Acropolis – The Religious Centre of Athens

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There are two characteristic hills in the Attica Basin: Lycabettus, the higher and steeper of the two, and the Acropolis, at an altitude of about 150 m. above sea level, on the slopes of which spring waters still flow. It is on account of these springs that the rock has been inhabited from the neolithic age on.

The first walls were built in about the 13th century BC, when the townships of Attica federated into a city-state under Theseus. Then the inhabitants, having already acquired some power and wealth, needed to have safe havens to which they could withdraw in the event of danger. Later generations called this wall “Cyclopean” because only the giant Cyclops, they believed, could have moved the huge boulders which can still be seen in trenches in front of the Propylaea and the temple of Athena Nike. The distinguished archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos used to say that this myth of the Cyclops may possibly have originated from the foreign masons brought in to build the wall, who may have had large round eyes.

When the Pelasgians arrived in Attica from Thessaly, they built a second, curved wall, outside the first, on the entrance side, indicating how turbulent those years were. In this way the entrance, always on the western side of the Rock, led through a narrow passageway between successive walls, under the massive bastion where the temple of Athena Nike now stands. The military architecture of the period created an impregnable citadel on the highest edge (akro) of the city (polis), which became known as an acropolis. On it, and close to the present site of the Erechtheion, the first kings chose to reside, having first arranged for a a secret passage to be hewn into the rock for emergencies.

After the kingdom was abolished in 682 BC, only shrines and altars remained on the rock, with one small exception: in the 6th century, Peisistratus, with the arrogance of a genuine dictator, lived high up on the acropolis with his sons, probably for security reasons. This was regarded by the public as a kind of sacrilege, and did not happen again. Besides, all the buildings were destroyed when the Persians conquered Attica, leaving only ashes behind them, just before the naval battle of Salamis in 480 BC and their final defeat at Plataia a year later.

The rebuilding of  Athens  began, the age of its greatest glory, as its leaders vied for the distinction of who would construct the most public buildings for posterity. It was Kimon who levelled the devastated temples and used the rubble to build ramparts on the rock, in which we can still see the enormous drums of earlier columns incorporated. At about the same point, parts of statues and votive sculptures were found, some of which are exhibited in the Acropolis Museum. All these were damaged during the Persian attack and buried in order to enlarge the plateau; this was necessary for the brilliant new temples which were to be built. From then on, the Acropolis was exclusively a place of worship, dedicated always to a female deity whom the Greeks called Athena, the Romans Minerva, the Byzantines Panaghia (all Holy Virgin) and the Franks Saint Mary of the Citadel. This expresses the same human emotions and hopes for the future; only the names changed as circumstances evolved.

The traveller Pausanias gave us a detailed description of the Acropolis as he saw it in the 2nd Century AD. Like any good tourist, he travelled throughout Greece, writing about whatever he saw and heard, leaving behind valuable texts for archaeological research. He made observant notes on buildings, building materials, votive offerings, altars and cult statues, adding myths and tales told by the various “interpreters” on the sacred sites, i.e. the guides of his period.

During the Middle Ages, many people visited the Parthenon, which by then had become a Christian church. But in the general indifference, nobody mentioned the buildings lying in ruins around it. Only Kyriakos from Ancona – a fanatic traveller, possibly a spy, but certainly a lover of antiquity-arriving in  Athens  in 1436, was dazzled by the beauty of the temple with its wonderful columns and unique carved marble. These were natural feelings, for he was an educated man who studied the ancient authors and bought codices wherever he found them: a forerunner of future dealers in smuggled antiquities. He, too, failed to mention any Frankish alterations to the Propylaea.

Kyriakos was the last Christian visitor to the Acropolis. Just a few years later, in 1456,  Athens  was conquered by the Ottoman Turks who did not permit any non- Muslim to climb up to the citadel, where the local aga and the Islamic notables lived. Houses were built of the ancient pieces of marble and the temple of Athena and the Panaghia became a mosque. There is just one description written in 1641 by the Turkish traveller Evliya Celebi, who journeyed throughout what was then the Ottoman Empire and with a journalist’s observation mentioned anything that came into view, though often inaccurately.

A few years after Celebi’s visit, the beautiful temple which was then being used as a powder magazine, exploded after being shelled by the Venetian Morosini, who intended to blow up the entire Acropolis, but stopped because of the expense and time which the operation would have entailed. Damaged, but at least saved, the Acropolis was once again inhabited by the Turks, who knocked down the Temple of Wingless Nike and incorporated the seats from the Roman Odeion into the ramparts. It survived the war of Independence, saw battles, changed hands at least twice more, and at long last was taken by the Greeks.

But then new dangers began to threaten the long- suffering rock and its vestiges of past glory. The rebuilding of the village of  Athens , which became the capital of the newly constituted state solely because of its glorious past, was undertaken by various architects from Europe who came in the wake of the uninformed young King Otto, and cherished some strange ideas. One of their innovations was the blueprint for a grandiose palace on the Acropolis, in the style of the times; fortunately, it was never built. Equally fortunately, the proposal that the Kapnikarea Church be torn down, because it impeded the view of the sea from the newly built palace – the present day Parliament building- received no support.

But there were also many positive things happening on the Acropolis at that time: the excavation of the outer Propylaea (monumental entrance) with its ramp and steps, the recovery of the beautiful little temple of Athena Nike from the Turkish bastion, and the removal of the houses which the Ottomans had built on the Acropolis, some traces of which are still visible today. The Parthenon and the Erechtheion were restored using as many of their pieces as could be found. Many wonderful statues with elaborate coiffures and lively smiles, frozen in the passage of time, saw the light after being hidden for 23 centuries under the foundations of the temples. The sacred rock of Pallas Athena diffidently revealed its years, experiences and sufferings, like a magic, unbroken thread.

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Athens – Ancient Athens

Let us try and bring to mind a picture of  Athens  as the ancients might have known it, drenched in diaphanous light, its arid mountains protecting it from the north winds and harsh weather, with the beauty of the Acropolis thrown into relief by the sun and the delightfully modest houses at the foot of the great rock. An  Athens  free of noise other than the voices of children and pedlars in the narrow streets. An  Athens  to be dreamed of.

That’s what it must have been like in the Age of Pericles, when the city was already very ancient. Research shows us that the area around  Athens  has been inhabited since the neolithic age, as testified to by artifacts found in wells near the Areopagos (Mars’ Hill) on the south side of the Acropolis, and in the Agios Kosmas peninsula near Alimos. The original inhabitants were then joined by waves of new settlers, Carians, Leleges and finally Pelasgians, mainly tribes of IndoEuropean origin. The intermingling of all these peoples contributed to shaping the Hellenes, with their contradictory temperament and frequent conflicts.

Sometime around the late 9th or early 8th century BC, Hesiod and Homer gave us the first myths, exaggerated, heroic tales which provided a glimpse of the kind of society where everything was dependent on an unknown divinity. During subsequent generations, these gods and heroes underwent many sea-changes in the service of local, often political needs. Myth may be a wonderful depiction of the world but it was also the easiest way for simple people to learn about their history. Thus the early inhabitants believed that their leaders-who sometimes took peculiar forms-were descended from the gods. Even their names can be explained in the light of societal needs.

Then gradually, over a period of time, the leaders ceased to be supernatural, and began taking on more human dimensions. And the people themselves, as they acquired knowledge of the outside world from the sea routes, stopped being afraid of the otherworldly and began to wonder about the world. It is a fascinating experience to watch myth evolving hand in hand with the development of a people and to discern historical truth through an imaginative construct.

Thus Kekrops and Erichthonios, the first kings of  Athens , were strange creatures, half-man and half-snake, whose form portrayed how they had sprung from the Attic soil. Kekrops had brought in master craftsmen, the Pelasgians who, having built a strong Acropolis, stayed on to settle round it. Names ending in -ttos or -ssos appear to have been Pelasgian, such as the Ilissos, Kefissos, Hymettos, Lycabettos, Ardettos; they are all geographic landmarks (mountains, rivers) which remain prominent in the topography of  Athens  up to the present day. Likewise, it was Kekrops who selected the goddess Athena as protector of his city, after whom he named it. It should be noted that some scholars believe the name of the goddess to have been derived from the Egyptian word aten.

With respect to Erichthonios, mythology provides us with a number of illuminating details. It is said that Hephaestos, the lame blacksmith of the gods, wanted to join in union with Athena, the great goddess of knowledge, but she drew back from his loving embrace and the divine seed fell on her legs. She then rubbed her leg with a swatch of the wool she was spinning and threw it to the ground. But whereas Athena refused the seed of the god, the Earth received it and thus did Erichthonios spring forth.

The Athenians always had a particular affection for their founding father in his snakish form: they built him an exquisite temple, the Erechthion, which priests made sure was constantly supplied with offerings of honey cakes. In some myths, Erichthonios is called Erechtheas; in others Erechtheas is the grandson of Erichthonios and in a third version, Erechtheas has come from Egypt. Perhaps all these versions represented attempts to explain the successive waves of colonists inundating the Aegean during those turbulent years.

If we seek to unravel the threads of the myths, then the truth emerges in all its radiance. The name of Erichthonios shows us his origin: eriochthon means wool-earth, i.e. born of the earth and from it. His descendants intermarried with peoples from Thessaly whose genealogical tree shows their founding father to have been Prometheus. He was the wise Titan who gave mortals the gift of fire, i.e. the light of knowledge-previously the exclusive realm of the gods or perhaps of some priestly brother hood- and for this reason was cruelly punished on a rock in the Caucasus.

It was Prometheus’ son Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha who brought the human race back to life in the mountains of Thessaly after the great flood. His grandson was Hellene. Today we know that the Indo-European Aryan tribes, after discovering the use of metals somewhere in the Caucasus, learned to craft strong weapons. Some tribes spread out into central Europe and the Balkans, some remained to take advantage of the good grazing lands while others pressed on southward.

The initial root began to put forth many branches as Hellene, grandson of Prometheus, had sons who were quite different one from the other. There were Aeolos, Xouthos and Doros, who gave their names to Hellenic tribes in later years. Xouthos, which means “the fair”, was quite distinct from the early Athenians who had the darker skin of the Aegean peoples. He was to marry Kreousa, the granddaughter of Erechtheas: their children were named Achaeos and Ion, the forefathers of the later Hellenes. Another variation of the myth had Ion as the offspring of Apollo’s secret liaison with the same princess. This detail helped advance the mythic cycle from the primeval, with its demonic forms of nature, evolving into humanized deities like Apollo who led man to thought, poetry and philosophy.

Many modern historians believe that the later Hellenes came from Pindus, on the border between Thessaly and Epirus. This fits in admirably with the Attic myths about the genealogy of their kings and the various intermarriages, documenting the arrogance of the ancient Athenians toward the other inhabitants of the region, since from the very outset, gods would frequently come down and intermingle with the mortals, lending a divine dimension to many conjugal dramas.

We know that the first inhabitants of the Attic earth were cultivators, but its poor, arid soil made them turn toward the sea. The story of Theseus who volunteered to go to Crete and kill the Minotaur, delivering  Athens  from the terrible annual tribute of youths sent to feed the insatiable monster, may perhaps be telling us about the Athenians’ first great campaign at sea and their independence from a ruling naval power.

From then on, Theseus never stopped traveling, like all those who, having once experienced the vastness of new horizons, could never thereafter remain closed within narrow confines. He went with the Argonauts to the Pontus (Black Sea), fought against and defeated the imperious Amazons, winning their queen, and taught the spoiled Centaurs a hard lesson in good behavior. But he also took care of his own region, joining together little individual townships into a large and powerful confederacy, with temples in which gods and ancestors were worshiped and with a citadel for security against jealous neighbors.

Theseus was possibly a historic figure who, over the passage of centuries, has become wrapped in the glory of myth to serve domestic expediencies and presented as the scion of the divine race of Ion. A hero who was also a demi-god was always more impressive than just a worthy leader; the inhabitants of the city favored with such a leader would feel special and try to emulate him. Thus the descendants of the first Athenians began their fearless exploration of the sea. As they succeeded in guaranteeing their livelihood, their numbers grew; they learned, became wealthy and expanded their activities around the Mediterranean coasts, creating bridgeheads of commerce and free thought. The colonizers of the east side of the Aegean were called Ionians; and it was there that the ideas of philosophy, the principles of human rights, ethics, metaphysics and the harmony of the universe were born.

Economic ease created a new order of things. Until then, the head of the largest family had been king; but when other men gained power through trade, they too claimed the right to a voice in government, thrusting aside the custom of the hereditary monarchy. A special place was needed for the exchange of commodities and this was how the Agora (market) grew up. The meetings of the local people with strangers made it necessary for them to learn how to develop convincing arguments; from this need sprang the art of rhetoric.

The interests of the people had to be protected. As there were already a great many people, the proper role models had to be found on whose example they could shape their behavior, which at its most sublime moment, led to the formulation of laws by Solon the Sage in the 6th century. Developments in the administrative system were accompanied by cultural progress. The local clay was used to make ceramics which, while initially serving the needs of daily life, soon became objects of trade and then developed into works of art, since men, having assured themselves of the necessities, now sought the beautiful. Athenian potters began producing enormous grave amphoras with austere ornamentation, dominated by Greek key designs and shadowy figures. Black-figured vases were the next phase, with their stylized silhouettes; these evolved into the marvelous red-figured vases which sometimes bear the craftsman’s name under vivid compositions depicting moments from the lives of gods and men.

The gods were worshiped in stately stone temples decorated with marble statues that replaced the earlier idols. The myths became overlaid by a multitude of heroic details, as gods and mortals alike came alive in a new form of ceremony which took place in the theater. Meanwhile, more and more Athenian ships were sailing to and fro in the Mediterranean, carrying new developments and provoking envy in other lands which rapidly turned into the desire of foreign leaders for conquest and expansion. The result was the Persian wars at the beginning of the 5th century BC.

The decisive military confrontation at sea and  Athens ‘ defeat of the Persians in the battle of Salamis, promoted  Athens  to a position of foremost power and intellectual leader over the other Hellenes, much to Sparta’s great annoyance. The Athenians, having acquired the social comfort that accompanies economic prosperity, had by then developed the versatility of thinking people with freedom of opinion and political views. On the contrary, the strapping sons of Sparta remained products of a rigid military education and attitude. Thus, when the gold-bedecked invaders, decimated and in tatters, retreated back into the hinterlands of Persia,  Athens  justifiably assumed a position of preeminence, achieved greatness which culminated in the classical age, and produced works of eternal beauty which have remained vital until the present day. It caused the historian Thucydides to prophesy that if ever the two great adversaries  Athens  and Sparta were someday lost, everybody would know where  Athens  had been by its wonderful monuments whereas Sparta would have left not a trace to remind people of its once great power.

These wonderful monuments were what roused military Sparta’s ire and ultimately led to the armed confrontation. Like all civil wars, the Peloponnesian War was devastating and, unbeknownst to anyone at that time, it signalled the beginning of the end for the proud  city  of  Athens . This was a slow decline which lasted for centuries; it saw insults and passions, tyrannies and uprisings, flaming rhetoric and objections; it saw  Athens  yielding to the Hellenes of the North, the Macedonians, and finally its subjugation by the Roman legions. All this occurred in the shadow of the Parthenon, at a time when the theatres continually presented works by playwrights whose names would become renowned throughout history, and when Athenians would gather under the colonnades of the Agora to listen to the wandering philosophers and discuss the current political situation.

The Christian religion which was slowly spreading hope of deliverance among oppressed peoples, began to gain followers while the philosophical schools were still full of young people seeking enlightenment on questions of rhetoric, the written word and even theology. One of the most famous students of these schools (4th century A.D.) was Julian, later the Byzantine emperor who came to be known as the Apostate because of his attachment to pagan religion; others were Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus, future Fathers of the Church. The philosophical schools of  Athens  functioned until the 6th century, at which point Justinian closed them by decree, perhaps because freedom of philosophic thought conflicted with the dogmatism of what had become the state religion. At this point,  Athens  entered the Dark Ages.

Deprived of its intellectual nourishment, the city was gradually forgotten, destined to continue its progress through time as an insignificant village, the roads of which were studded with pieces of marble from statues that had been smashed by fanatics remembering the heathen past of this once-great city. It was this past that made the official Byzantine state neglect the birthplace of art and beauty, which they regarded as a dangerous incitement to those who tended to disagree with the medieval terms of immortality. The religious exaltation of the period could in no way be reconciled with the frivolity of the ancient gods and thus Christianity’s fight for dominance was a tough one without concessions or exceptions.

In the 13th century, when the Crusaders transferred their need for expansion to the East, thinly disguised under a veil of religion, knights who had been excluded from the division of the conquered lands fanned out over the Aegean and around the coasts snatching land by brute force. During the years that followed, the Franks and Catalans established their principalities in Attica and fought to keep them safe from the rising power of Islam. All during this time, the few remaining residents of  Athens  were simply struggling to survive, as they sank ever deeper into the lethargy of illiteracy, poverty and obscurity. The rest of Europe welcomed the educated Byzantines who had fled after the fall of Constantinople (1453), and this infusion of new culture helped push forward the Renaissance, contributing substantially to what we now know as Western civilization. But at that time, this forgotten corner of the earth was not even called Hellas, even though from time to time, travellers would fill tour journals with notes about the monuments, carved stones and inscriptions they had seen on the ground along the pathways of Attica.

It was these descriptions which awakened the memories of Hellas and soon the travellers would start coming in earnest to look, dig and depart in order to send others in ever greater numbers. The Ottoman conquerors, gazing down indifferently from the heights of the Acropolis, where they had established themselves for security reasons, looked condescendingly upon those who came to do research, while the suspicious local population tried to make some money by helping those people whom they, in their ignorance, termed “silly strangers”. In the mid- 18th century, lists had already begun to circulate around Europe of the most significant Greek monuments; some of these lists were even accompanied by drawings. By the early 19th century a few collections of the plunder had already been established.

The French Revolution brought a different atmosphere to the intellectuals of Europe. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity became accepted values. Romantic verses by Lord Byron brought back to the Western mind the memory of Hellenic culture associated with this part of the Balkans, rather than the Greece that had become known through the wealthy Greek merchants in various cities of Europe. Thus the news that the Greek War of Independence had been proclaimed fell on fertile ground and the voice of the enslaved Greek nation was heard once again after centuries of silence, inspiring artists to paint episodes from the desperate struggle waged by the few descendants of the heroes of Marathon and Thermopylae. The scene depicting a mounted, turbaned warrior fighting against an impassioned footsoldier. In his fustanela inspired a sense of heroism and the confrontation between life and death, as well as awakening feelings of anger against the oppressors and support for the oppressed.

In June 1822, the Greeks captured the Acropolis and made it their command post, while the struggle continued with an uncertain outcome on all fronts. Five years later, Kiutahis Pasha had recaptured the citadel in a last ditch effort to suppress the revolution. But the Great Powers of the times formed an alliance -either because they wanted to bow to public opinion or because they were counting on gaining influence in the new independent state in the strategic Mediterranean region, or because they regarded the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire as inevitable-and in the decisive battle of Navarino, it was they who administered the final blow to the Sultan, which gave Greece her freedom.

As soon as it gained its independence, the newly constituted state became an apple of discord for European politicians, while the dusty village of  Athens  was, as a matter of courtesy, designated capital. Still reeling from their bloody fight and from the heady feeling of freedom, the Greeks were struggling to rediscover their identity, and at the same time to wipe out the taint of slavery. They wore European clothes, avoided the brigand-riddled mountains and began building mansions that resembled their monuments. The simple people were awed by the fact that their huts had been built on the settlements and graves of their forefathers and began to be aware of themselves as constituting part of a long, unbroken chain. They all started tearing down, clearing away, digging up and restoring. At last, the Attic earth was ready to surrender its treasures and ideals to humanity.

 

Athens Syntagma Square – Athens City Center

The heart of present day Athens is fashionable Plateia Syntagmatos which lies below the imposing mass of the Old Royal Palace. Plateia Syntagmatos, which translated means Constitution Square, commemorates the constitution granted by Othon I in a proclamation from the balcony of the Palace on the night of 3rd September 1843.

The OLD ROYAL PALACE, which since 1935 has housed the Parliament, was designed as the residence of King Othon, at his own and his father’s expense, by the Bavarian architect Friedrich Garther and built between 1834 and 1842.

At the foot of the west facade of the Old Palace is a large square bounded on three sides by walls on which, in evocation of the ancient custom of hanging the victor’s shield in the temple, are set bronze shields flanked by the names of the many victories won by Hellenic arms since National Independence. Built into the center of the retaining wall is the TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER, a relief impressive in its simplicity, which depicts a dying hoplite. This work is by the sculptors Constantinos Demetriades (1881-1943) and Phokion Rok (1886-1942), and was unveiled on 25th March (National Independence Day) 1932.

South of Plateia Syntagmatos lies Leophoros Amalias, which is so called after King Othon’s consort, who, with the horticulturist Friedrich Schmiedt, created the delectable retreat adjoining the Old Royal Palace that we know today as the NATIONAL GARDEN. The National Garden is open daily from sunrise to sunset and the shade of its multitudinous trees provides a cool and peaceful oasis in the heart of the city.

On the east side of the Garden are the busts of Capodistrias and Jean-Gabriel Eynard, a great Swiss philhellene who donated large sums of money to the cause of Greek Independence. Both these busts are the work of the famous Pelopennesian loannis Kossos. Other busts in the National Garden are those of three leading Greek poets of the 19th century: Dionysius Solomos of Zante, who is considered the national poet; Aristotle Valaoritis, also a native of the Ionian Islands, and Jean Moreas, which was the nom-de-plume of loannis Papadiamantopoulos, an Athenian who lived the greater part of his life in Paris.

Contiguous to the National Garden is a large public park called ZAPPEION after the brothers Evangelos and Constantinos Zappas of Epirus, who donated it with its splendid exhibition hall to the Nation. On either side of the entrance to the exhibition hall stand statues of the donors, that of Evangelos by loannis Kossos; that of Constantinos by Georgios Vroutos. Among the many pieces of statuary by famous sculptors is the bust of loannis Varvakis by the master Leonidas Drossis. Varvakis is best known as the founder of the renowned boys’ school, the Lykeion Varvakeion, for the endowment of which he bequeathed his huge fortune. Other busts include those of Constantinos Paparrighopoulos, the greatest historian of Modern Greece, of Stephan Dragoumis, the most prominent political personality during the Macedonian struggle (1903-1909), and of George Souris, the leading satirical poet of his times.

A short distance from Plateia Syntagmatos, on the right of Odhos Panepistimiou, we come to a Renaissance edifice of Italian inspiration. This is the NUMISMATIC MUSEUM, which contains a rich collection of Greek, Roman and Byzantine coins, cameos and seal-stones. Built by the noted architect Erst Ziller in 1878, it was the private residence of the illustrious archaeologist Henry Schliemann.

Still keeping on the right-hand side we come to a five-storeyed building situated at the corner of this street and Odhos Omirou. Here are the premises of the ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY, built entirely in marble. The classical motif of the magnificent bronze door with its richly painted and gilded surround and the ceiling coffered in a delicate blue and gold deserve the greatest admiration. Besides creating the first National Archaeological Museum the Society, which was founded in 1837, has excavated sites all over the country.

Immediately after the Archaeological Society’s premises stands the ROMAN CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL. As the Latin inscription shows, the cathedral was begun in 1853, completed in 1887, and dedicated to St. Dionysius Areopagite. It is a three-naved basilica designed by Leo von Klenze (1784-1864), Bavarian Court architect and master-plan ner of modern Athens, and built under the direction of Lysander Kaftanzoglou (1811-1885), the outstanding Greek architect of the period.

Adjoining this edifice is the OPHTHALMIC HOSPITAL, a Byzantine-style construction designed by Theophil Hansen (1813-1891, the younger of two Danish brothers, both distinguished architects), in 1847, and completed by Lysander Kaftanzoglou four years later.

Just beyond the Ophthalmic Hospital is an ensemble of neo-Classical buildings: on the right the Academy, in the middle the University, and on the left the National Library. All three were gifts to the Nation from wealthy patriots; they are the most sumptuous monuments of Modern Greece.

The HELLENIC ACADEMY OF ARTS AND SCIENCES, a meticulously accurate reproduction of an edifice of the Classical period erected in the graceful Ionic order by Theophil Hansen at the expense of Baron Georgios Sinas, was begun in 1859 and completed in 1875.

The nine sculptured pediments and all the statues before the Academy are the work of the Athenian master Leonidas Drossis. The relief in the central pediment, which portrays The Birth of Athena, and the two gigantic statues of Apollo (right) and Athena (left) standing on tall columns, one on either side of the principal facade, are particularly impressive. The seated figures flanking the short flight of steps leading to the portico represent the philosophers Socrates (right) and Plato (left).

The portico consists of a double row of columns. The coffered ceiling is painted in bright blue and gold and the door opening into the vestibule has a surround of classical inspiration executed in brilliant color and gilding. A statue of the donor Baron Sinas stands on the right of the vestibule, while the interior of the Academy Hall is decorated with eight superb panels by the Oldenburg painter Christian Griepenkerl (1839-1916), depicting scenes from the Myth of Prometheus.

Visitors to the University will be surprised to see a statue of William Ewart Gladstone, standing on the right of the lawn surrounding the forecourt. The dedication on the plinth of this statue immortalizes the prominent part played by the great British statesman in the deliverance of Epirus and Thessaly from Turkish oppression, and their return to the Motherland in 1881.

The statues at the top of the steps leading to the entrance commemorate the great philologist Korais (1748-1833), ardent patriot and “father” of the Modern Greek literary language (right), and Capodistrias (1776-1831), first Head of State (1827-1831) and one of the major architects of modern Greece.

The UNIVERSITY OF ATHENS was founded in 1836, and was initially established in a large house which Schaubert and Cleanthes had built in Plaka (the old quarter of Athens) when they first came to Athens in 1831. This building, at the corner of Odhos Prytaneiou and Odhos Tholou, is still standing and is converted into a museum devoted to the earlier history of the University. The present University buildings were designed by Christian Hansen and the foundation stone laid by King Othon in 1839. The central building was ready for use in 1842, but owing to lack of funds, the buildings as a whole were not completed until 1850.

A colonnade with a handsome portico in Pentelic marble fronted by two Ionic columns with gilded capitals, and a coffered ceiling in blue and gold in harmony with the classical motif of a painted and gilded door surround, gives access to the interior of the main building.

On the upper part of the wall a fresco by the celebrated Austrian painter Karl Rahl (1812-1865) shows the resurgence of arts and sciences under King Othon. Statues of two national heroes, Patriarch Grigorios and the martyred poet Rhigas Pheraios, stand respectively at the right and left angles of the facade.

The NATIONAL LIBRARY, which is built of Pentelic marble on a foundation of poros, consists of a central building in the form of a Doric temple, with two wings. It was planned by Theophil Hansen in 1887 and the work executed under the supervision of Ernst Ziller, at the expense of the Valianos brothers of Cephalonia in 1901. A statue of one of these munificent benefactors, Panayis, stands outside the central building, and those of his two brothers Andreas and Maris inside the entrance hall. All three statues are the work of Georgios Bonanos.

The eminent philologist Andreas Moustoxidis on the island of Aegina formed the nucleus of the Library in 1827. The books were brought to Athens in 1833 and stored in the beautiful church of St. Eleutherius (the “Little Cathedral”). In 1842 they were removed to the first floor of the central building of the University – which had just been completed – where they remained until the National Library was inaugurated in 1903.

In recent years many fine nineteenth century buildings have been demolished and unimaginative concrete structures built on the sites, so that with the exception of the Ionian Bank of Greece on one corner of Odhos Pezmazoglou and the former buildings of the Arsakeion College for Girls (founded in 1836) on the other corner over the Doric portico, built at the expense of Apostolos Arsakis of Epirus in 1848, nothing remains of the splendid buildings that once lined both sides of this street of central Athens.

Continuing along Odhos Panepistimiou for a short distance, we turn right into Odhos Patission. A few hundred meters further down, on our right, stands a construction in the finest Pentelic marble, in which two educational institutions of University status are established: The POLYTECHNIC SCHOOL (Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, Naval, Chemical and Mining Engineering, Architecture, and Topography) and the SUPERIOR SCHOOL OF FINE ARTS (Drawing, Painting, Sculpture, Engraving, etc.). Two wings in the Doric order serve as propylaea to the central building of two storeys, the lower erected in the Doric order, the upper in Ionic. This edifice is the work of Lysander Kaftanzoglou, who built it between 1862 and 1880, and owes its name -METSOVION POLYTECHNEION- to the fact that the principal donors Nicholaos Stournaras, Michalis Tositsas and his widow Helen, were natives of Metsovo in Epirus.

NJV Athens Plaza Hotel, Grande Bretagne and King George II Hotel are among the best luxury hotels in Athens.

A Tale of Two Mountains, Vegetation and a Festival in Athens

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People living in or visiting  Athens  tend to feel overwhelmed by the concrete nature of the  city . The Athenian apartment buildings make up much of the city, cramming in the over 4 million residents of this metropolis. Natural vegetation may be hard to find, yet a little north of the centre is a green oasis waiting to surprise you.

Two mountains make up the highest part of the Attica basin. Standing at a height of 338 meters, are the Tourkovounia or Turkish Mountains. The mountains were given the name as a reminder of the siege of  Athens  by the Ottomans in 1456. Prior to that, the mountains were known as Wolf Mountains due to the many wolves that once roamed the area. In ancient mythology, it was believed to be the dwelling of the God Zeus from where he controlled the weather and sent his thunder and lightning into the world.

Amongst the many caves, steep rocky cliffs and boulders is the Attica Woods. Until the occupation of Greece in 1941, the mountains had a rich vegetation and wildlife. Much of it was destroyed due to human intervention, pollution and negligence. Restoration of the 230 acres of green space began in the 60s and well into the 70s. Over the years, the ecosystem was restored and became once again a natural habitat for Athenian wildlife, especially that of birds. There are about 95 species of birds, 26 of which reproduce locally. The vegetation includes plants that are typical of the local flora; such as low bushy plants, pine, cypress and olive trees. Since 2003, it became a protected green space and a natural escape for all Athenians to enjoy.

The mountains and the Attica Woods are now a centre of education, amusement, athletics and quiet afternoon walks. Students can have a learning experience walking through the rich vegetation, athletes can jog along the many paths and visitors can go on picnics. There are volleyball and basketball courts as well as small soccer fields and tennis courts. In addition, the  city  of  Athens  has initiated an annual festival during the months of July and August which attracts thousands of people. The  Athens  Festival includes theatre productions, live music shows, dance, children’s theatre as well as world-renowned artists. In an effort to make the events available to all citizens and visitors, most events have little or no entrance fees.

If you are renting an  Athens  apartment or an  Athens  studio in neighboring areas, such as Chalandri, Tourkovounia are definitely within view. During the Festival, there are buses from the  centre  of  Athens  that can take you directly there. You can easily check the website for the schedule of activities and events and plan your trip accordingly.

The highlight of every visit to these mountains is found higher up the winding roads. As you make your way up, you will come upon a clearing that hosts a cafe waiting for you to lay back and rest. Further up, and you will come upon the most magnificent view of the city; 360 degrees. The contrast of the rich vegetation, human activity and the sprawling city below is breathtaking and must not be missed.

So for those who claim that  Athens  has no beauty, all they need to do is spend the day at the two mountains that separate eastern part of the  city  from the western part. They are sure to change their minds.

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Enjoyable Walks in the Heart of Athens

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Getting around as a pedestrian in certain cities can be as adrenaline-filled as cliff-diving. Dodging cars should simply not have to be a worry on holiday when relaxation and fun tend to take priority. In the lovely bustling  city  of  Athens , a welcome refuge from such unpleasant stress can be found on the Grand Promenade in  Athens . Closed to automobiles only a few short years ago, this pedestrian haven is filled to the brim with some of the best historical sites  Athens  has to offer. On this elegant pedestrian route, you will encounter marble temples, neoclassical museums, and ancient theatres. Of course, all the while you will be casually circling the Acropolis.

A great starting point is the Temple of Olympian Zeus located next to the National Gardens. This colossal temple took centuries to build. Completed in no less than 700 years by Hadrian in 131 A.D., it maintained its complete structure until a rogue storm in the 19th-century took out some of the columns.

On the southern side of the Acropolis, you will find the Theatre of Dionysus. This is the theatre that welcomed the dramatic arts as they are known today in existence in 543 B.C. It also served as the first forum for the plays of Sophocles, Aristophanes and Euripides in their day. The nearby Roman Herodes Atticus amphitheatre is closed to visitors except during the summer  Athens  festival when attendees can view its form and structure up close. If you decide to follow the marble walkway up to Filopappou and Hill of the Muses, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the Parthenon and the Athenian skyline. From this promontory, you will be able to see as far as the Saronic Sea. With views like this, your camera may run out of memory space before you manage to pull yourself away and on to your next destination.

After such a hike, you may need a breather and possibly some refreshments. For that, your best bet is Apostolou Pavlou where you can sip espresso or perhaps some ouzo at a lively bouzouki club or quaint outdoor cafe and even take in a film at the Thission cinema. For a slow return into modernity, you can also check out the multimedia exhibits at the Centre of Traditional Pottery and the recently minted New Acropolis Museum. With this much culture and history to experience, the question isn’t what to do but, how to fit everything into one trip!

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Athens – What To See And How To See It

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There are so many aspects of current civilization that were birthed in ancient Athens. Among these are theatre, philosophy, democracy, classical art and even the Olympic games. Athens is located on the southern coast of Greece and has existed for over 7,000 years providing a rich culture expressed in a diverse setting. The term diverse fits as you will find ancient relics and sites in some of the same areas where there are trendy boutiques and sidewalk cafes all mixed in together. This mixture of the very old and the new create a very unique experience provided nowhere in the world like it is provided in the ancient city of Athens. You will need to be sure your passport is up to day so if you need to add passport pages, be sure to go online and access a passport site to help you with this so you can be on you way.

World travel requires a passport but computers have simplified all passport needs. Even if you have to get an emergency passport, an online passport is available to help you. No one plans to have their travel documents lost or stolen but if this happens, help is as close as the nearest computer.

Athens is a city that contains many sites that make history come alive so this is certainly the ideal place for lovers of history to visit. High on top of the Acropolis you will find the Parthenon. This famous sight has earned the honor of being named as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Investigating these ruins takes you back to sights names in Greek Mythology related to gods and goddesses, the titans and many other mythological characters. Admission to this site also opens the Theatre of Dionysus, the Roman Agora and the Temple of Olympian Zeus to the traveler.

Being the birthplace of the performing arts, it is no wonder that the arts and culture are very important to the Athenians. While the National Gallery is certainly large and well known, many smaller art galleries populate the city. Athens is also host to approximately 148 theatres so if you are in the mood for a show, the difficult part will be which performance to see. Among the theatres is the famous Herodes Atticus Theatre.

Using a bike or even walking around this city is a wonderful way to see the sights. Green space is always welcome when you travel to big cities and the National Garden of Athens provides an exceptional treat. Within it can be found a small zoo, ponds with ducks, colorful flowers and beautiful landscape with no shortage of a shady tree to relax under and consider the sights of the day.

For those who would like to shop till your drop, your experience will be a little different in Athens. Rather than large malls and strip centers, you will find street vendors selling custom crafts rather than name brand items. Some of the most visited markets are found on Plaka, Kolonaki and Ermou Street. You will find endless selections of shoes, purses and jewelry if you visit here and the quality will certainly not disappoint you.

Authentic cuisine is always interesting in a foreign city and Athens is no exception to this rule. Known for their souvlaki, which is comprised of grilled meat, veggies and a special yogurt sauce, this Athenian staple is considered a treat by all who try it.

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Piraeus Port – Athens, Greece

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The port of  Athens , Piraeus was the greatest port of the ancient world and remains one of the busiest in the Mediterranean. In a country that derives most of its livelihood from the sea, Piraeus is the true capital, while  Athens  is a sprawling suburb full of bureaucrats. Still, it’s hard to find much charm in the tall buildings and dusty streets, although Zea Marina and Mikrolimano with their yachts, brightly-lit tavernas and bars are a handsome sight.

Themistocles founded the port of Piraeus in the 5th century BC when Phaliron,  Athens ‘ ancient port, could no longer meet the growing needs of the  city . The Miletian geometer Hippodamos laid it out in a straight grid of streets that have hardly changed. The centre of action was always the huge central agora, where the world’s first commercial fairs and trade expositions were held. All religions were tolerated, and women were allowed, for the first time, to work outside the home.

As Piraeus was crucial to  Athens ‘ power, the conquering Spartans destroyed the Long Walls linking  city  and port in 404, at the end of the Peloponnesian War. After the 100-year Macedonian occupation and a period of peace, Sulla decimated the city to prevent any anti-Roman resistance, and for 1,900 years Piraeus dwindled away into an insignificant village with a population as low as 20, even losing its name to become Porto Leone. Since the selection of  Athens  as the capital of independent Greece, Piraeus has regained its former glory as the reigning port of a seagoing nation, but much of it dates from after 1941, when German bombers blew the port sky-high.

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