Athens: Acropolis and more

Today, my first full day in Athens, started at the Acropolis. I then visited the Acropolis Museum, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch, and the Roman Agora (aka, the Roman Forum). There was, of course, a lot of walking around before, after, and between those sights.

Athenian Hardiness, or lack thereof

The Erechtheion, at the Acropolis
The Erechtheion, at the Acropolis

But, before starting a narrative on the day’s sights, a comment on the weather or, more specifically, the temperature.

One thing I’ve noticed here is that Athenians are like Californians in one regard. Today, the temperature was such that I felt quite comfortable in a short-sleeve shirt. (Pants too. I would have felt very uncomfortable without them, but for reasons other than the temperature.)

At the day’s pinnacle temperature, I even felt warm.

But most Athenians walked around layered, with the outer layer often being a light winter jacket. Not a heavy, down-filled parkas, mind you. But still, something I wouldn’t wear until it was at least ten or fifteen degrees Celsius cooler. And I never saw anyone carrying around one of their layers even when the temperature reached its peak.

Many other tourist-looking people dressed as I did. Just in terms of clothing weight, that is. We didn’t colour coordinate.

The conclusion I reached is that tourists from many countries are more hardy folk. However, global warming is going to be particularly tough on us. On the other hand, at least in Canada, our Arctic may still be bearable then.

Acropolis

The Acropolis is the high point of Athens. That is probably true rhetorically. It, or rather the Parthenon, which is a part of it, is likely the city’s most famous attraction.

In the city proper, i.e., excluding the surrounding mountains, it is also literally true. The Acropolis is built on the plateau of the highest hill in the city. I read somewhere that “Acropolis” means “high city” in Greek, so if I knew Greek I likely would have known that it was the literal highpoint before coming here and seeing it for myself.

However, as I typed “i.e., excluding the surrounding mountains,” I realized that I don’t know where the city boundaries are. So I’m not one hundred percent certain the surrounding mountains are outside the city limits, but I think so.

(UPDATE: The information about the Acropolis being the highest point in Athens is wrong. I came back here to say that I offer a correction in a post a couple of day days hence on what I’m calling “Mount Whatever (Hill).”)

Parthenon

The Acropolis
The Acropolis

The most famous structure in the Acropolis is the Parthenon. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen pictures of the Parthenon. If I knew, I’d tell you because that’s just the sort of open, transparent guy I am. But I haven’t kept a count.

If you’ve kept a count of how many times you’ve seen pictures of the Parthenon, you should probably get a different hobby. If you’ve kept a count of how many times I’ve seen pictures of it, please let me know so I can try to get a restraining order against you.

Seeing the pictures is one thing. Being there is another thing. The other thing it is is being there in person rather than seeing a picture. If you didn’t figure that out for yourself, please try to follow along. I haven’t got the time or inclination to go back over everything I write here.

Only the outer pillars of the Parthenon still stand. The Parthenon has suffered from pillaging, conversion into a church at one time and a mosque at another time, a fire, an explosion, and time’s relentless road of decay. So, it’s surprising that even those pillars are left.

A short film I saw at the Acropolis Museum (see below) included an animation of the explosion. Unless I’m mistaken about what the animation depicted, some of the pillars in positions where I think pillars stand today blew up in the explosion. If so, some of the pillars must be recreations. But I’m not sure about that.

The Parthenon is impressive. It’s probably even more impressive when one of the ends of the Parthenon isn’t enclosed in a scaffolding framework and a modern crane isn’t in the middle of it. However, I wouldn’t know because the scaffolding framework enclosed one end of it and a modern crane sat in the middle of it when I was there.

I think I might have noted in other posts in this journal that I believe there’s a conspiracy against me. Before I visit many famous sights in the world, when they learn I’m coming, they quickly erect some restoration work structures around at least portions of them to spoil my view. That’s my theory. Prove me wrong.

The Parthenon was built as a temple to Athena, the patron goddess* of Athens. Legend has it that Athena was born from the forehead of her father, Zeus. So, making babies was completely different for gods than for humans back then. I think the human process is preferable. Women who have given birth might disagree with me on that.

Other Acropolis Ruins

Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Odeon of Herodes Atticus

In addition to the Parthenon, the Acropolis incorporates a bunch of other ruins. These include a couple of theatres, the Theatre of Dionysos and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. The former is just ruins. The latter, however, while not in its original complete form, is in good condition (probably thanks to a lot of restoration) and is used for concerts in the summer. This is not the summer.

The Acropolis also includes a columned entrance, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion (aka Temple of Athena Polias), and some other structures. None of the ruins are in their complete original form. Hence the descriptor “ruins.” The degree of incompleteness and decay varies among them.

Crowds

One of the reasons I chose to come to Greece in the second half of October was that I read that it’s past the prime tourist season. If this is the off-season, I pity the fools who come here during the tourist-laden time of year. The Acropolis was crowded today.

Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis Museum is an attractive new building below the hill the Acropolis is on and a short walk from it.

A Frieze at the Acropolis Museum
A Frieze at the Acropolis Museum

The museum is on five levels. The ground level, level zero, contains the entrance, ticket counters, a gift shop, and a wide hallway with displays of Grecian urns and other artifacts. Level 1 contains mostly statues from the Acropolis. Above that, Level 2 contains a restaurant and a small theatre that ran a video about the Parthenon. At the top, Level 3 contains mostly stone friezes.

There is also a level -1. That contains an in-situ excavation of some houses and private baths dating from the fifth and sixth centuries.

The excavations
The excavations

Interestingly, despite being in Greece, the video was in English with Greek subtitles. Anglophones are so spoiled. Being an anglophone, I’m not complaining. Being spoiled is greatly underrated.

Seeing some Parthenon sculptures and friezes here in the Acropolis Museum, so close to their original home, is the next best thing to being at the British Museum. (Yes, that was a dig at the pillaging of a large quantity of Parthenon statues and friezes by Lord Elgin. Much of his loot now resides in the British Museum. Athens would like them back.)

Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch

Temple of the Olympian Zeus
Temple of the Olympian Zeus

Zeus was the head of the Greek Olympian gods*. Today there’s not much left of his temple here. A few columns remain standing. And there are other stone architectural elements scattered around the perimeter of the site. It’s sad. He was head of the Olympian gods, but for all his stature and efforts, this is the respect or, rather, lack thereof he gets today. He deserves better.

Of course, when I was there, construction scaffolding shrouded about half of the columns. What did I tell you? It’s a conspiracy against me. That’s the only possible explanation.

Hadrian's Arch
Hadrian’s Arch

Beside the Temple of Olympian Zeus site, outside the paid area and beside a street, sits Hadrian’s Arch. As you might have guessed, or, for those who’ve been to Athens, you might have known, it’s an arch. I’ve included a picture.

Roman Agora

Roman Agora
Roman Agora

The Romans built a forum for commerce after they took over Athens. It’s now known as the Roman Forum or Roman Agora. The agora is mostly a bunch of old stone ruins today. But within the Agora is a largely intact old building called The Temple of Winds. Fortunately, the winds didn’t blow it down. Probably because, heck, how many temples have the winds got?

A fence prevents entry into the temple, but allows visitors to look inside. The temple is a small octagonal building that was used as a water-powered clock. Don’t ask me how that worked. I’d be happy to tell you if I knew, but I haven’t a clue.

I forgot to take a close-up picture of the Tower of Winds, but you can spot it in the background if the picture of the Roman Agora.

Aside

Deity Duties

I have a proposal to submit humbly to humanity. All humanity, so please share it with everyone you know. And ask them to share it with everyone they know and ask everyone they know to, well, you know.

The proposal is this: Let’s bring back the Greek gods and goddesses. We should also reinstate the Roman gods and goddesses and all other retired gods and goddesses, but I’m in Greece, visiting old Greek temples. So the Greek gods and goddesses are the most salient for me now.

(Note: In the interest of gender equality, shouldn’t we start calling both gods and goddesses “gods?” These days, many female performers insist on being called actors rather than actresses to assert the equity of the sexes in their profession. That makes sense to me. We don’t, for example, call female teachers teacheresses.

We should do the same for gods, nee gods and goddesses. So, that’s what I’ll do from hereon when talking generically about both gods and goddesses. Besides gender equality, it’s also less cumbersome than typing “gods and goddesses.” I’m a lazy guy. Which, in truth is the greater reason for me using “gods” to encompass gods and goddesses.)

Here’s my thinking. Our currently active gods are failing us.

(I say “gods,” rather than “God,” to include not just the Abrahamic god of Western religions, but also the other gods of active religions around the world, including the polytheistic religions, such as Hinduism.

Having said that, I’ve never understood the “Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost/Spirit” thing. Is that three separate deities, three gods in one, or something completely different? I’m of the irreligious persuasion that worships the holy trinity of chicken soup, deli sandwiches, and latkes, so it’s not something I’ve researched or been taught.)

To be clear, I’m not suggesting getting rid of the current gods, but rather bringing the old ones out of retirement to work alongside them.

Why do I say our current gods are failing us? How can I come to any other conclusion? Genocides. Wars. Murders. Rapes. Dread diseases. Famines. Floods. Fires. Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Mudslides. Avalanches. Deadly accidents. Fascism. Bigotry. Bizarre pizza toppings. Telemarketers. Spam. Terrorism. Need I continue? Like I said, the gods are failing us. QED.

I think the gods may be overworked. Otherwise, the universe, or at least Earth, would come much closer to a copacetic place than it does. And if that’s not the gods’ goal, then who the heck needs them anyway?

Many deified hands make light work. Dark too.

There were 12 Olympian Greek gods alone. The Titans were the reigning deities before them. That’s a lot of gods. And if we also bring back the Roman and other superannuated gods we’d have more gods than we could shake a celestial stick at. And some of them would likely benefit from having a celestial stick shook at them.

Of course, there’d be a lot of overlap. My understanding is that the Roman gods largely paralleled the Greek Olympian gods. Do we really need two gods of wine? Okay, bad example. Yes, we do. But we don’t necessarily need two each of all of the other specialist gods.

And we certainly don’t need two or more gods of war. We humans do far too good a job—or should I say too bad a job—of war as it is. Perhaps we can convince the war gods to give up their military roles and take on much more divine pursuits, such as, say, oh, I don’t know, maybe peace. There’s no such thing as too many gods of peace.

But that still leaves at least two gods serving some roles. We need to get them to agree to divide up their spheres of influence so they don’t step on each others’ godly toes. This would be great. Reducing their workload will allow the gods to focus more on their tasks and do a better job of them than they do now.

God Complexes

There will be problems with this scheme. For example, all of the gods likely have god complexes. Will they want to share their dominions equally with other gods? But we can probably get them to go along by pointing out that this will allow them to take it easier and maybe get an occasional day off. As long as they set up their shifts such that, between them, they cover a 24×7 schedule, this will get us closer to a utopia than they’ve delivered unto us so far.

Speaking of god complexes, the other gods would probably object to calling the Abrahamic god “God” as if He, She, or It is the only One worthy of holding that name as His, Her, or Its own. So we’ll have to give Him, Her, or It another name. Maybe something like “Schmendrick.” I have never made a study of religions, neither current nor past, but I’m pretty sure there is no deity named Schmendrick. So there shouldn’t be any confusion in that regard.

What do you think? Are you in? More importantly, are They in?

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