Mythological Secrets of Greece: The Acropolis & Ancient Athens

We began our tour of Athens with a visit to the Acropolis, an ancient citadel located on an extremely rocky outcrop above the city of Athens, a sacred site since Mycenaen times. From atop the Acropolis, 360 degree views of the surrounding valley are seemingly endless.

Acropolis & Ancient Athens @EvaVarga.netWe could even see the Aegean Sea. It was easy to understand the importance of this site since Mycenaean times. Athenians worshipped their deities here in temples erected in their honor. The ground was uneven and marble slabs were dispersed amidst gravel. During the height of the Grecian empire the ground would have been solid marble. The marble walls adorned with brightly painted frescoes.

The Acropolis

Parthenon

Perched atop the Acropolis is the Parthenon, dedicated to the goddess Athena whom the people of Athens consider their patron, and one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments. Construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the peak of its power.

It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered the zenith of the Doric order. Its decorative sculptures are considered some of the high points of Greek art. The Parthenon is regarded as an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece, Athenian democracy, and western civilization.

Though critical to ensure the stability of the partially ruined structure, it was unfortunate that the Greek Ministry of Culture was carrying out restoration and reconstruction projects during our visit and thus scaffolding marred our view. I enjoyed listening to our guide describe in detail the metopes and pediments that originally adorned the outer Parthenon.

Ancient Athens: The Parthenon @EvaVarga.netThe metopes of the Parthenon were a series of marble panels (92 originally) which are examples of the Classical Greek high-relief. The metopes of each side of the building had a different subject, and together with the pediments, Ionic frieze, and the statue of Athena Parthenos contained within the Parthenon, formed an elaborate program of sculptural decoration.

The sculptures of the pediments (gable ends) of the temple illustrated the history of the gods. The east pediment narrated the birth of Athena from the head of her father, Zeus. The west pediment depicted the contest between Athena and Poseidon during their competition for the honor of becoming the city’s patron.  Unfortunately, the centrepieces of the pediments were destroyed – only small corners remain.

Temple of Athena Nike

The Temple of Athena Nike Built around 420BC, the temple is the earliest fully Ionic temple on the Acropolis. Nike means victory in Greek, and Athena was worshipped in this form, as goddess of victory in war and wisdom. The citizens worshipped the goddess in hope of a successful outcome in the long Peloponnesian War fought on land and sea against the Spartans and their allies. (pictured at top in the photo collage)

Ancient Athens: Erqchtheion Temple @EvaVarga.netErechtheion

The Erechtheion was particularly impressive with the famous “Porch of the Maidens” (caryatids) disguising the supporting columns unobstructed on the south side. This ancient Greek temple on the north side of the Acropolis was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon.

It was built between 421 and 406 BC and derived its name from a shrine dedicated to the legendary Greek hero Erichthonius. Others suggest it was built in honor of the legendary king Erechtheum, who was mentioned in Homer’s Iliad as a great king and ruler of Athens during the Archaic Period.

Surrounding Athens

Temple of Zeus

The temple, built in the second quarter of the fifth century BC, was a fully developed classical Greek temple of the Doric order. The temple housed the renowned statue of Zeus, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was lost and destroyed during the fifth century AD and details of its form are known only from ancient Greek descriptions and representations on coins.

Ancient Athens: Temple of Zeus @EvaVarga.netThe temple was of peripteral form, with a frontal pronaos (porch), mirrored by a similar arrangement at the back of the building, the opisthodomos. The building sat on a crepidoma (platform) of three unequal steps, the exterior columns were positioned in a six by thirteen arrangement, two rows of seven columns divided the cella (interior) into three aisles.

The temple lies in ruins today perhaps due, in part, to the materials and design. The main structure of the building was constructed of a local limestone that was unattractive and of poor quality, and so it was coated with a thin layer of stucco to give it an appearance of marble to match the sculptural decoration. It was roofed with marble cut into the shape of tiles and thin enough to be translucent.

Panathinaikos Olympic Stadium @EvaVarga.netPanathinaiko Olympic Stadium

The Panathenaic Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium and the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. It hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and was once again used as an Olympic venue in 2004.

Annually, it is the finishing point for the annual Athens Classic Marathon. It is also the last venue in Greece from where the Olympic flame handover ceremony to the host nation takes place.

We would have liked the afternoon free to explore the Placa – a lively region of downtown that remains architecturally unchanged. However, we had signed up for the optional Cape Sounion tour. We thus had to return to the hotel for a quick lunch before departing once more by coach.

Temple of Poseidon

In the late afternoon, we enjoyed a relaxing drive along the Athenian Riviera coast to the southernmost tip of the Attica peninsula, which projects into the Aegean Sea. Here we visited the splendid Temple of Poseidon which, like the Temple of Zeus, was constructed in the fifth century BC. In a maritime country like Greece, the god of the sea occupied a high position in the divine hierarchy. In power, Poseidon was considered second only to Zeus.

The ancient temple is perched above a 197-foot drop down to the Aegean Sea below and is surrounded on three sides by the sea. It is clear why the ancient Greeks had selected this location for the temple to honor Poseidon.

Ancient Athens: Temple of Poseidon @EvaVarga.netConstructed in 444–440 BC over the ruins of a temple dating from the Archaic period, the design of the temple is a typical hexastyle featuring a rectangular cella (interior), with a colonnade of 34 Doric columns quarried of white marble on all four sides. Today, only 15 columns still stand.

The area is steeped in Greek history and was once the site of the world’s first lighthouse. It was here that it is believed to be where King Aegeus threw himself from the rocky precipice, a 197 foot drop to the sea below, thereby lending his name to the Aegean Sea.

Ancient Greek religion was propitiatory in nature, essentially based on the notion that to avoid misfortune, one must constantly seek the favour of the relevant gods by prayers, gifts and sacrifices. To the ancient Greek, every natural feature (hill, lake, stream or wood) was controlled by a god.

Dinner at Psiri

We ended the evening with a delightful “meze style” dining experience at a wonderful restaurant located in the lively area of Psiri. Dining “meze style”, we were provided the opportunity to taste many Greek cuisine dishes, which were served in the center of the table for everyone to enjoy.

Seating was al fresco right next to the street – quite the experience as motorists zipped through the narrow street. Everything was delicious and our company was wonderful!

This is the first in a five-day hopscotch exploring the Mythological Secrets of Greece:

The Acropolis & Ancient Athens (this post)

The Island of Mykonos

The Island of Delos

The Lost City & Paradise in Santorini

Nea & Palea Kameni

Hopscotch-2017-67808

Find more homeschool related topics to explore at the iHomeschool Network’s Homeschool Hopscotch

 

Falling in Love with Italy: Sightseeing in Rome

We arrived in Rome in the late morning and had a long wait for our luggage at the carousel and another long wait for our rooms upon our arrival at the Ergife Hotel via taxi. Several drivers offered “taxi” services upon our departure of the hotel lobby – we’ve learned however that it’s best to walk past to the line of “official” taxis outside; generally less expensive and no need to trek across the expansive parking lot.

Once we had arrived at our rooms (with tiny twins reminding us of Xi’an – where we were coincidentally exactly two years prior), we changed into our swimsuits and went down to the pool for a couple of hours. It was huge and though a little chilly, the swim felt so good. Just what we needed to loosen our muscles after the long flight and many hours of sitting. We took a short nap and then returned to our room to change for dinner.

sightseeing in romeSightseeing in Rome ~ Day One

Via Ottaviano

We then ventured forth to experience Italy for the first time. We walked quite a distance from the hotel to reach the subway and then proceeded to Via Ottaviano, not far from the Vatican, where we window shopped for a short time before coming to a quaint restaurant with outdoor seating along the sidewalk. The boys selected pizza (cheese for Jeffrey and salami for Patrick) while I chose spaghetti carbonara and Geneva, a mozzarella and tomato salad. The food was delicious! Pasta and pizza in Rome! I could hardly believe it was true.

After dinner, we continued to walk along Ottaviano until we came to the St. Peter’s Square. The boys spent a significant amount of time here taking photographs as Geneva and I sat down to people watch. To be quite frank, I hadn’t slept well on the plane and wasn’t feeling well. Geneva enjoyed the quiet time to sketch in her journal.

As we began to retrace our steps back to the hotel, we stopped for gelato at Lemongrass. It was heavenly! Geneva selected their signature recipe – lemongrass with white chocolate, lemon cream, and grain pralines. Patrick and Jeffrey chose their usual, cookies & cream and mango, respectively. My choice was ricotta e fiche – soft white sheep cheese with Mediterranean figs. Mmmmmm. To this day, Geneva and I rave about the gelato here. It turned out to be the best in all of Italy.

davinci journalsSightseeing in Rome ~ Day Two

Piazza del Popolo

The following day, our first destination was the Piazza del Popolo for a which featured an Egyptian obelisk at the center. Here we also discovered a Leonardo da Vinci museum which was very nice – featuring many hands-on models and a few artifacts, namely a few of his journals!

Tip: Click on the links of the notable sights to enjoy a photo sphere in Google maps, a 360-degree panorama.

Castel Sant ‘Angelo

We then walked to Castel Sant ‘Angelo, crossing the River Tiber via the Ponte Regina Margherita. The Castel Sant’Angelo, also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian, is a towering cylindrical building in Parco Adriano. It was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. Once the tallest building in Rome, it was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum.

The castle was quite impressive and thus we paid the admission to see the interior. Were were not disappointed. There were many artifacts and elaborately decorated rooms within. Most notably was a statue of Marcus Tulles Cicero. As we rounded the steps to a lower level, I’d remarked that it resembled Voldemort and the party behind us started laughing and stated they were thinking the same thing.

Dinner at Il Giardino

In the afternoon, we met up with our Trafalgar tour group for introductions and an overview of our itinerary. It was quite a large group in comparison to International Expeditions, our first experience with group travel. To conclude the evening, we took a bus around the city for a short evening highlight tour and then enjoyed a traditional Italian style dinner at Il Giardino de Albino. The meal was several courses – antipasti, a variety of salami selections, breads, four pastas, and dessert with coffee and limoncello, a lemon liqueur.

Sightseeing in Rome ~ Day Three

We departed via coach with the group for the Vatican, the first of our optional tours in Italy (and an extra expanse paid in country). Trafalgar had made advance reservations and thus we were able to skip the long lines that serpentined around the Vatican walls. We were able to enter immediately upon our arrival, a blessing as it was pouring down rain. This is the best benefit of traveling with a group but I’ll save these observations for a later post.

The Vatican Museums house ancient Roman sculptures such as the Laocoön, Renaissance frescoes, and the Sistine Chapel, famous for Michelangelo’s ceiling. Our tour group moved rather quickly through each of the rooms it was near impossible to retain what she shared – even when we could hear her. It was so crowded.

The art inside was simply stunning. I hadn’t realized that the borders or frames between images was not in fact 3-dimensional  paneling but was painted to appear 3D! Even the long hallways were decorated floor to ceiling; mosaic inlay floors, tapestries and sculptures on pedestals, and my favorite the cartography hall with maps of the Roman provinces and regions representing each of the foreign dignitaries.

Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel was larger than I had imagined. Photographs and talking were prohibited but that didn’t stop everyone. As the murmur of whispers grew, the guard boomed over a megaphone, “SILENCE! SILENCIO!” We enjoyed sitting on a bench along the wall to take in as much detail as we could.

popealtarSt. Peter’s Basilica

I was impressed, too, with the enormity of St. Peter’s Basilica. The paintings inside had been replaced with mosaics as the smoke from the Pope’s ___ had damaged the fragile nature of the paints. Symbolic burial urns and numerous altars adorned the cavernous interior. There were also two mummies of past popes who had been canonized:  

  • Pope John XXIII (1963) — who convened the Second Vatican Council; he was exhumed in 2000, mummified and put on display under St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
  • St. Pio da Pietreicina (1968) — Italian priest who was inflicted with stigmata (the five wounds of Christ) while praying.

In the floor were covered openings that gave visitors a peak into the crypts below. There are over 100 tombs within St. Peter’s Basilica, many located in the Vatican grotto, beneath the Basilica. These include 91 popes.

Within the Basilica there is also a wedding chapel and a Baptismal Fountain. During our tour, there were services taking place at a couple of the altars. In the center was a large dark canopy that looked to me like Mahogany. Our guide pointed out that it was actually bronze. In fact, all the dark colored material on the walls and surfaces that looked like wood is actually bronze. From this central canopy, only the Pope is permitted to give services.

colosseumThe Colosseum

The early part of the afternoon was spent at the Colosseum. It is hard to imagine the splendor of this incredible structure – built primarily for Roman entertainment of slaughtering wild and exotic animals. We learned that the thumbs up / down hand signal so popularly featured in the movies is slightly inaccurate. To save the life of the gladiator, the emperor would poll his people. If they felt his performance worthy, they would enclose their thumb within their fists. To signal his death, they’d made a slow downward slashing motion with an open palm.

Much of the Colosseum has fallen into ruins and has only partly been restored. Fortunately, a portion of the arena floor has been rebuilt so visitors can visualize the structure at the peak of its use. Just before departing, we took a group photo at the Arch of Constantine.

As we drove back to the hotel that afternoon, we drove past the Circo Massimo where chariot races had previously been contested. Other notable sights we observed from the coach included the Palatino and Campidoglio (hilltop square designed by Michelangelo). I was frustrated that we didn’t have more time.

pinnochioBackstreets of Rome

In the evening we gathered for the second optional tour, Backstreets, Piazzas, and Fountains of Rome. Our first stop of this walking tour was the Trevi Fountain which was sadly under renovation during our visit. So much of the fountain was covered in scaffolding and the area so very crowded (several other tour groups were here at the same time) that it was uncomfortable and very frustrating.

After a quick little gelato, we continued on our walk rather swiftly through the back streets as our guide pointed out different architectural points of interest. There was just too much visual and audio input that even I was overwhelmed. Jeffrey gave up listening and removed his ear bud.

Along the way, there were many quaint little shops, restaurants, and gelaterias where we would have loved to browse. I was especially disappointed that we were not given time to stop at a shop where a woodworker was carving a Pinnochio. I so desperately wanted to observe him longer and buy one but we were pressured to keep moving.

pantheonThe Pantheon

The Pantheon was constructed on the site of an earlier building commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus. The present building was completed by the emperor Hadrian and probably dedicated about 126 AD. An opening at the center of the ceiling lets in natural light and of course any precipitation. The center floor is clear of furnishings or sculptures but covered with elaborate mosaic designs.  As before, the interior walls were adorned with murals and ornately decorated altars.

Piazza Navona

Lastly we visited the Piazza Navona which had at one time been built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian (1st century AD) before the walls bordering the Trevere (River Tiber) were built to avoid flooding and the city streets were raised. A prominent feature of this piazza today is Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or Fountain of the Four Rivers (1651) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Here, we were given a short time to browse on our own and get something for dinner. Another unanticipated expense. I’ve become a little disenchanted with group travel. We opted to move away from the piazza and find a small pizzeria that would be a little less spendy.

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This post is part of a five-post series, The Italian Scene: Falling in Love with Italy.  Join me tomorrow as I share our experiences in Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.

Hopscotch-August2016My post is one of many hopscotch link-ups. Hop over and see what others are sharing.