STEPPING BACK IN TIME
Our Mediterranean cruise kicks off with a two-day stay in the heart of old Athens. And during leisurely meanderings throughout the old city, my husband Rick and I reacquaint ourselves with the distinguished remains of a distant past.
A few blocks from our comfortable backpacker hotel, a narrow pathway takes us along a parched hillside and on through newly excavated ruins toward the Acropolis. Like other avid history buffs, curious travelers and pilgrims have done for thousands of years, we climb to the celebrated limestone heights. Immersing ourselves in glorious Greek history, we can easily imagine goddess Athena’s magnificent birthday procession winding its way along similar paths and little streets leading upward from the ancient agora: costumed dancers, lively musicians, young girls hoisting drinking horns and aged men carrying olive branches, all parading merrily to the top...
Below us lies Theatre of Dionysus, an early home to riotous festivals. Tragedies by Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus, as well as Aristophanes’ bawdy comedies, once played there to seventeen thousand patrons seated on sixty-seven limestone tiers. Nearby, the smaller Odeon of Herodes Atticus still features theatrical and musical performances of high culture, just as in days of old.
Worn slippery-smooth by countless sandaled feet, the steps of the Sacred Way lead us ever upward to the Acropolis. Within the Propylaea’s towering gateway, one placard tells us about the wondrous paintings at one time adorning its immense picture gallery in the north wing. And the central hall’s blue ceilings had been studded with gold stars.
With four symmetrical columns at front and back, the small square Temple of Athena Nike perches above and to the right. Fragmented friezes depict a gathering of Olympian gods and include Athens’ victorious battles against the Persians and other Greek states.
To the northeast stands the wonderful marble Erechtheion, my favourite structure. Wearing long flowing garments, six graceful young maidens support the temple’s southern porch. These renowned Caryatids gaze serenely out over Athens. According to legend, it was here that the goddess Athena fiercely battled sea god Poseidon to become the city’s supreme patron and that this sacred temple honoured both of these fierce competitors.
Also dedicated to Athena, the Parthenon still dominates this celebrated site. Exemplifying classical Greek grandeur, eight fluted columns support each end, seventeen on each side. Completed in the 5th century BC, this magnificent temple remains one of the world’s most iconic structures. Another plaque pictures Athena’s twelve-meter gold and ivory statue standing inside. Helmeted with sphinxes and griffins, bejeweled eyes blazing and golden dress flying, her mighty figure became a wonder of the ancient world and attracted pilgrims from near and afar…
A stone, cliff-side platform provides breathtaking panoramas of the city sprawling below: the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Olympic stadium and narrow, winding streets in the old marketplace…known nowadays as the Plaka. Shaded by olive trees along the Sacred Way, we later return there and relish authentic Greek lunches in a family run Taverna.
Energized, we visit the outstanding new Acropolis Museum nearby. Near the entrance, ancient unearthed streets and buildings are revealed through glass flooring. Inside, a wide ramp mimics the climb up to the Acropolis. Commonplace items used in daily life fill its side shelves. One gallery displays many ancient sculptures, including the ‘calf-bearer’ from 570 BC and the poignant relief of a young Athena mourning. Another presents the Parthenon’s reproduced frieze showing gods and giants, centaurs, Athenians, Amazons and the Trojan War.
On the top floor, glass walls frame the magnificent Acropolis above. And a remarkable film details its extraordinary history. Athenian statesman Pericles built the monumental Parthenon and other temples during the Golden Age of Greece. Over the centuries, the splendid structure evolved into a Christian Church and much later, a munitions depot. As well, foreign archeologists ransacked the Parthenon’s treasures; two-thirds of the original artwork known as the ‘Elgin Marbles’ still resides in London’s British Museum.
Next morning, we walk to Hadrian’s Arch. Illustrated storyboards explain that Emperor Hadrian built this gigantic entrance into Athens’ new Roman sector. The previous year, he had constructed the adjacent Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest temple in antiquity. Of 104 ultra tall Corinthian columns, fifteen remain. He’d placed a giant gold and ivory Zeus inside and alongside it, an equally large and resplendent statue of himself! Neither remains today.
After browsing in the Plaka’s charming little shops, we head out to the port of Piraeus, board the elegant Viking Star and continue our explorations of other civilizations that also transcend time.
IF YOU GO:
• Visit www.vikingcruise.com and check out Ancient Civilization Cruise itineraries.
PHOTOS By Chris Millikan:
1) Theatre of Dionysus, an early home to riotous festivals.
2) Odeon of Herodes Atticus still features theatrical and musical performances.
3a) The Erechtheion, where six graceful young maidens support the temple’s southern porch.
3b) The Erechtheion1- The Caryatids gaze out over Athens.
4) The Parthenon still dominates Athens’ celebrated Acropolis.
5) On the Sacred Way Below Temple of Athena Nike
6) Hadrian’s Gate- Emperor Hadrian built this gigantic entrance into Athens’ new Roman sector
7) Temple of Olympian Zeus: built by Emporer Hadrian, the largest temple in antiquity.Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.TravelWritersTales.com
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