Thursday, May 9, 2013

All the Ruins in Athens

The Short Version
Since this is a ridiculously long post, here is the short version.  We visited a nice selection of ruins and ancient sites in Athens: the Panathenaic Stadium, the Acropolis, the Greek Agora, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.  Feel free to just scroll through and look at the pictures in the rest of this post.  If you want more details, there's plenty of description to go along with each.

The Long Version

Panathenaic Stadium - by Kate
Unlike many of the cool things to do in Athens, the Panathenaic Stadium was actually open on Easter Sunday, so we spent quite a bit of time there.  They had a free audio tour (included in the admission price, I guess), which was definitely worth a listen.  Along with a wealth of fascinating information, we learned that they created special throne-like seats for the King and Queen:
You may also have noticed that this stadium appears to be particularly well preserved.  That's because it was rebuilt in the late 1800s in order to host the first modern Olympic games in 1896.  Here's a picture of what it might have looked like when the medals were awarded:
Oh, and bonus, when the lady who sold us our tickets asked what language we wanted our brochure in, she first guessed French - guess we must look classy.  Or, as Paul points out, if she guesses wrong in the other direction, she might have some pretty angry French folks on her hands.

The Acropolis: The Parthenon - by Paul
The Parthenon is worthy of its fame. It's truly an amazing site, both for its structure and history as well as its impressive location perched atop a huge hill in the heart of urban Athens.

A small part of Athens as seen from the Acropolis
The guide material focuses a lot on its age, early history, and restoration, but while we were there I kept wondering how and when it went from "building" to "ruin" in the middle of such a busy and populous area. Looking at the Parthenon alone, you might imagine it off in a desert, abandoned for a thousand years (ignore the fact that it's currently swimming in tourists, scaffolding,  and cranes).  In the context of the city, this doesn't make sense.

Wikipedia came to the rescue. I suspect it's not discussed much because the reality is sad and detracts from the image of an ancient building long in ruins. In fact it was in active use until 1687, when it was used as a gunpowder magazine in a fight between the Venetians and the Ottoman Turks.  It is speculated that the Turks hoped the Venetians wouldn't attack such an important building.  No dice.  Not exactly the romantic demise I had envisioned for the famous building. 

Of course by this point it had been fought over, looted, and re-purposed many times.

The Acropolis: Other Stuff - by Kate

Also worth mentioning is the famous Caryatid porch of the Erechtheion:
None of the Caryatids you see in the picture are the originals (five of them are housed in the Acropolis museum, which we did not  visit).  I found this to be rather frustrating about the ruins.  Sometimes it was completely obvious where they had patched the original work (the marble looked completely new, for example), and sometimes it was impossible to tell unless you read one of the many lengthy descriptions.

Temple of the Olympian Zeus - by Paul
Photo taken from the Acropolis
Only a cluster of columns remains for this temple, once the largest of its kind in all of Greece. Like the Parthenon, this building also has an interesting history. It was begun around 520 BC, and it took nearly 700 years to complete (most of that time not under active construction). Think about the number of human generations that is. Think about finishing a building today that was started 700 years ago. Even the Sagrada Familia pales in comparison. It was only in use for a "brief" time before it started being dismantled and reused for other construction projects.

Ancient Agora of Athens - by Kate

There were two really cool things about the Greek Agora.  One, it contains one of the best-preserved Greek temples: The Temple of Hephaestus:
It was still in use until 1834 as a Greek Orthodox church!

The second cool thing about the Agora was the museum.  It is housed in the gleaming Stoa of Attalos, which has been completely rebuilt as close to the original as possible, giving you some sense of what this fabulous city center must have looked like in ancient times:


  1. Cool post! I like how you guys are regularly posting instead of the typical long-winded, optimistic first post right before the trip, then a long apologetic post about how you didn't have time to update it at the end. Like I would do.

    The Temple of the Olympian Zeus's long build time reminds me of the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, which was started in 1344 and finished in 1929. Not only were generations of builders in involved, but also a variety of architects, each of whom typified a particular era of European architectual history. Parts of the building are Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance, Neo-Gothic, and Art Noveau, etc. Please do read the wikipedia article about it, because it notably contains a link to "Groin vaults".

    Have fun in Athens! Don't get Ostracized (or at least, save it for the end of your trip).

    1. Let me add that Blogger is dumb and broken. The first time I pressed 'preview', it had an error and lost my post, and then when I re-wrote it and pressed 'preview', it published it for me! Neat!

      And no, no need to thank me for writing this angry postscript. You're welcome!

    2. How was your second post experience? Looking forward to the post-postscript.

      St Vitrus Cathedral was unknown to me. Neat.

  2. Wow, I didn't know that about the Acropolis either. What a sad waste. :( The picture you guys got of it was amazing, though, with the cloud wisps behind it!