romaine, France two years ago. While I am sure outlines like this are very helpful to those doing the reconstrutions, they also definitely give a new meaning to the concept of a rock garden.

Our last stop was the Temple of Hephaistos, the patron god of metal working, begun in 449 BC and completed between 421 & 415 BC. As with many of the ancient temples, it became a Christian church later in its life and now has the status of an ancient monument. What is probably most amazing for this temple is that amount of it that is still standing, possibly because it served as a museum until 1934. While the interior and the frieze have been gutted, the entire perimeter appears to be in place giving the visitor a somewhat unique experience. Of course, in order to keep things preserved, one can not actually enter.

Here again we were witness to the amazing tricks of the sun and we get a glimpse of how the columns were actually often constructed in sections. Though I must admit I did not notice that at the time and discovered it later in the trip so I will share more about it when we get to that post.

From this photo taken across from the temple you can see that we really had not covered that much distance between the Acropolis and the Ancient Agora.

As we left the Ancient Agora area to head back towards our hotel we found ourselves in the Plaka and the shopping commenced.

My first purchase was a much needed pair of sandals as what I was wearing was killing my feet. I had stupidly been thinking of the cruise part of the trip when I left my Birkenstocks in Brazil so I didn’t have a comfortable pair of open walking shoes. I would up buying a very cute pair of gladiator sandals which I made extensive use of during the trip. It took a bit of time to break them in, so I went through a few bandaids, the next purchase, along the way.

As we wandered the streets picking our way towards our hotel we looked at a number of evil eyes and I bought a simple glass one that will look stunning when work on a piece of ribbon with either a black or white top.

After resting a bit before the group social that evening we explored our concert options and were very happy to find out that there was something that seemed interesting on one of the 25th, one of nights we would be back in Athens. While it was someone we had never heard of, a quick tour of the internet gave us the impression that we would could do worse than seeing Demis Roussos in concert, so we planned to head to the box office after the social.

The social was low key and a great way to start to meet some new folks and relax after a day in the hot sun. Ihla, the owner/operator of Drifter Sister the group we were traveling with organized a round of drinks and some light appetizers from the hotel bar allowing us to just sit around and get to know one another. Some folks had already met, either on previous tours or at the pre-tour gathering or on the flight over, but since I was from Chicago, had been in Brazil, and arranged for my own flights I really only knew Steph at this point. Of course that would change soon and was one of the reasons that the trip was so memorable.

After the social, before heading for an actual dinner, Steph and I set out to get our tickets and it was a good thing that we went then as the box office was just about to close. Sadly the event we could both attend was sold out. Since I was staying an extra night I was able to get a general admission ticket to a symphony performance on my last night in Athens. I could have gotten an assigned seat but figured that if I got general admission I could find others to join me and would not end up sitting alone.

Mission half accomplished we set out for dinner and stopped at pretty much the first place we came to on a promenade near the hotel, the fact that it had very comfortable looking chairs (wicker with thick cushions) also helped. Though when we first sat down all of the comfy spots were taken and we sat on some more standard metal bar fare.

Thankfully before our food came, an appetizer and a small pizza that we shared one of the other tables opened up. It’s not that we were uncomfortable, more that where we were sitting the table was really only big enough for drinks. And yes, we had those too. We both ordered glasses of red wine and because we were on vacation and starting to simply relax we each wound up ordering two more before the night was through (and would be back another time because it was one of the best glasses of wine we found), both tasty and a generous pour.

It turns out that two of the folks from the Tuscany trip Steph had taken with Ihla the year before (yes that’s how I wound up here), Judi & Johnna, were eating at the restaurant next door. If you think indoors this isn’t that interesting, but we were outside, so we were really almost sitting next to each other and didn’t realize until they got up to leave.

We couldn’t convince them to join us in our last glasses of wine, so they headed off and soon after we followed knowing that we had another full day ahead.



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