Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Athens - there is a city by the sea

How do I explain this to you? I am sitting on a balcony in downtown Athens right at the base of the Acropolis. The Parthenon is lit up brighter than the streetlights, a hundred times bigger than the moon right on my horizon. It is night, and it is drizzling rain, and there is a loud concert going on at the Herodus Atticus Odeon mere blocks away. More than two thousand years ago people performed at the same theatre, and a woman my age may have sat in her courtyard, chin in hand, hearing the laughter and the flourishes of the theatre the same as I am.

Athens is...Athens. It’s big. It’s noisy, crowded, dirty, overwhelming. Scattered all over the city are preserved archaeological sites, from the centre complexes of the Acropolis, the Agora, and the old Agora to tiny preserved pipes and bits of paved roads, two metres below current street level, just blocked off with railing with no explanation as to their meaning. It was fascinating to see the museums and sites in the city but it’s much too much for me to be comfortable with regularly.

As mentioned above, the hotel I stayed at with the 18 other program students and our program director was right at the south-eastern base of the Acropolis. It was literally a block’s walk to the southern slopes and sites, like the Odeon and the Theatre of Dionysus.

The Acropolis itself is much more than the Parthenon. I will be saying over and over again that Greek archaeology, especially the classical stuff that makes up so much of the Classics departments in universities...well...it isn’t really my thing. I am interested in it, and I really enjoyed seeing the sites, but I don’t have a great deal of background knowledge on it beyond reading a few of the Greek theatre classics. Most of which are decidedly pre-Classical, anyway. I remember having an argument with someone circa grade six about who were cooler, the Romans or the Greeks (the latter of which we were studying at the time). For some reason I took the side of the Romans. Being out here the lines between Greek, Roman and Byzantine all blur together, especially with the works of complete Hellophiles like Hadrian.

I liked the Erechtheum on the Acropolis, and the view from the Pnyx hill offsite. The Parthenon itself was ridiculously overcrowded and blocked by reconstruction efforts. The new Acropolis Museum just off hill, however, was fabulous. It only opened in June and was one of the few places in the touristy parts of Athens where I heard more Greek than English or German or Italian.

I also really liked the Temple of Hephaestus in the Agora. It’s apparently the most complete example of a Greek temple for its time period, and it’s stunning to see in person. On one side the drums of the columns (the cylinders piled on one another to make up the columns) are perfectly in line; on the other side they are so shifted from earthquakes that they have almost toppled.

Yeah, like I could go to a city, even an ancient one, without ending up in a 19th century cemetery. I only got about 20 minutes in the First Cemetery because it was sunset and I was paranoid of getting locked in. There were lots of cats roaming around the necropolis, more than I saw in other parts of Athens. Necropolis nekos! They are all so small and scrawny it’s hard to tell which are kittens and which aren’t. I did have one orange tabby follow me around the whole time, doing the exposed-belly pet-me-and-give-me-food pose. Many of the mausoleums were open, with steps leading down to the shrines – perhaps the cats hung out down there? It was very calm, and quiet, and peaceful, and absolutely enormous.

This was the only time I got freaked out in the cemetery. Can you see why?

Yup. Creepy statue man is watching you. Almost all the statues faced into the main central avenue, but this guy didn’t, so I was not expecting to see his face poking through the trees. Thanks for the adrenaline rush, creepy statue man.

The museums in Athens were incredible but, again, overwhelming. Besides the Acropolis Museum, there was an archaeological museum at the Agora (where most of my statue pictures are from) and the National Museum, which I adored and wish I had had more time at.

Indication that something is possibly wrong with me: I’m in Athens, at the National Museum, which is full of all manner of Greek archaeological goodies, and where do I hang out? The Egyptian wing. Yeeeah. The Egyptologist wanna-be in me couldn’t pass this section of the museum up. Once again, the classical Greek stuff isn’t really my thing. Unless it involves spindle whorls. My ‘thing’, if I can be argued to have a ‘thing’ within archaeology at all, is definitely osteology and textiles. This should come as no surprise to anyone ever.

They had a nice little sampling of Egyptian harp related stuff. The above is part of a wooden harp found preserved (cannot remember the date), and the next two are, in order, a monkey playing a harp and a very special carving of two people and a harp that speaks for itself. I took a picture of it just for you, Becca.

This is my favourite picture I got out of the two days in Athens – it’s a fresco in the Byzantine church on the Agora grounds. I blew out the contrast and the saturation on it and quite like the result.

1 comment:

  1. argh, your photos are fantastic, Ginny. they're so colourful and interesting, and they make me want to go on awesome travelling adventures. alas. ...your creepy statue man, on the other hand, can keep to himself. he's actually vaguely terrifying. why wasn't he facing the road with all the other ones?