Sunday, August 31, 2008

Wrapping up in the day in the Platka, Athens

The Platka, in central Athens, has a lot of tourist shops and sidewalk cafes. As it was about 100F that day, I was quickly running out of steam. But I snapped away as I went. Above, the Monument of Lysikrates, the only intact choregic monument, which were built to commemorate choral and dramatic festivals. This one is from 334 BC.
A quiet Platka side street.
At the Vouli parliament building is the tomb of the unknown soldier, where one can catch the changing of the guard, which I did with the morning tour group.
Across from the Tower of the Winds, described under the previous post, is this much more modern ruin.
Facing the nearby Hadrian's Arch is this bust of the actress and politician Melina Mercouri, famous for Never on Sunday and as Minister of Culture, rallying the cry for the return of the Elgin Marbles to Athens, both of which she is fondly and proudly remembered for in Greece. I remember seeing the film Topkapi with my parents in its initial 1964 release and finding her very charismatic. She also played Broadway, in the musical version of Never on Sunday, retitled Illya, Darling. You can see a few numbers from the show performed on the Ed Sullivan Show by going to the site
Finally, I refreshed myself at a sidewalk cafe and was grateful to be in out of the sun for a while. I did not see one cloud, not one, for the entire nine days I was in Greece.
After melting into a shower at the hotel and changing my clothes, I went back out to the Platka and hoped to find one of the famous garden cinemas in the city. I thought I found one of them on my map, but gave up when it seemed to be too far. Then, suddenly, in the middle of the Platka, I stumbled upon the Paris. It was playing Mamma Mia, something I was not too keen on seeing, but I figured if I didn't see it here in Greece, where it was filmed (on one of the islands), where would I? So I bought a ticket and climbed the stairs to the roof. It instantly brought back memories of my childhood when my family would go to the drive-in (in fact, we saw Topkapi at the Valley Auto Theatre in Valley Station, Kentucky). The cicadas were chirping in the trees and there was a heavenly breeze and to the left was the floodlit Acropolis. There was no rake, so I had to move once so I could see something besides the person's head in front of me, and all sat on folding chairs. Everything at the Paris is in original language with subtitles. I didn't even mind the movie so much. It wasn't quite as bad as most of the reviews led me to believe.
I managed to get this timed exposure during the end titles which gives you a vague idea of what the cinema looks like. All around this outdoor cinema are hotels and apartments and the features run (like drive-ins) into the wee hours. I can't quite imagine what that's like! Free movies but no sleep, I guess.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ancient Agora, Athens

At the north side of the Acropolis is the ancient Agora. This was the center of social and commercial life in 400 BC. Excavation began in the 1930s. The temple Hephaisteion is remarkably well preserved. In fact, over the interior portion of the temple, the walls and roof are still intact.

The Tower of the Winds is part of the Roman Agora from the second century BC. Its purpose was a weather vane, represented by personifications of the eight winds, and a water clock. The building is 40 feet high and 26 feet in diameeter. All that remains of the water clock are a complex system of pipes.
Each side of the tower is a relief representing different winds and the promises of different conditions it brings. Above, Skiron, representing the Northwest wind, scatters ashes from an urn and Zephyros, representing the West wind, scatters flowers.
Above, Hadrian's Library, AD 132
The Stoa of Attalos was rebuilt in the 1950s using the original foundations and ancient materials, made possible by a donation from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. It's very helpful to imagine what these buildings looked like in their prime, over two thousand years ago.
One of the busts on display in the open portico of the stoa.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Views from the Acropolis

The day I visited the Acropolis, it was hot and windy, but the air was clear, affording views across the city to the sea.This gives you an idea of the sheer drop off at the northeast corner of the Acropolis. Looking east towards the Lykavittos Hill, the highest point in Athens.
Southwest is the Filopappos Hill. To the Ancient Greeks it was the Hill of Muses. The structure at the top is the remaining fragment of the Monument of Philopappus (AD 114-116). Also here is where Morosini fired his cannon at the Parthenon in 1687.The new Acropolis Museum was unfortunately not yet open during my visit.The ruins of Theatre of Dionysos is actually in part a Roman structure which could seat 17,000. It was built on the site of previous theatres where the original plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripedes and Aristophanes were first held.
Nearby is the smaller but better preserved Theatre of Herodes Atticus, built by the Romans as well between 161 and 174 AD, originally roofed in cedar, and has a seating capacity of 5,000. It is still in use today.
The front of the Theatre of Herodes Atticus.
To the Northwest is the next stop, the ancient agora, including the well-preserved temple Hephaisteion.

The Erechtheion

Also on the Acropolis, built after the Parthenon between 421 and 406 BC, the Erechtheion stands at the sacred site of where Poseidon left his triden marks in a rock and Athena's tree sprouted. This is the front of the monument.
It is most famous for its elegant Porch of the Caryatids. These columns in the shape of maidens are copies; the originals are indoors at the new Acropolis Museum.

Here is a detail of the ceiling of the Erechtheion.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Parthenon

Of course the Parthenon is so iconic there's not much I could say here that's not been said a million times elsewhere, but briefly: It took just nine years to complete (which is pretty good timing even by today's standards), finished in 438 BC. It was in pretty good shape until 1647, when Venetian general Morosini decided to aim a cannon at it and blow it up. It helped that the Turks had stored gunpowder in it. Great going, guys. As one reaches the top of the Acropolis, one enters the Propylaia, the formal gates, finished in 437 BC.

In recent years, additional portions of the building have been identified among the scattered ruins, allowing for some important and exciting restoration.

Athens: Temple of the Olympian Zeus

Athens in August is like an oven, but the good news is that most of the residents leave town, so the traffic is light and one has the pick of tables at restaurants.
Right in the center of Athens is this enormous ruin, the largest temple built in Ancient Greece -- even larger than the Parthenon.

Work began in the 6th century BC and was finally completed 650 years later by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. My hotel was directly across the street, so this became the first stop on my Athens tour.

Only 15 of the original 104 Corinthian columns remain, each 56 feet high.

A view of the site from atop the Acropolis, which I toured in the afternoon and follows this post.

At one end of the site is Hardian's Arch, 131 AD, which marked the boundary between the ancient city of Athens and the new city of Hadrian.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Double Rainbow

After raining most of the afternoon, the skies parted, the sun came out and I knew there would be a rainbow...and there was. I've seen more rainbows here in London in a year than I have in the past thirty years in Los Angeles. This is the second double rainbow I've seen in the past month.

Fading away, as all rainbows must.