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Athens And The Acropolis
Chief Places Of Interest
In my recent cruise to the Adriatic, I visited some of the most popular destinations that have thrilled and delighted crowds for ages. Our itinerary included places in Greece, Turkey, Croatia and Venice. In this hub, I will touch on Athens, Greece, one of the more popular ports that we visited.
1. Athens, Greece. When your ship lands in Greece, it will land in Piraeus, the commercial port of the capital. This was our second port of call and one which I eagerly looked forward to. We were there in May, which was okay because it was not hot - temperatures can get up to 100 in the summer - but as luck would have it, rain fell heavily for the first half of the day and ruined what would have been an exciting experience. Therefore, most of what I am writing here is taken from my notes, my souvenir book and the little I remember.
As you know, Athens is the capital city of Greece and is named after the goddess Athena. A temple dedicated to her stands in the Acropolis, a natural fortress standing 490 feet above the city. This structure, said to date back to the middle Neolithic era, has been subjected to earthquakes, wars, plunders and invasions, but it's marble and bronze statues, massive columns and intricate carvings still reflect the magnificence and splendor of ancient Greece.
The Acropolis consists of several structures, which I will attempt to describe briefly from my notes and my souvenir book. If you are physically-challenged, you will be well advised to not attempt a visit to this monument. Entrance to the top is by way of seventy-five marble steps, which you can well imagine, are slippery when wet. With rain pouring down on us, we followed our guide speaking to us via radio because of the crowds and the distance we had to cover. My friend and I climbed as far as we could on the slippery steps before turning back. One of my regrets is that we did not get to the Agora, the spot where the apostle Paul preached to the people in 51 AD and where his words are embedded.
The three main structures of the Acropolis are:
1. The Propylaea, the monumental gateway to the Acropolis, said to have been first built in 437 B.C.
2. The temple of Wingless Victory. It's not certain when this temple was built, but from the bas-reliefs it could have been after the Trojan war. It was erected in honor of the goddess Nike, which means Victory (Remember that the next time you look at your Nike sneakers), for victories won against the barbarians. From the excavations done in 1835 the temple is presented in as near-perfect condition today.
3. The Parthenon - This is considered the most perfect ruin in the world and the most magnificent tribute to Classical Greece. Completed in 438 B.C., it was built of white marble from Mount Pentelicus and the the roof was made of Parian marble. The Parthenon stood on the foundations of a more ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. The building first functioned as a treasury and later became a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Parthenon has experienced its share of war, pollution, vandalism and plunder, but in 1975 the Greek government appointed a committee to restore the Acropolis.
Other notable features of our trip:
Our excursion included a drive through the city of Athens, past Constitution (Syntagma) Square where the Parliament building is located. This is the hub of the city, filled with luxury hotels, apartment buildings and stores. It is also the place where most demonstrations against the government are held. Every hour you can witness the changing of the guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. These guards are called Evzones and wear pleated skirts and sarouchi shoes with poms poms. The Acropolis is an easy walk from Constitution Square.
The temple of Poseidon
After a lovely lunch at the Marriott Hotel, we continued to the temple of Poseidon. By this time the rain had stopped and we were able to climb (again!) the hill comfortably to the remains of the temple. According to legend, Poseidon, god of the sea, was defeated by Athena who became the deity of Athens. Poseidon was known to be a very moody god and therefore the wind-swept cape of Sounion, overlooking the Aegean Sea, seemed to be the best place to build a sanctuary to appease him. The temple was destroyed by the Persians in 480 B.C. and rebuilt by Pericles. Today, many of the columns are on the ground. The ruins bear the engraved name of the poet, Lord Byron.
Other facts about Athens
Our cruise director begged us not to take a taxi to get to any of the places of interest in Athens. The reason? There are 16,000 taxis in Athens alone, (That's not a typo) and the streets become clogged during the evening rush hours. The population of Athens alone is four and a half million and the population of Greece is eleven million. In recent times, the Greek economy has taken a tremendous dive and unemployment now stands at a whopping 27 percent. Greece, like most of Europe, uses the euro and when we were there the exchange rate was 1.80 USD to 1 euro. Most of the population speak Greek, but our guide spoke fluent English.
As we drove through the city, we saw many high rise apartment buildings with windows shaded by awnings, but in the countryside, the houses were made of brick, many of them nestled against the hillsides. One thing that struck me were the orange trees planted in the sidewalk in the city. They seemed to be used as ornamental trees rather than for their fruit. Greece has an abundance of flowering plants, many of which grow wild along the hillsides.
I've tried to capture my impressions of a day's visit in this one hub, but believe me, there is so much that can, and has already been written about this great ancient civilization. I left Greece with a feeling of respect and joy at having had the opportunity to see the sites that have attracted millions of people for centuries and, I daresay, will continue to do so for years to come.