Athens – The Destination

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Athens was named after Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, which is certainly fitting for the birthplace itself. Evidence of its ancient heyday is everywhere, in the remnants of monuments, statuary and sacred sites that are still revered as survivors of one of history’s most important eras.

A Poseidon adventure in art

In Greek mythology, Poseidon is the god of sea, so it is only fitting that the astoundingly wrought bronze statue of him was raised from the bottom of the Aegean Sea, where it lay for centuries after a shipwreck off the Cape of Artemision. The two-meter tall figure stands with arms extended and leaning forward on its left leg. The right hand once held a trident, and the unknown sculptor clearly was a master in accurately duplicating the complicated balancing act that goes into the seemingly simple motion of throwing a spear.

This work of art is one of the many stunning bronzes at the National Archeological Museum in Athens. The museum’s collection – which includes pieces that date all the way back to the prehistoric period – offers the best collection of Greek art in the world. Renovations closed the museum for a year and half, but it was reopened just in time for the 2004 Olympic Games.

At 260 feet above the city, the Acropolis (“high city”) is not only the highest point in Athens, but for many people it is the high point of any visit to Greece. It is the oldest known settlement in Greece and was a sacred site for ancient Athenians.

During the period of 448 to 420 B.C., the distinguished Athenian statesman Pericles commissioned the construction of four new monuments on the Acropolis at the site of former ruins. The Athenian sculptor Phidias presided over the construction and interior design. The Ionic Erechtheum includes the Porch of Caryatids, with its column in the shape of monumental female figures that identify remains a mystery. The Ionic Temples of Athena Nike, dedicated to the cult of Athena as the goddess of victory, was built during the Peloponnesian War, its frieze depicts the Greek victory over the Persians in the battle of Plataea. The Propylaea, the gateway to the Acropolis with rows of both Doric and Ionic columns, replaced an earlier version destroyed by the Persians. And of course, the Acropolis remains home to what’s left of the Parthenon.

The Parthenon, designed by architects Iktinos and Kallikrates, took 15 years to complete. It was the closest to Pericles’ heart: Among various friezes depicting life among gods, the large statue of Athena represented his homage to the goddess and to the greatness of Athens.

Even in A.D. 131, savvy developers like the Roman Emperor Hadrian recognized the importance of signage. “This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus,” reads the inscription on Hadrian’s arch, situated at the foot of the Acropolis and once the marker between Hadrianopolis and the Athens city limits. The side facing the Acropolis and ancient Athens reads, ” This is Athens, the city of Theseus.”

Like all the surrounding monuments and the Athens infrastructure itself, Hadrian’s Arch has undergone a major facelift. The 60-foot high archway, constructed of Pentelic marble, upheld by columns with Corthinian capitals and topped by a series of Corinthians columns, lost a bit of structural stability in the mid-18th century, when 8 of its columns were removed.

Restorers shored up the arch, cleaned away centuries of pollution and repaired its cracks, just in time for the 2004 Olympic Games.

The Evzones

The Evzones were once the elite soldiers of the Greek army. Today they are the presidential guards, a ceremonial unit that maintains watch over The Parliament, The Presidential Mansion and The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The soldiers wear a traditional and highly photogenic uniform comprising a scarlet cap with a long black tassel, a cotton tunic, black knee tassels above white stockings, red clogs with black pompons and a woolen kilt called a fustanella. The fustanella has 400 pleats, one for each year that the Greeks were on the occupation of the Ottoman Empire. Bearing leather cartridge belts and rifles with a bayonet, the soldiers maintain strict physical discipline as they stand at attention and resist tourists’ attempts to distract them.

A changing of guard is performed daily before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but on Sundays, the complete ceremony – involving an army band and dozens of soldiers – is conducted.

Alice in Wonderland

Imagine Alice in Wonderland’s tumble into a magical world, and you will have an idea what this-off-beaten-path attraction in the Village of Paiania is like. Far larger than a rabbit hole, Koutouki Cave is a natural wonder that will awe you with its colors and formations. In 1926, a goat disappeared from its herd where it was grazing on the slope of Mount Ymittos. A search turned up a small crevice, and a brave soul descended by rope into the abyss below. The goat had not survived the fall, but its intended rescuer returned with a story of a beautiful underground chamber.

The vertical cave consists of a 38.5 meter shaft that opens onto a large cavern with a diameter of about 60 meters. Guided tours take visitors in through a man-made entrance and lead them on a path through stalactites and stalagmites formed by mineral deposits from water seeping through the limestone of the mountain. The tour ends with a light show accompanied by classical music. It’s just a short taxi ride from Athens to nearby Paiania.

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Classical Athens to Modern One

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“Just as eyes are trained to astronomy, what are the ears to perceive the movements of harmony.” This quote belongs to the Athenian philosopher Plato, who possesses the highest figure in his time in the town that gave birth to democracy. The ideas around an architecture of parameters studied and balanced for a time in which the sage lived with Socrates and Aristotle differentiated way. This moment marks the zenith that Greece has had in its history, more refreshing than any other and that the Roman empire for centuries used this extension to the thinking in the West.

In these days of apathy the Athenian capital stretches slowly, but steadily. It is the epicenter of thinking, knowing and dedicated to the daily lives of its inhabitants, totaling nearly four million. Byzantine conquests enriched the past despite the political struggles that still exist between Turkey and the country and around the city today is a mixture of survival, rundown myth, and racial variety.

The desire to discover what lies beneath the ruins in  Athens  is a constant traveler who gets surprised by the way the most advanced social thought public education participates in the elitism of the port of Piraeus or small restaurants of the low of the Acropolis.

The first thing the visitor, a lover of the classical past of the city should do is make a booking in the Plaka. The hostels in  Athens , located in the winding streets of the place, offering access to the ancient Greek  city  and revolve around 10/15 Euros.

Then our meeting will begin with the city. The metro network (single ticket 0.80 EUR), tram and bus service is remarkable and is the best option (even reach the city from the airport) to scroll. To delve into classical  Athens , we know that we will move one or two areas where the development of our legs is important.

The pedestrian zone is around the Acropolis has an area of over three miles. By acquiring entry (General 12 EUR, Sundays and students free) walks around the ancient Agora and the Temple of Olympian Zeus by it would be advisable to begin the journey to reach the top of the polish (the acropolis). The vision of the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike and Erechtheion (adorned with the rostrum of the caryatids) will be our reward in addition to the magnificent view it gives us the rise of the Gulf Sarano. On the hill, we will run into the theater where playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles and Aristophanes premiered many of his works, the Theater of Dionysus.

The agora to which we referred earlier, and whose function was public communication among its inhabitants, is the valley between the Acropolis and the hill of Philopappou. The latter is the eponymous name funerary monument that we cannot ignore.

In the current political  center  of  Athens  are Plato’s Academy, reconstruction of Théophile Hansen in 1887 as a library, and the National Archaeological Museum (EUR 7 general admission, free EU student). Parts like the funeral mask of Agamemnon or the Zeus of Artemision are headquartered in place, althoughm ost of the city’s treasures were looted in the colonial period and taken to other cities. See, for example, the headquarters of the Elgin Marbles, the British Museum in London.

XXI century Greeks were aware of being the origin of language, culture and pace of life, but today nothing extrapolated. The appointment of Socrates “I am a citizen, not of  Athens  or Greece, if not the world” would be understood today pursuant to globalization, but not in the sense that the teacher of Plato meant to express universal ideas a  city  and country, classical  Athens  and Greece in half the world.

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Athens City Breaks Guide

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For more than 3500 years  Athens  has been attracting visitors. Rich in history and home to one of the most famous buildings of the world – the Parthenon, which represents the golden age of  Athens  urban planning, it is impossible to compete with the impressive architecture of the  city . Apart from being just a tourist spot,  Athens  is also home to more than half the population of Greece.  Athens   city  breaks will surely help you know about this extremely beautiful city.

You are sure to fall in love with the jumbled and elegant skyline of neoclassical facades, whitewashed sugar-cube houses, the Plaka quarter – a colorful mixture of flea markets and antique shops, markets that have stalls piled with huge tubs of olive, fresh fish and well stocked tables laid out of the pavement tavernas.

The acropolis is one of the places visited most by tourists. It provides the best of classical architecture that you can find anywhere else in the world. You find the slender ionic columns of the Temple of Athena and the six female caryatids of the Erechtheion included in the satellite buildings. Theater had a great role in ancient Greece. The Roman theater of Herodes Atticus still stages summer shows for theater enthusiasts. After having a cultural feast at the Acropolis, you can visit the Benaki Museum where you can kindle your curiosities, and the National Archaeological Museum will keep you occupied for days. If you are looking to take a break from the hustle of the Athenian life, a peaceful walk along the 40 acres of the National Gardens is the best.

It is believed that modern  Athens  was born in 1834 and restored as the capital of the newly independent Greece. After the second world war, a massive expansion took place that was funded by American money. The Mediterranean climate was responsible for the high temperatures in the city. Pollution and excess traffic were some of the problems that  Athens  began to face. Visitors and philosophers felt that the architectural excellence were overshadowed by the urbanization. However, more than 3 million people visit this city each year and have a quick look at their favorite places.

Apart from the celebrated classical sites, the city also boasts of Byzanthine, the medieval and ninth century monuments and some of the famous museums in the world. You will also appreciate some of the areas that are immersed in surprisingly natural beauty. Though there is heavy traffic, the village like qualities are very evident in their cafes, markets, tavernas, and in the maze streets surrounding Plaka.  Athens  is also known for its fine restaurants and colorful and varied night life. The port at Piraeus and the metropolitan area are economic powerhouse and industrial areas of Greece. The Olympics in 2004 brought in many new developments that included an airport, new sports venues, extension of the metro system, up-gradation of hotels and renovation of many top museums.

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Cheap Athens Hotels

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 Athens  is the capital  city  of Greece, having a population of close to 5 million people. It is one of the oldest cities in the world. Whenever people talk about  Athens , there is always a mixture of feelings between love and hatred.

People love  Athens  because there are so many things to do. To name a few, there are museums, theatres and concert halls. There are also fashion shops, cinemas, modern shopping centres and also nightclubs and bars. On the other side, it is a very big city and the traffic jams and pollution can be very bad at times. In general, it seems that most people still love to visit  Athens .

Like most hotels in other countries, the hotels in  Athens  are divided into several categories with 5-Star being the most luxurious and 2-Star being the most economical. However, it is worth to note that the difference in categories does not mean that one hotel is better than the other. This is because there are different levels within each category. I have come across 2 cheap hotels in  Athens  which are low-price but are of high quality and value for money.

Attalos Hotel

The 2-Star hotel is located in the heart of  Athens  and close to the Kotzia Square and Parthenon. Next to it is the Monastiraki Flea market and Metro Station and it takes about 5 minutes to walk to the Acropolis. There is a rooftop cafe which is air-conditioned. From there, you can have a nice view of the Parthenon. The hotel also provides free wireless internet access in case you need to check your emails. At Attalos Hotel, you get to enjoy top quality services at a very low price. There is also a safe in the room so that you do not have to worry about your valuables.

 Athens  Cypria Hotel

This 3-Star hotel is located in  Athens  and has 115 well furnished guest rooms. In the room you can find a refrigerator, a mini-bar, a direct dial-out phone, a television with satellite channels and a safe. Free wireless internet access is also available should you need to surf the net or check your emails.

Both hotels are cheap but are of high quality. During off-peak seasons, it costs only less than $80 per night with free internet access. If you plan to visit  Athens  in the near future and are not sure where to stay, the 2 hotels might be an additional option for you.

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Athens Travel

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Overview

 Athens  is one of the most historical  cities  in the world, and the architecture of the city is a tell-tale sign of the centuries of history that have been lived out within its walls.  Athens  is surrounded on three sides by mountains, and, on the fourth side, the  city  extends to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The area just off of the face of the sea is Pireas, the city’s harbor. All of the city streets lead to Pireas. Besides being surrounded by mountains, there are also eight hills within the city, most notably Acropolis and Lykavittos. The  city’s   center , Syntagma Square, is the  city’s  business district, home to most of  Athens ‘ hotels, restaurants, bars, and banks. The Plaka, seated at the foot of the Acropolis, is the city’s historic district with distinct remnants of the city’s Roman past. The top of the Acropolis is commonly referred to as the High City, the location of many marble temples dedicated to Athena. Another area worth mentioning is Psiri, the city’s industrial district, home of many local bars, cafes, and corner shops.

Sightseeing Attractions

The most historical site in  Athens  is definitely Acropolis, home of the Parthenon, the Erectheion, and the Temple of Athena Nike. However, there are many other sites in  Athens  that have just as much historical value, though they are tucked in amongst the grayness of the  city’s  modern architecture. The best way to see everything that  Athens  has to offer is to start in Acropolis and work your way down. A walk through the areas at the foot of the Acropolis — Anafiotika, Plaka, Monastiraki and Thiseio — will merit a wealth of historical buildings, from remnants of the Roman Era to art deco buildings from the late 20th century.

Museums

Because  Athens  is a  city  with such a long and great history, its museums are packed with artifacts and arts that no other city in the world has to offer. There are four major museums that every tourist should visit, though there are many more that are notable. The four main museums are the Acropolis Museum, the Benaki Museum, the National Archeological Museum of  Athens , and the Museum of Cycladic Art.

Nightlife

For upscale shopping, head for Kolonaki, just outside of Syntagma Square, or, for less upscale and more original souvenirs, check out Ermou Street. Most of the city’s restaurants are clustered around Syntagma Square; however, Psiri has recently been earning a name for itself as far as dining and drinking is concerned. While the businesses in Syntagma Square are fairly tourist-oriented, the businesses around Psiri are more artsy and less expensive. The smaller shops often have the best food as well. Psiri is also a great area for nighttime drinking and socalizing; however, the club district is located on the harbor, and many of the parties move out to the beach during the summer months.

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Athens – Greece

Few cities in the world can compare to the historical significance of Athens. This city is not only the site of the first democracy in history; it has also been populated for over seven thousand years! When Ancient Greece started to rise in the fifth century B.C., it was Athens that sprang up as its capital and epicenter for the government. Athens is still the capital of Greece to this day but much has changed in the many thousands of years since it became the precursor to all of western civilization.

Despite its age, Athens still manages to be a very important and culturally relevant city in the 21st Century. It ranks among the top forty richest cities in the world and is also in the top thirty most expensive cities to live in. This owes much to the fact that Athens is and always has had a central role not only in the economic and political sphere of Greece but of the whole of Europe. Back when it was called “Classical Athens” and was considered one of many “city-states”, it was the educational capital of the world. The fathers of philosophy and modern thinking called Athens their home and the city fostered the growth of the mind, a concept relatively untouched by other countries at the time. Athens was the site of Socrates’ famous dialogues while Plato and Aristotle both used Athens as their headquarters for furthering the Socratic Method with the former’s Academy and the latter’s Lyceum still standing to this day within the city limits.

These days, Athens still boasts a remarkable beauty thanks to the combination of the ancient Greco-Roman architecture mixed with the Neo-Classical and Modern styles that stand side by side and, in some cases like Omonoia Square, are mixed together to create strikingly beautiful buildings. Though the city has withstood attacks from Persians, Romans, Germans, and many more in its thousands of years of existence, the beautiful art and architecture of Athens was nearly decimated by a very unlikely foe in the 1970s: Pollution. The vast amount of air pollution around Greece was taking its toll on the statues and sculptures until the Minister of Culture stepped in and completely revamped Athens’ energy policy. Thanks to his efforts visitors today can stroll around the Acropolis and the Parthenon without breathing in smog and the gorgeous caryatids and sculptures now seem poised to withstand yet another millennium.

Tourists still flock to Athens on a large scale each year and it isn’t hard to see why. Whether it is the history buff reveling in the leftovers of the first democracy or the partygoers who worship Athens’ beautiful beaches and nightlife, there is truly something for everybody in this remarkable city. Few ancient towns possess the immediacy of modern day Athens and it is a testament to the city’s unerring dedication to furthering the mind with intellectual pursuits rather than warmongering that this gorgeous area still stands proudly as a shining beacon to the brilliance of Ancient Greece.

Athens Holiday – The Greek Capital

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This metropolitan capital is also the largest and one of the oldest cities in Greece.  Athens  is rich with ancient history, myths and a contemporary touch of bars, café and restaurants.  Athens  is also the  city  of Olympics, architecture and holiday in  Athens  is nevertheless a complete adventure in itself, with  Athens  offering breathtaking archaeological rich places, beaches and crowded shopping areas.

Following are some of the tourist spots or attractions one must visit when holidaying in  Athens :

Acropolis

Acropolis is one of the major tourist spots as it stands high up on the hills, giving a spectacular view of the Greek capital. The structure is loaded with archaeological values and its origin goes back to 510 BC. The attraction is also worth paying a visit when holidaying in  Athens , due to the amazing temples surrounding it. Every year huge crowd of tourists and visitors come to acropolis when on a holiday in  Athens . Never miss acropolis when in  Athens .

Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon

This tourist spot is a great way to enjoy holiday in  Athens  by viewing sunset, also you get to experience archaeological rich monuments surrounded with striking sea view. The place is a quite a hit among foreign tourist and local visitors.

National Archaeological Museum

This popular tourist spot was structured in year 1889 and is home to some of the most amazing ancient artifacts and proof of really old civilizations. The museum is loved by many who plan a holiday in  Athens  just for its history and archeological richness. The museum has mask of Agamemnon that goes 3,600 years back. Greek sculptures, Cycladic idols, pottery and ancient jewelry, coins as well as a 2000 years old finding of a computer.

The Plaka

Plaka is loved by tourist and visitors and is a major way to wind down when holidaying in  Athens  and experiencing the thick and thin of  Athens’s  archeology. This 19th century narrow streets going down the acropolis is filled with shops, cafes, boutiques and local building. This tourist spot is round the clock surrounded with tourist and local visitors. You can always found good souvenir to take back to your country from souvenir shops on Plaka.

Piraeus

This attraction is found at the suburbs of  Athens  and has tourist and local visitors of  Athens  all dinning at best and sophisticated dine outs, taverns and sea food restaurants. Piraeus is not exactly a part of  Athens , but can be reached by ferries and is worth paying a visit, when relishing an exotic holiday in  Athens .

Kessariani

Maintained and run by a group of monks, the monastery is a regularly visited by tourist holidaying in  Athens , due to its historic and amazing built and background. The building built in 11 century got its mosaics in 16th or 17th century. This orthodox monastery is surrounded with pleasing scenery, flourishing gardens and enjoyable views.

Time to visit or holiday in  Athens 

The best time to holiday in  Athens  would be anytime other than months of summers, which are hot and humid enough to make the holiday a disappointment. Thus, it is better to visit  Athens , for that fun and enjoyment, in the months of March and October. Spring and autumn is always good time to tour  Athens .

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A Guide to Athens City

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Why go to  Athens 

 Athens , the capital of Greece, is often referred to as the cradle of Western Civilization. Despite the recent economic downturn, tourism in Greece continues to grow and the 2500 old  Athens   City  remains one of the main draws.

The archaeological promenade, a 2.5 miles long, treeline walkway now connects the Acropolis to the city’s major ancient sites making the visit to these places infinitely a much more pleasant experience.

While for most visitors  Athens  may be about its historical monuments the  city  has much more to offer.  Athens  promises one of the most happening nightlife options in Europe with everything on offer from the modern tavernas in the former district of Gazi to the sophisticated lounge-bars and eateries of Kolonaki.

 Athens  is well connected by Europe’s largest passenger port, Piraeus. The port serves more than one million of visitors who have the option of taking ferries, catamarans and hydrofoils to the various Greek islands. Piraeus is the gateway for short cruises around the Greek Islands and many companies stop here en route to their Mediterranean and world cruises. Visitors can disembark and explore the hilltop Acropolis, the Parthenon and Delphi.

When to go to  Athens 

 Athens  invites visitors all year round. For sightseeing, the best time to visit is during spring and autumn when the days are warm and sunny. The temperatures sore from mid-June to late August, while the whether remains unpredictable November and February ranging from bright to rainy to occasional snow.

How to reach

Olympic Air and Aegean Airlines operate direct flights from several countries. The cost of flights to Greece is highest from July and August when most Europeans take their holidays. For the rest of the year, prices vary according to demand.

Cruises

Cruise ships disembark passengers at the  city’s  port, Piraeus, which is about 8miles from  Athens   city   centre . Shuttle buses ferry passengers from the port to the city centre. Their frequency and cost depends on the cruise ship company involved. The metro (green line) also runs from Piraeus to Monastiraki, below the Acropolis and taxis are also available.

Transfers

 Athens  International Airport is about 17 miles north-east of the  city . The metro connects to Syntagma and Monastiraki in the city centre. Besides there are airport buses, operated by  Athens  Urban Transport Organisation that run to and from the  city . Taxi services are also available.

Getting around

 Athens  is best explored on foot, however, public transport system is both efficient and cheap. It includes buses, trolley buses and the metro. You can also hire a car in  Athens   city   centre . However, roads are congested and parking is difficult and expensive.

Accommodation

There are several options available including Greece villas, hotels and guesthouses. The peak months are July and August and so if you are visiting during this period, it is advisable to book accommodation in advance.

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Breathtaking Historical Athens

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The history of  Athens  dates back over five millennia and one can therefore imagine the rich culture, art and civilization that it must possess. Tourists like to visit  Athens  for its range of absorbing museums, to explore ruined temples and relish the exquisite Greek cuisine.

On an  Athens  tour one must explore the splendid Parthenon, considered perhaps, to be the finest of all Greek temples. The adjoining area too has a collection of temples which can be explored. Another captivating temple is the Temple of Olympian Zeus built by the Romans.

Being an ancient  city ,  Athens  naturally is home to a number of renowned museums. You would require almost a day to view the famous collection of ancient Greek artifacts on a visit to the National Archaeological Museum. The Theatre Museum and the Numismatic Museum are worth a shot for their fascinating displays.

You will be surprised by the rich cultural life that  Athens  is proud of. You must on a visit to  Athens  see productions of ancient plays in their original settings. It is an experience by itself to explore the many shops and classy restaurants of Kolonaki. A taste of Greek coffee on the streets of Plaka will impress you. One historical site which one must not miss is ‘The Acropolis Hill’ or also called the ‘Sacred Rock’. The area is home to three important temples: the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and the temple of Nike in honor of the goddess Athena. These and many other  Athens  sites you can take pleasure in while enjoying the hospitality of  Athens  hotels.

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The East Side Of Athens Ancient Agora

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During the rule of Solon the Lawgiver, when the  Athens  Agora was taking shape, its eastern side was entirely free of buildings. The Dromos cut across the area diagonally, serving as a boundary. But since the city was growing, the need for public buildings was also increasing, especially after the Persian wars. Then it was that a great rectangular colonnade was built around structures that very likely belonged to one of the  Athens  courthouses, as indicated by a ballot box with judges’ votes found there. During the Hellenistic period, Attalos of Pergamum donated to the city of Pallas Athena a magnificent, two-storey stoa, squaring off the Agora site and extending the business centre of the city east of the main road. These buildings were destroyed when the city was sacked by Sulla; but immediately afterwards, the Romans began a rapid reconstruction, an unerring measure taken by conquerors throughout history. On this side of the Agora, a library was built and then another stoa, beside that of Attalos. These and other structures were seen by Pausanias and Strabo when they came to  Athens  in the 2nd century AD.

Of the first long narrow stoa on the southeastern corner of the site, just a few vestiges remained because of the many changes the building underwent during the years after it was first built. Initially, the Stoa was on two levels along the Panathenaic Way, in order to compensate for the natural slope of the ground. It had eleven spaces for shops and a row of columns with Ionic capitals. It must have been a very busy spot, as shown by the figures of Herms, animals, and sundials carved on the first of the columns. The layabouts of antiquity also carved youthful profiles, some with lovely classical features and others created with the intent to ridicule.

The colonnade must have extended in front of the library beside it, of which nothing remains, because it was totally destroyed during the Herulian raid, but also because the wall put up afterward was built on top of the structures on this side of the Agora. Evidence of the inhabitants’ anxiety after the sack of the city are the pieces of columns lying like wounded giants, in the hurriedly built wall.

This was the 3rd century AD, when the Roman Empire was confronting the threat of fierce Germanic tribes such as the Goths, Vandals and others, who had set out in the north, followed the river roads of eastern Europe and joined together with the nomadic tribes of the Caucasus. From there they spilled over into the Roman possessions around the Black Sea and Asia Minor. The Goths, together with their cousins, the Herulians, built a powerful fleet and sailed down into the Aegean sowing devastation. They captured Lemnos and Skyros, and destroyed Corinth and Argos while other cities were desperately and vainly building fortifications. In the sack of  Athens , the Herulians destroyed everything except for the temple of Hephaistos and the sanctuaries on the Acropolis. The entire Agora was covered with a layer of ash from the buildings burned at that time. Many keys have been found which had been thrown into wells at that period, an indication of the despair felt by the frantic inhabitants. But the barbarian occupation did not last long. Encouraged by the fiery speeches of the orator Dexippus, the residents of  Athens  remembered how their ancestors had dealt with the Persians, and as one man, two thousand Athenians managed to expel the invaders.

Immediately afterward, they built a wall using rubble from the ruined buildings. The perimeter of this wall greatly reduced the area which the Athenians would have to protect in any future attack. The fortifications started under the Propylaea, from the position of the present Beule gate, descended to the east side of the Panathenaic Way, crossed the southeastern stoa and the library, reached as far as the back wall of the Stoa of Attalos, turned east for some meters and then turned south again, to touch the Acropolis rock. The extent of this fortification shows that the number of residents had already – dropped sharply. The wall was 11-1/2 meters high and 3-1/2 m. wide, it had two faces and the space in between was filled with column drums, inscriptions, pedestals of votive statues and sculptures of all kinds. Traces of one fortress tower and parts of a water mill have been preserved. Three gates have been identified with certainty on the west side, along the Panathenaic Way. But the most impressive part of the remaining wall, with the built-in column drums and the pieces of marble from earlier buildings, is on the site where the library of Pantainos once stood.

This was the intellectual heart of  Athens , built around the end of the lst century AD. A long inscription has been found informing us that Titus Flavius Pantainos dedicated the entire structure with all its buildings and library with all its books to Athena Polias and the emperor Trajan. This same inscription enabled scholars to conclude that the building had a courtyard with rooms and roofed areas, as well as some outdoor stow. Another inscription demonstrated the strict operating regulations of the institution, which forbade the borrowing of the books on oath. Strangely enough Pausanias did not mention this library at all, ever partial to the sanctuaries of the gods and to more ancient structures. He treated the huge building next door, the Stoa of Attalos, with the same indifference.

Attalos of Pergamum, who built this magnificent Stoa, came from an adventurous dynasty which, although its roots were of Asia Minor extraction, had become fully Hellenized. Its founder was a certain Philetairos from the Pontus in whom the Macedonian Lycimachos had such confidence as to entrust his treasury to him to be kept in the fortress at Pergamum. The person who gained most from the disputes between Lysimachos and Seleucos over the division of Alexander the Great’s enormous empire was this flexible Philetairos who found himself owner of all the goods entrusted to him. He founded the Attalid state which, between 283 and 129 BC developed into a centre of commerce and letters, largely due to the use of a new writing material derived from animal skins. It was, of course, not so new; from very ancient times, highly significant writings were recorded on a piece of thin leather called a diphthera. The Persians took this word and adapted it to their own language as defter, from which comes a Greek word meaning notebook. When, under the rule of the Ptolemies, Egypt prohibited the export of papyrus, the kingdom of Pergamum perfected the technique of making diphthera, to give it a finer texture, whiter colour and the possibility of writing on both sides. It also acquired a new name, pergamini or parchment.

The kings of Pergamum were great lovers of beauty. They adorned their capital with wonderful monuments, and superb sculptures. The “Dying Gaul” in the Capitol Museum in Rome, but above all the Altar of Pergamum in the Berlin Museum, bear witness to the high artistic standards of the period. The library of Pergamum, which was said to contain some 20,000 volumes, later was given by Mark Antony to the lovely Cleopatra to enrich the library at Alexandria. Finally, Attalos III, the last of his line, bequeathed this wealthy kingdom to the people of Rome by virtue of a controversial will, thus consolidating the Roman presence in Asia.

Two of the most significant scions of the Attalids, who alternated their rule of Pergamum, had studied in  Athens . Each one, at the height of his glory, donated magnificent buildings to the city of their youth: the Stoa beside the Theatre of Dionysus, called Eumenes II, and the large Stoa in the Agora, Attalos II. Built in 150 BC at right angles to the slightly earlier Middle Stoa, the Hellenistic Stoa of Attalos became the new commercial  centre  of  Athens  for the next four centuries.

To construct the enormous base, or crepidoma, on which the stoa rested, the remains of an older peristyle which may have belonged to one of the 5th century courthouses, had to be covered. The Stoa was built in two tiers; it was about 117 metres long and 20 m. wide. Its facade, which faced west. was adorned by 45 Doric columns, unfluted at the bottom, as was the custom in the Hellenistic years, while in the interior, covered area there were 22 columns supporting a roof, all of which were unfluted with Ionic capitals. The facade of the upper floor also had 45 little Ionic columns which were joined together with decorated marble slabs: parapets to protect the people. There was an inner colonnade on the upper floor, as well, corresponding to the one on the ground floor. On each of the two levels, there were 22 square rooms suitable for use as shops. Initially the stairs leading up to the second level were outside, on the two narrow sides of the Stoa, as we can see traces of them on the northern edge of the ground floor roofed area, where the vestiges of a large marble fountain were also found. The outer, southern stairway was replaced by an interior one when the library of Pantainos was built to create more space between the two buildings. It has been restored and is used today. Later, a road passed over the south side of the Stoa of Attalos leading to the  Athens  gate at the boundary of the Roman Agora, where the commercial  centre  of the  city  continued to be during the centuries that followed. But even when the ancient Agora was no longer regarded as the business centre, it never ceased to be the main meeting place for the residents. Strabo, who came to  Athens  in the 2nd century AD, called the Roman market “Eretria”, referring to the more ancient one by the same name his contemporary, Pausanias, used: “Kerameikos”.

During the barbarian invasion, the Stoa was burned as seen from marks on the south inner wall. During the subsequent fortification, the solid structure built by Attalos was deemed suitable for a city wall. Then the shop facades were built, rows of columns were torn down and fortification towers were added all along the former stoa, leaving the Agora outside the protected district. One part of the back wall was dug up in the 19th century, and after the regular excavations in 1953, the Stoa of Attalos was fully restored by the American School of Classical Studies. Today it houses a museum on its ground floor, and in the roofed outdoor area there are statues, votive sculptures, inscriptions and stelae which bring to life many details of the past life of the City.

In front of the outer colonnade of the Stoa of Attalos, in the middle of the facade, a large square base was erected for a monument depicting the king of Pergamum in a chariot. Some years after the Stoa was built, a bema (raised platform) was also put up, from which orators and Roman generals could address the citizens of  Athens , another indication of how much traffic there was in the area. The large number of bases of honorary monuments on the opposite side of the Panathenaic Way proves the same thing. Right behind these monuments are the ruins of the Odeion, one of the most greatly altered buildings in the Agora, owing to the many reconstructions and additions.

From various sources in antiquity, we know that the open, triangular space in the Agora next to the Dromos, was the venue for rituals and presentations, before the theatre of Dionysus was built. There were ikria here, wooden platforms from which the spectators watched the action unfolding. A brief reference even exists to the fact that one could see by climbing up on the branches of a poplar tree growing nearby. Perhaps this previous usage, together with the existence of a playing area and a large open space, was the reason why Agrippa built the Odeion on this precise spot.

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa was Augustus’ son-in-law and governor of the Eastern provinces of the Empire. Late in the 1st century BC, he offered the Athenians a magnificent building for performances or even for philosophical discussions, thus winning the coveted title of benefactor of the city together with an honorary monument at the entrance to the Acropolis. The design of the Odeion reflected the Roman taste for the grandiose; it utilised the natural incline of the ground in the best possible way, giving it plenty of space on the ground, with stoae, multiple levels and two entrances. The most impressive of these must have been in the south, right in front of the Middle Stoa.

Persons entering the Odeion from this side passed under two rows of Corinthian columns, then proceeded into the main hall with its very high ceiling projecting up above the building. From this point, one descended to the 1000-seat audience area, and from there to the semi-circular marble-tiled orchestra. Above the orchestra was the stage, behind which was the other, northern entrance with a small exterior gate.

The large dimensions of this hall must have been the reason why the roof collapsed a century after it was built. In the restoration which followed, a good many rows of benches were removed from the upper section, and the hall acquired perceptibly smaller dimensions. Now it had but one entrance, that of the north side, embellished with the statues of Giants and Tritons. After the barbarian raids, the building underwent another radical change of form, to house a gymnasium. Of its old facade, only four of the gigantic statues were kept, while behind it, a large flat area was levelled off to be used as a porticoed courtyard. Even farther back, rooms and more courtyards were built and equipped with bath facilities. The large number of these disparate areas can be explained by the custom of the ancients to have classrooms in their gymnasia. This custom provided the root for the modern Greek word gymnasio meaning secondary school.

Even though the Odeion was completely destroyed, the monumental 2nd century AD entrance remained, of which we can still see the bases and the statues of two proud representatives of the world of myth. One is a Giant with a snakish form and the other is a mature, strongly-built Triton with a fishtail instead of legs.

It has been ascertained that myths were generated at the dawn of human thought. Beginning with the superstitions of the early peoples up to the symbolism of the Platonists that expressed primitive totemism and interpreted metaphysical concerns, myth passed through various stages of evolution. But it always presupposed the distant past, because only then did events take on the dimension of hyperbole. A typical example was provided by the Romans whose own mythology was comparatively poor. In addition, they were practical and victorious army commanders and administrators who had no need of heroic models, nor were they generally renowned as being lovers of speech and poetry. But they adopted the Greek religion and liked to present mythological beings in their art.

Giants and Tritons were the remnants of Greek prehistory. The former were vanquished by the gods in a decisive battle for peace, because as children of the Earth – shown by their snakish tails – they represented natural phenomena such as storms, floods and disasters. One of these was Enceladus, who was buried under the island of Sicily and every time he moved, he created earthquakes. The Tritons were considered to be marine spirits and had a dual substance of both destruction and restitution; rather like a storm followed by calm. Although Triton appears as the son of Poseidon and Amphitrite in Greek mythology, he may very possibly be of foreign origin.

A gold Mycenean ring shows some creatures wearing a strange, scaly garment. There are Babylonian ring stones and Assyrian seal stones in the British Museum, depicting forms that are half human and half fish, while at Pasargadae in Persia, a gate has been found on the jamb of which there is a relief representation of such a dual-form being. Eusebius, a 4th century Christian chronicler, mentioned similar creatures who appeared, he said, during the years of the Babylonians. Eusebius found this information in the texts of Apollodoros, a 2nd century BC historian and philosopher who was interested in the genealogy of the gods before the Flood. Apollodoros’ main source was a “Babylonian History” written in Greek in the 4th century by a priest named Berosos from Bithynia. Having access to the cuneiform texts of the Chaldeans, Berosus learned that in the very ancient times, an amphibian creature named Oannes had arisen from the sea. This strange being civilized humanity with its superior wisdom. Other Oannes also appeared from time to time, always bearers of abundance and knowledge. The Sumerians worshipped this figure as a god named Enki, while the Babylonians called the same divinity Ea, i.e. god of the waters, and believed that his palace was in the city of Eridu on the Persian Gulf. It is strange to consider the fact that in western Africa there is a tribe called the Dongons, who believe that knowledge about the movement of the stars was imparted to them by wise amphibian creatures. Then of course there is the Gorgon or mermaid of more recent Greek folklore. So it would appear that the Triton of the ancients is a timeless being, with distant alien ancestors as well as more recent local descendants.

In Pausanias’ book Boeotica, there is a very interesting reference to Tanagra. The men of the region, he said, managed to catch a Triton by trickery and beheaded it because it was annoying their wives. The traveller described the headless body, which he claimed to have seen displayed in the city, and, in fact, described an amphibian, unpleasantly anthropomorphic being. The Triton of the Odeion was a beautified version of this mythic creature which has so captured the human imagination.

In front of the gigantic statues at the entrance to the Odeion there was a large temple of Ares. Today nothing of this building has been preserved other than its outline – distinguishable from the rest of the site because it is covered with gravel – a few slabs with relief shields, and some scattered parts of columns and capitals. Many of the latter bear the characteristic notches made by Roman masons, even though the rock was cut in the 5th century, showing once more that the temple had been initially built somewhere else, and was brought here bit by bit and rebuilt together with its later altar during Roman rule. The citizens of classical  Athens  were not particularly interested in erecting a temple to Ares, the violent, strongly built, and not exceptionally intelligent, god of war; especially when their  city  was protected by Promachos Athena, she of organised defence and cool strategy. But the Romans held Ares (Mars) in high esteem as the divine leader of their legions. The prevailing opinion of scholars as to the initial position of the temple of Ares in the  Athens  Agora is that it was originally situated in Acharnes, where there is known to have been a sanctuary of the god. A cult of this kind would have been absolutely logical there, given that this Attic Deme was situated at the border which had to be guarded against enemy raids, and the war-loving Ares, pugnacious and always ready for a fight, was the most appropriate protector of the borders. One should also point out the mingling of two extreme states in the erotic relationship between warlike Ares and the tender goddess Aphrodite. The union of these two totally different divinities generated the all-powerful Eros, who could calm even his fierce father, and Harmony who brought the equilibrium into this contradictory world.

Pausanias gives us only one fleeting mention of the temple of Ares, because, when he passed by the site, he was mainly interested in the statues in and around it. Some of these statues have been identified in the truncated sculptures found nearby and now exhibited in the Agora Museum. Others have been lost forever: such as the 6th century statues of the tyrannicides Harmodios and Aristogeiton. These statues were booty which Xerxes took to Persia where they remained until Alexander the Great regained them and sent them back to  Athens . The tyrannicides were considered worthy of respect as symbols of Democracy; they were also the first mortals to be honoured by having statues erected to them, a privilege hitherto reserved only for gods and demigods. The statues had been placed on this side of the Agora because this was probably where Hipparchos was killed. His death was decisive in bringing down the tyranny instituted by his father, Peisistratos. Thucydides told us that this bold action took place on the day of the Panathenaia, when the tyrant was supervising the preparations for the procession. We also know that the celebrants’ point of departure was the Altar of the Twelve Gods, the city’s main crossroads.

This significant Altar had been built in about 520 BC on the northern edge of the Agora, the apex of the imaginary triangle which constitutes its area. Within a walled enclosure, it had become established as the place where the underprivileged, the persecuted and even badly treated slaves sought sanctuary. Perhaps this was why Pausanias wrote that he saw an Altar of Mercy: an obvious reference to sanctuary, which led -most archaeologists to conclude that these two names referred to the same altar. Of the structure itself there are no significant traces, because the train line passed right over it. This railroad line is for visitors the northernmost boundary of the Agora, even though there were in antiquity, important buildings on the other side, which have not yet been fully excavated and studied.

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