Saturday, 10 January 2015

Ancient Athens and Cape Sounio

I'm visiting Greece by Tour, simply because I don't feel comfortable doing it my myself and driving myself around the countryside (I have no experience driving in Europe and this is probably not the best way to start). Having arrived a few days early to catch up with a friend, the tour started properly on Saturday morning with Athens.

The heart of Athens is a delightful place, worth wandering around on foot, enjoying the food, the ancient monuments that seem to be everywhere, the touristy shops... The tour did not give us this opportunity as we were on a tight deadline which is almost a pity as there is so much history to immerse one's self into.

What we did do was drive from the hotel to the marble stadium build for the 1896 Olympic Games to take some photos (this temple was built on the location of an ancient stadium, the marble blocks of which were reused). 

We then drove to the Temple of Olympian Zeus (actually built by the Romans on the site of an older temple to Zeus so technically a temple to Jupiter). where we took more photos, had a group photo, and admired views of the Acropolis. 

Next stop was the Acropolis, which typically is still under renovation as they remove the iron joints inserted into the temple by the last team of restorers 100 odd years ago. Though not quite as multicoloured as it once was, the reason for the white and yellow marble is that as a UNESCO site there has to be a clear indication of the differences between the original and the replaced pieces. As a result, the original marble as yellowed with age, while the new marble, quarried from the same site as the original, is white. 

While we were given free time to explore the site, I am glad that Athens is a city I've visited before, so I was able to spend my morsel of time just sitting and absorbing the beauty of the place.

Having visited the Acropolis, the next natural stop was the new museum of the Acropolis, a spectacular building designed to mimic the slopes of the Acropolis and display the friezes in a manner that aligned them with the Pantheon before us (the top floor of the museum is the same shape, size and orientation as the Parthenon and the carved pieces (originals or copies of the Internationsally housed pieces) are positioned, each in their place in the same place they would have been on the real Parthenon.

The original Caryatids are also here, minus the one in the British Museum, the ones on the Acropolis beinga complete set of exact replicas in order to better conserve the originals. 

Wandering around the frieze is is saddening to see how much of it is in the British Museum and in how much of a better condition these pieces are to those that remained in Athens. It is understandable though; Lord Elgin possibly chose certain pieces because they were more elaborately carved (pieces that benefited from the protection from the elements provided by Elgin's home and the British Museum. Meanwhile those that remained on the Acropolis for another 200 years would have been subjected to the destructive elements of acid rain and pollution initiated by the Industrial Revolution. The Museum has provided a beautiful indication of the pieces missing, the pieces in the British Museum (subtly stated) and what some pieces would have looked like before they were almost totally decimated. 

After a brief lunch break, a select few of us jumped back on the bus for a trip south to Cape Sounio, the home of a Temple to Poseidon. It's located on one of the southern most tips of Attica (not Greece, just the arm of Greece where Athens is) and overlooks a drop down to the deep blue Aegean and the first of the Islands of Greece. 

And the mythological connections with the landscape? ...I'll get to those. 

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