09 August 2008

Experiencing Athens

We arrived in Athens late in the afternoon on 19 July. We grabbed a taxi for the trip from the airport to Pireaus, where the ship was docked. Imagine our surprise when we discovered our Greek driver had lived in Cleveland for more than 20 years! He and GLH chatted the whole way about All Things Cleveland.

For the first two days of the "cruise," the ship remained docked in Pireaus which allowed us time to explore Athens. We had arranged an excursion to the Acropolis and Plaka, the "old city" area of Athens which dates back to Byzantine times.

But first, our tour briefly stopped at the site of the 1896 Olympics, the first Olympics of the modern age.

The stadium was built facing the location of the Acropolis, our next destination.

There are actually many acropoli in Greece. In fact, the country is literally lousy with 'em because pretty much all of the many Greek city states had one. It was where the Gods and Goddesses were worshipped. Where the king and aristocracy lived. And where everyone would retreat for safety in times of trouble, which is why the sites were selected in the first place. They were the highest place in the immediate vicinity that still had access to a source of fresh water. Hence the term "acropolis," which means "top of the city."

But only the acropolis in Athens is called The Acropolis, because it is the best known of them all. With some artifacts dating back to the 6th millenium BC, it was inhabited long before the Ancient Athens we know of came to be. But the marble buildings and temples we were there to visit date back to the 6th century BC.

It was a LONG climb up. And so we climbed and climbed. In more than 100F (40C) temperatures. Surrounded by hordes of other tourists.

But we finally arrived and there before us was the Parthenon...

Built at the height of the Glory of Ancient Athens (447-432 BC), it was built to honor Athena, the Goddess of War and the protector of Athens, and replaced an earlier temple which was destroyed during the Persian invasion in 480 BC. It is considered the most important example of Classical Greek architecture.

Although all that was lost to me as I longingly stared at the two employees sitting in its shade. Their sole purpose seemed to be to keep the overheated tourists on the other side of the ropes and away from the shade. I hated them immediately. (You can see the objects of my jealousy, er I mean, disdain in the photo above, lower right hand corner.)

After a few minutes up there the heat began to overwhelm me and the masses of humanity caused my claustophobia to kick in. I handed the camera to GLH and told him I would wait for him at the foot of the hill, in the shade of the olive trees where, if my prayers to both ancient and modern gods were answered, there would be a nice breeze. (Praise to the Powers that Be, I did find a nice spot to sit in the shade to wait. And the breeze helped me to once again feel human.)

So here is what GLH saw before he, too, gave up due to the unpleasantness of the heat and crowd and joined me in the shade of the olive trees...

The Erechthion was built between 421-407 BC and was also a replacement of an earlier temple destroyed when the city was sacked by the Persians. However, it is best known for the Porch of the Caryatids (also known as the Porch of the Maidens).

And from the Acropolis you have some amazing views of modern Athens...

As well as the Rock of Arcopages...

The Temple of the Olympian Zeus...

And the Trission Temple...

Although we did not visit the last three sites. After leaving the Acropolis, there was time for an early lunch and a brief walk-about in the historic Athenian neighborhood of Plaka before heading back to the ship to recover in the blessed air conditioning and cast off for our next destination. One day I hope to return to Athens so I can appreciate it at a different time of the year, when the weather is cooler and the crowds slightly diminished.

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