Athens: Ruins and the Central Market
Today was a day mostly for ruins. These included Kerameikos, Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Library, and Lykeion. Those English-language names primarily came from the signage at the sights, but the English names you know or discover for them may vary. More on that later.
I find that the older I get, the more I appreciate old ruins. Old ruins, that is, as opposed to comparatively new ruins, such as myself. I think it’s because I enjoy being reminded that there are things in this world, inanimate objects though they be, that are much, much, much older than I am. Some days I find that hard to believe. So seeing them makes me happy.
But visiting ruins didn’t consume my whole day, I also visited the Central Municipal Market of Athens.
Athens Flea Market
And, as always, I did some wandering around of both the aimless and aimed variety.
On one of those ramblings, I came across a lane with a large sign hung above one end. The sign, predominantly in English, read, “Athens Flea Market.” I walked through and found that the flea market spilled over into a block or so of some of the cross-lanes. (I originally typed “cross-lanes” without the hyphen, but I added it before publishing this because I don’t think the lanes were the least bit cross. In fact, they seemed cheerful.)
Granular stores lined the lanes. They sold a variety of clothes, purses, knapsacks, luggage, and miscellaneous tchotchkes. But, as far as I could see, none sold fleas. Then again, those little buggers are tiny. I didn’t inspect the merchandise closely. So, I can’t really say for sure that you wouldn’t get any fleas included with your purchases there.
Before you say it, no! “None sold fleas” is not a dad joke! I mean, how could it be? I don’t have any children.
Alright, “not a dad joke … I don’t have any children” might qualify as an honorary dad-joke.
The flea market is only a minor point in this journal post. So, let’s move on, shall we?
Ruins of Kerameikos
A large portion of the archaeological site of Kerameikos is an old graveyard. A really old graveyard. It contains grave monuments of people who died a few centuries BC. I know this because signage at the site said so.
I couldn’t read information on the tombstones because:
- As you can imagine, most of the stones were very well worn. I couldn’t make out any even faint remnants of text or numbers. So, I’m not sure if monuments back then and there included any.
- Even if there was any writing on them, it would have been in a language that I don’t understand. (Is modern Greek the same as ancient Greek? Is that the language it would have been written in? I ask only out of curiosity. Whatever the language, I wouldn’t understand it.)
- We’re talking BC here. How the heck would they have known what year it was on our calendar when we count backwards for their years? And they couldn’t Google it back then. How did those people survive? Wait. It’s a cemetery. They didn’t survive. Never mind. Then again, considering that we’re talking about people who lived about two and a half millennia ago, I would start believing in the gods if people from then were still alive.
Kerameikos was also where potters and vase painters tended to live back in the day. (Kerameikos is derived from the Greek word for pottery.) In addition to the cemetery, the site contains the excavated ruins of some of the buildings in that settlement. There is also a part of a wall built to fortify the city.
Ruins and the Not-so-ruined of Ancient Agora
The Ancient Agora, not to be confused with the Roman Agora I saw yesterday, is, to my mind, a gem among archaeological sites. At least it is for someone with no experience or training and only a general, lowbrow interest in archaeology. Or, to avoid overly generalizing as I know only an infinitesimal fraction of such people, it is for me.
The site was built as a public square with commercial, administrative and other buildings in and around it.
Clearly, Ancient Agora is nowhere near as famous as the Acropolis. And it doesn’t contain anything as imposing as the Parthenon, but it nevertheless contains some impressive ruins and non-ruins.
The site today contains a number of pillars, statues and other architectural elements, along with excavations of building bases.
But there are also three buildings that are either complete or much closer to complete than the Parthenon: The Temple of Hephaistos, The Church of the Holy Apostles, and The Stoa of Attalos.
The Temple of Hephaistos
First the name. A problem I’ve found in Athens is there doesn’t seem to be a centralized body that standardizes the English names of sights in the city. I haven’t seen any variations on the English name “Athens,” but the names of the sights within the city can be all over the map, so to speak.
For example, Google Maps and a couple of other sources I looked at called this “The Temple of Hephaestus.” But the English portion of descriptive text at the temple called it the “Temple of Hephaistos.” I also found that name for it used elsewhere as well.
The point is, if you visit Athens and a friend, relative, colleague, or random stranger on the street emails you saying, “You absolutely have to see Such And Such Place while you are in Athens,” a Google search of “Such And Such Place” won’t necessarily return the best English-language pages about the sight.
I’d be particularly suspicious of random people in the street who somehow get your email address and inexplicably email you about a destination that they have no legal way of knowing you’re visiting. However, that may be a completely different problem.
But enough about the English name, whatever it may be. The temple sits atop a hill in Ancient Agora. Its design seems very similar to the design of the Parthenon. It is much small than the Parthenon, but it is all together more altogether. Or is that altogether all together? Whatever the case may be, my point is that a smaller percentage of it is missing than is the case for the Parthenon.
Beyond being more complete than the Parthenon, another touristic advantage of the Temple of Hephaistos/Hephaestus is that visitors can get much closer to it. The low-strung barrier cable that surrounds the structure is probably no more than a meter from it.
(I didn’t bring a measuring tape. Nor could I go on the other side of the cable to measure the distance between it and the temple. Therefore, I assume no legal responsibility if it’s a bit more than that when you’re there. Besides, nothing stops them from moving the cable at some time. Yeah, that’s it, if it’s a bit more, or even a lot more than a meter, they moved the chain between my and your visits. For sure.)
There is a small park-like setting beside the temple. Tourists can walk through it and down a path to the main, lower portion of Ancient Agora. I did.
The Church of the Apostles
Compared to most of the rest of the Ancient Agora, the Church of the Apostles is kind of more modern.
There are two reasons for me saying “kind of more modern”.
First, despite being built much more recently than the rest of the structures in the Ancient Agora, it’s still a sprightly young age of only about one thousand years. So, not exactly modern. But mosttt of the other buildings were constructed many centuries before that. Much of Ancient Agora was built circa 600 BC.
I don’t know if it’s had any work done on its form, but the Church of the Apostles barely looks more than a few hundred years old to my untrained eye. The other the other eye had the same opinion, but it hasn’t had any training in that regard either.
Most of rest of the Ancient Agora definitely appears ancient and much of it has declined into delightful decrepitude. (It’s not that I think decrepitude is particularly delightful, but I do like me some alliteration.)
The second reason for me saying “kind of more modern” will become clear in the subsection on The Stoa of Attalos, immediately below.
But, you’re probably wondering about the church itself. It’s an small, handsome building from the outside. There’s a picture here.
I wasn’t allowed to go inside. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying they specifically blocked me and no one else. I’m saying the church interior wasn’t open to the public. Then again, maybe they saw me coming and quickly closed it, making me think it was closed to everyone when, in fact, it was just me.
The Stoa of Attalos
I promised to give you the second reason for me saying “kind of more modern.” I’m a man of my word. My word is swordfish, but never mind that. Here’s the reason.
The Stoa that sits on the site now is a replica, not the original. I believe the building I saw is fairly close to looking identical to the building that was built there. But it’s not that building.
The original Stoa of Attalos was built by King Attalos II sometime around 150 BC. That is to say, I read that he built it. What do you think? Do you think he personally hauled, chiselled and erected stone. I obviously didn’t know the man, but I think not.
He was a king. I bet he had some people he commanded do the construction. But he got credit for it. Isn’t it always the way?
An early Germanic people, the Heruli, destroyed the Stoa in 267 AD. They used the material in the construction of a fortifying wall for the city.
The Stoa reconstruction that stands today was built between 1953 and 1956 with financial support from John Rockefeller. It now houses a museum and some small offices.
Central Municipal Market
Athens’s Central Municipal Market is large. The vendors are almost all butchers (including fowl) and fish mongers. There are also a few small restaurants.
I didn’t see any cheese mongers or vegetable vendors. There are a few street-facing stores that sell nuts and spices. I spotted some packages of figs for sale in one, but, apart from that, suffice it to say that you’d have a hard time buying your recommended daily dosage of fibre there.
I read that the market is quite lively. That’s why I went.
But few customers were in the market when I was there. Probably as a result of that, many of the vendors tried to hawk their products directly to me as I walked past. At least, that’s what I thought they were doing. As far as I know, they could have been swearing at me in Greek.
Does shaking one’s head from side-to-side mean “no” in Greek as well? If not, and if they were swearing at me, it’s possible that the vendors thought I appreciated their crude insults.
With the exception of the digression about the Athens Flea Market above, I wrote the sections in this post in the chronological order I visited them. Anyone familiar with Athens who noticed that I visited the market between Ancient Agora and Hadrian’s Library might wonder why I did it in that order. Ancient Agora and Hadrian’s Library are close to each other. I had to walk for several minutes beyond Hadrian’s Library to get to the market. I then backtracked to the library.
That was intentional. No, it wasn’t to get exercise.
I had lunch in a restaurant near Ancient Agora after my visit there. It was after 2:00 p.m. by the time I finished lunch. The tour book that recommended I visit the market said it closes at 3:00. Google said it was open until 6:00, but I decided it was better to be safe than sorry as the cliché goes. Hadrian’s Library didn’t close until later.
I didn’t see any opening/closing hour signs when I was at the market. But considering how few customers were there at 2:30 and how hard the vendors were trying to reduce their inventory, I’m guessing the tour book was right, not Google.
I’ll probably never know for sure. So, as the anti-vaxxers say, do your own research. And definitely don’t employ the anti-vaxxers to do your research for you because their research comes up with absolute nonsense that has probably resulted in more than a few unnecessarily early deaths. But I digress.
Hadrian had a library. Based on the few ruins that are still there it looks like it was quite large, but a church occupied a fair piece of the building. So, I don’t know how much space the library portion consumed.
Having said that, according to a sign at the site, there were 40 niches for books; 16 on the eastern wall and 12 on each of the side walls. According to the same sign, based on the size and number of the niches and the estimated dimensions of the papyri of the books, experts estimated the niches probably held about 16,000 books.
Think about that for a minute. I don’t know if a modern e-reader could hold all that, but it could definitely access that much and much more in the cloud. It’s a good thing there weren’t e-readers in Hadrian’s days. Otherwise, we likely wouldn’t have his library today.
Then again, we don’t have his library today. We just have ruins. So, it’s a wash. Maybe it would have been better for them to have e-readers. We’d probably be much more advanced today if they did.
Inanity like this takes over my life sometimes. Never mind.
Google Maps lists the Lykeion as the “Archaeological Site of the Lyceum of Aristotle.”
There’s not much at the site. The ruins are scant. Pretty much just a partial outline, only a few stones high in many places, of the building that was there, along with a few stone somethings or other that went further into the ground.
The signage at the site speaks mostly about it being a gymnasium for athletes to practice in and baths for them to bathe in, But one of the signs also said the gymnasium had some lecture halls. Another sign speaks specifically about Aristotle setting up his school there.
I read somewhere on the Internet that it’s only thought that Aristotle had his school there, but it’s not a certainty. Then again, that’s the Internet. It might surprise you, but some of the what appears on the Internet is false. I know that to be the case because someone said so on the Internet.
I’m going to accept what I read on the signs and believe that I trod on or near ground that Aristotle trod on.
If I were capable, I’d wax philosophical about that. I’m not capable.
The Ruin of Me
You might wonder why I crammed seeing so many ruins into just my the first two full days when I have a few more days here. After all, here’s so much else to see.
It’s like this. I bought a combination ticket that provides admission to the Acropolis and five other specific archaeological sites. I’ve now been to all of them. The ticket allows me into each only once, so I can’t go back to any of them without buying another ticket.
True, the ticket allowed me to spread my visits to the sights over five days. Some would say that I should have done that rather than concentrating them in two days to avoid risking ruin overload. I disagree.
Here’s my thinking. Life’s fateful stream is fickle and unpredictable. For all I know, I might die before the five days are up. I hope and fully expect not. But you just never know. If i were to die, say, tomorrow and I had spread the visits over the full five days, then I would miss some of the sights and wouldn’t receive the full value of the combination ticket. What a waste that would be!
Have I ever mentioned that it isn’t easy being me?
Among the intriguing, inane, and informative observations you included in todays ruinous post (ruinful post?), a reference to the possibility of cross-cultural understanding and misunderstandings rooted in gestures caught my attention. You were in the marketplace, shaking your head “no” in response to the overtures of this monger or that. Off the top of my head, I am able to recall that as an English speaker among the people of Attica, I was warned that Greek “neh” means English “yes” although it would be far more convenient if it meant “no,” don’t you agree? As for gestures, doctor google explains this: “Greeks do not nod and shake their head to communicate in the same way as the English-speaking West. To indicate “no”, one tilts the head backward once; nodding the head slightly forward means “yes”.
Speaking of gestures, you likely want to avoid scratching your inner elbow while holding your arm in front of you at shoulder level. It’s not the scratching that’s problematic. Just the possibility of having the stance mistaken for something much less innocuous than responding to an itch, or at least to an innocent itch. Um, that’s all I can say in polite posting company.
As ever, I commiserate with you when you report your over-thunk trains of thought. But I am compelled to express my admiration for the great facility and eloquence with which you describe them.
I have to go and consult my daily papayrus now. Can’t wait to see what your tomorrow brings. And suffice it to say, I am confident that you do indeed have at least three more days in you.