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.
We 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.
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.
The 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)
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.
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.
The 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.
Panathinaiko 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.
Constructed 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 Delos
The Lost City & Paradise in Santorini
Find more homeschool related topics to explore at the iHomeschool Network’s Homeschool Hopscotch