Monday, April 6, 2009

Acropolis (APRIL 2-3, 2009)

Hello again! Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I've been busy/lazy. I'm combining days 8 and 9 because I had the morning off on Thursday, and all I did was get my laundry done and go to classes. On Friday, however, I was treated to the gigantic elephant in the room that is Athens: the ACROPOLIS. I went to sleep early so I would not be drowsy when we met up at 8:30 am to make the expectant journey to the Rock. We walked through the National Gardens toward the familiar strand leading past the Areopagus and the new Acropolis Museum and made our way up the hill, accompanied by the necessary dogs and constantly bugged by vendors trying to sell us water and other sundries, and congregated at the top to wait for our free tickets into the Acropolis. After an overview of the site, we entered through the crowded entrance gate and continued further up the hill to the ancient entrance to the Acropolis, the Propylaea. The Propylaea was a quasi-symmetrical portico/building supported by Doric columns along the front and Ionic columns along the entrance gate (the reason for this is that Doric columns had to have a certain proportion between height and width, while Ionic columns are able to reach higher with narrower shafts). To the right of the Propylaea is the Temple of Athena Nike, currently under restoration, as well as a hole cut in the fortification wall, showing the Mycenaean period foundations on the Acropolis, a testament to the stability of the site's occupation. To the left is the monument to Agrippa, the builder extraordinaire of Augustan Rome. We walked up the switchback steps (in ancient times it would have been a ramp, presumably to accommodate the Panathenaic procession) through the Propylaea into a wide expanse of ruins, cluttered with fallen marble and the modern machines and scaffolding erected to commemorate the modern Greek insistence on reinstituting their past to emphasize the perseverance of Democracy in a country which had been crushed under the oppression of so many. The cranes lifted old and new marble blocks, shaped by workers on site, into place to try and build up again monuments destroyed by centuries of conflict and siege. To the left where a woman was preparing a large block of marble there once stood the great bronze Athena Promachos (possibly made in the "foundry" at the base of the hill), a statue depicting Athena as the defender of the city, fully clad in armor and bearing a spear, once taken to Constantinople and destroyed during the Fourth Crusade, and only known to us today through smaller copies. Beyond that was the Erechtheion, a "split-level" temple erected in the late 5th century BC and once used as the harem for the Ottoman ruler of Athens. The temple is bedecked with a frieze-band of blue limestone, a "sky-light" marking the spot where Poseidon supposedly struck the Acropolis, creating a salt-water spring, and a majestic olive tree which is the "descendent" of that which was given by Athena in her battle with Poseidon for patronship of Athens (like we would be as fascinated with a city called Poseidos). The most recognizable feature of the temple, and possibly my favorite feature on the Acropolis, is the Porch of the Caryatids, or "Porch of the Maidens," a seemingly random porch on the North side of the temple with a roof supported by 6 caryatids, or female-shaped columns, which was built to simply mask a support beam, but comes to us as a monument to beauty even for mediocre purposes (even though the original caryatids have been worn horribly by the modernization and pollution of the Attic basin and were replaced by copies). The maidens overlook what is today an open field toward possibly the most recognizable (though often misnamed) building in the world: The Parthenon. The Parthenon was erected between 447 and 432 BC as a "victory monument" and treasury for the Athenians and the Delian League (the Athenian quasi-empire). The Parthenon housed the statue of Athena Parthenos ("Athena the Maiden"), a massive chryselephantine (gold and ivory) sculpture by Phidias whose golden armor and crown could be removed to be melted down as a source of emergency money (also, Phidias supposedly made them removable to prove that he didn't steal any gold by weighing them). The Parthenon, while from the exterior a typical Doric order temple, is special in that there was no cult associated with it, so there is no recognizable altar, and the inner chamber has been altered into a massive opisthodomus ("back-porch/back-room") for the storage of the treasures and offerings of the Delian League. While the Pathenon is wonderful, it is mostly decrepit as a result of the destructive nature of the conquerors of Athens and the cursed venetians who in 1687 bombarded the Parthenon, then the munitions cache of the Ottomans, blowing a massive hole in the side of the temple, still seen today and which will likely remain despite the restoration activities elsewhere on the Parthenon. Another glaring absence on the Parthenon and Greece as a whole are the Parthenon marbles, taken by Lord Elgin under Ottoman auspices in 1801-2, and now housed in the British Museum. While the argument for preservation of the marbles by bringing them to England is sound in hindsight (see: caryatids from Erechteion), the new Acropolis Museum was erected to replace the inadequate shack of a museum on the Acropolis in order to bring them back to their homeland, and of course they plan to emphasize this by noting in their Parthenon exhibit all the marbles missing and where they are currently located. Veering away from ranting, another fascinating fact about the Parthenon is that the building has absolutely no straight lines, with the foundation curved to follow the curvature of the earth, and the columns leaning inward at an angle which, if traced, the lines of all the columns would converge 5 miles above the Parthenon (neat huh?). Anyhow, after taking in the rest of the ruins on the Acropolis, including the column bases of the Temple of Augustus and Roma and the Frankish tower where during WWII Greek patriots scaled the Acropolis cliffs to raise the Greek flag in place of the Swastika, we headed out the Propylaea, which was now filled to the brim with tourists, and went down to the Peripatos, once the haunt of Aristotle who waxed philosophic in the cool shadow of the Rock. Along the Peripatos, we passed the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, still used today for concerts and shows, and the truly massive Theatre of Dionysus, taking up the north slope of the Acropolis. Luckily we had Paul with us, who had done reports on the caves and sanctuaries along the Peripatos for the ASCS, so he showed us all the cool things along the path, including the massive stone that denoted the pathway as the Peripatos, and the Sanctuary of Aphrodite and Eros, where the niches are even today used for offerings (usually of rocks or the occasional candle or pomegranate). After the long walk around the Acropolis and the long morning in general, I headed back to relax. I talked to Katt, did some work, went to class for my "quiz," and just relaxed from a long week and got ready for a long, lazy weekend. So, reader, until next time…

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