This morning our adventures took us to a wondrous place filled with vast and ancient treasures. Although blocks of marble may not be treasures to all, to us scholars on this voyage, they certainly are. These things that set this trove apart from the others are the location, the pieces, and the second “no photo” we’ve heard thus far. While the first time was only for a mosaic tile room, today “no photo” applied to the entire museum.
The museum is in a prime location, just off the dromos, facing its predecessor and historic twin. Both buildings feature the same columnar styling (eight by seventeen). The top level of the new building is even rotated twenty-three degrees to match the older building placement up high overlooking it. If you haven’t guessed by now, we went to the new Acropolis Museum.
The new Acropolis Museum
The location is also fabulous due to the fifth century ruins directly beneath the museum. Excavations of the site are currently underway and are visible through the glass floors (caution ladies – don’t wear a skirt here). There is some contention regarding the buildings immediately surrounding it as the museum loses its view of the ancient Acropolis from some levels; the neoclassical structures crowd the museum, butting up right against it. These difficulties and more were realized in 2000 when Greece joined the European Union and needed a proper place to house the artifacts stolen by Lord Elgin (a fact that was definitely emphasized in the museum provided video). Plaster casts stand alongside the surviving marble works as a stark reminder of how pieces have been looted and never returned.
Looking through an opening outside the museum to the site below.
On the second floor of the museum, Professor Salowey challenged us to find several pieces and specific facts about them. It provided us with an excellent opportunity to apply what we’ve learned throughout the trip. One of our tasks was to find a kore (pronounced KO-reh) statue dressed more conservatively than her seventeen counterparts. Most female kore are depicted wearing a chiton, a more fanciful design than the simple peplops of our kore. Another one of our tasks was to find who the “men in pants” were. Men wearing pants are a rarity in Greece (well, in Ancient Greece, anyway). Pants were a Persian thing at the time, and their depictions in marble were often colorfully painted. The depiction of a Persian in a Greek temple (recall that these artifacts came from the Parthenon) may seem odd, but Persian archers fought alongside Greeks in the years prior to the Persian wars.
After the museum, we ventured over to the Theatre of Dionysis. Dionysis is the god of madness, ecstasy, and of course, wine. His games, therefore, were theatrical performances which took place in this theatre. The festival would last several days in the spring and would include 3-4 tragic trilogies, such as the Oresteia. The festival would end with some comic relief in the form of a satyr play. The plays were highly entertaining, had religious pertinence, and provided a political commentary. Winners of the festival were permitted to erect statues upon which a “trophy tripod” would be placed (consider this the Oscars of the ancient world). Walls were later added surrounding the orchestra pit by the Romans who preferred to watch bloodier forms of entertainment.
Sitting in the seats of the Theatre of Dionysis
We then took a break for lunch before heading over to the Arch of Hadrian. Built in the style of a triumphant arch, the west side facing the Acropolis bears the inscription “this is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus” while the east side bears the inscription “this is the city of Hadrian, not Theseus.” It stood as the boundary between the old (western) Athens and the newly rebuilt (eastern) Athens. Some scholars, however, argue that the arch honors Hadrian as the new founder of the city, effectively replacing Theseus.
The Arch of Hadrian
We continued our walking tour through Plaka, pausing at a marble bust of Melina Mercouri. Mercouri was a Greek triple threat: actress, singer, and dancer. She also ventured into American cinema, most notably in Never on a Sunday. She spearheaded the idea that Ancient sites in Greece should be connected by pleasant pedestrian walkways. We thank her for the lovely walkway that we traverse everyday leading to the metro station; a mere ten years ago it was a busy motorway.
From there we made our way over to the Lysikrates Monument, an example of a trophy monument won from the Festival of Dionysis. It was well preserved as it was later built into the wall of a monastery. Lord Byron then used it as a library, ensuring its survival. It now stands as an historic monument surrounded by tourist shops and restaurants.
The Lysikrates Monument
As we navigated the twisting streets, we eventually arrived upon the Roman Agora, a market of Caesar Augustus facing the north slope of the Acropolis. It was constructed after the Roman revival of Athens as the Greek agora was already a thing of the past. Its entrance is marked by a massive Propylon and sits significantly lower than the surrounding modern city, a sign of its antiquity as silt accumulation raised the city’s elevation over time.
Adjacent to the Roman Agora was the Tower of the Winds. It is the only ancient octagonal building left in existence. Extremely durable, it has withstood the test of time and stands exactly as it did when it was first constructed in the second century B.C. Each external face featured a sundial; inside, a water powered “clock” told the passing of time and phases of the moon. Unfortunately, these features no longer remain. Only cuttings in the floor of the building survive. Up above, the eight winds are depicted as personifications on their corresponding faces (i.e. the northern wind is pictured on the northern wall).
The Tower of the Winds, aka The Bathhouse of the Winds
We finished the day with the Library of Hadrian, also facing the north slope of the Acropolis. Constructed between 131 to 132 A.D., the large nearly square walled enclosure acted as more than just a library. It was multi-functional and acted more as a public square, modeled after imperial Roman forums. Its walls have been reused and recycled over the centuries. To this day, buildings backing up to it still incorporate the library’s walls in their architecture.
Tonight we dined at a restaurant that transported us back 2,500 years in history. It featured only foods that would have been available in antiquity, and the atmosphere reflected this. The most struggling aspect: there were no forks.
Dining together on a traditional meal.
Leg of goat anyone?
Now that we have walked and dined in antiquity, we look forward to hearing about modern Greece tomorrow.