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Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain
I recently earned my Masters in History at NWMSU and am now working as a language assistant in a Spanish elementary school.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Greek Αλφα Βετα (Athens: Part Δύο)

The next morning I got a sandwich from a kiosk across the street from my hotel, took a brief walk through the Voula neighborhoods, then got on the tram toward the center of Athens. The ticket at the tram was good for twenty-four hours on any public transport and cost only three euros. The trip lasted about thirty minutes and I caught a brief glimpse of the Acropolis through a block of concrete apartment complexes along the way. The tram ended at Plateia Syntagma (Constitution Square), which is in the center of Athens. The square is surrounded by many luxury hotels, department stores and the Greek Parliament. For this reason, it is a frequent location for protests. Here are some pictures of Plateia Syntagma. A stage was being set up for an Armenian benefit concert later that night:
Here's a strange fountain located just off the plateia:

I bought a koulouri from a street vendor near this fountain. This is similar to a bagel, but is much larger and covered with sesame seeds. The dough had a slightly sweet flavor. On the opposite side of the plateia stands the Greek Parliament. This was built in the 1800s and was originally the palace for the Greek monarchy (which is no longer in existence). Outside the building the guards protect the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in traditional uniforms:

Also visible from here was Mount Lykavittos, the highest point in Athens:

I walked down the street from here and took a brief stroll though some of the National Gardens:

I saw this turtle crossing a path in the park:
It got stuck trying to pass between that row of shrubs, so I had to help by pushing it through.

Not far from the park I passed by the Arch of Hadrian. In this picture you can see the Acropolis through the archway:

This arch was not built by the Greek civilization, but by the Romans, who had invaded and conquered Greece in 146 BC. The arch was built under the Roman emperor Hadrian around 131 AD. The Parthenon on the Acropolis is nearly five hundred years older than the Arch of Hadrian. The arch is located near the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. I went to visit the temple and bought a single ticket for all the ancient sites in Athens for three euros (extremely cheap).

The origins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus date long before the arrival of the Romans to Greece. It was begun in the 500s BC and completed nearly 650 years later in the 100s AD under the reign of Hadrian. The temple was a place of worship specifically for the king of the Greek gods, Zeus (whom the Romans later called Jupiter). It was slowly destroyed during the Byzantine and Ottoman eras when its stones were removed for other building projects. Here are some pictures, the first of which shows the Acropolis in the background:

I then decided to head toward the Acropolis, making my way down the edge of the area known as Plaka:

I entered the area of the Theatre of Dionysus, which sits at the base of the Acropolis. Dionysus was the god of wine and the patron of the theatre. Plays were dedicated to him here during his festivals. The theatre moved to this area around 500 BC, but the stone structure was built around 325 BC. It is one of the oldest open-air theatres in the world. As I looked around, I imagined these seats filled with spectators watching the plays of Sophocles or Aristophanes:

Climbing the hillside of the Acropolis, I was able to get some pictures of the theatre and the city:

Around this time it was nearing two o' clock in the afternoon and the Acropolis was closing (which seemed early to me). I walked back down to the base of the hill and planned to return the next morning. I instead visited the Acropolis Museum, the building of which was completed last year. It is a modernist building placed over the ruins of an ancient settlement at the base of the Acropolis, which is currently being excavated. The ground floor of the museum is glass and you can see the ruins below your feet. Here are some pictures:

The inside of the museum features several artifacts found during excavations around the Acropolis. These range from statues of gods and athletes to common household items like cooking utensils and children's toys. On the second-floor patio, there was a great view of the Acropolis (the building with the red-tile roof to the left is the Spanish Embassy):

Near this side of the Acropolis I walked past some upscale housing and some stray dogs:

I walked back to the foot of the Acropolis and walked around the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. This is a theatre built in 161 AD by the Greek nobleman for whom it is named:

I walked around the western slope of the Acropolis and came upon the Areopagus. This a rocky outcrop which is possibly named after Ares, the god of war. In ancient times, a group known as the Areopagus Council met atop the rock to judge cases of murder, arson, and sacrilege. Later, the Apostle Paul is said to have converted many Athenians from this summit around the year 40 AD. One of those converted was Dionysios the Areopagite, who is now Athens' patron saint. Here is a picture of the rock along with some views from its summit:

From Areopagus I walked around the northern base of the Acropolis toward Plaka. I walked past the medieval Church of the Metamorphosis and through some neighborhoods:
I wandered around for a while through these streets trying to find the hidden neighborhood of Anafiotika. It took a while as it wasn't clearly marked on my map. Anafiotika does not look like the rest of Athens, but more like the Cycladic Islands. After Greece gained independence in the 1800s, many stonemasons from the Cyclades (where the best Greek masons are said to have come from) moved to Athens to take part in the massive building projects. They founded the small neighborhood of Anafiotika at the northern base of the Acropolis. They built their houses to resemble those of their islands (small with white plaster and blue doors and windows) along with narrow, staired passageways. This was one of my favorite places in Athens. Here are some pictures:
At the entrance to this neighborhood was a line of Greek flags. I got a picture of this one as it was blown in the wind:

I walked down a steep hill past houses and cafes until I came to the center of the Plaka district. One of the first things I noticed was the Monument of Lysicrates:

Lysicrates was a choregos, a wealthy patron of the theatre, who ordered the construction of this monument around the year 335 BC in commemoration of one of a play he sponsored which had won first prize in a competition. I walked through more of Plaka and came upon a church named St. Catherine's, which had been built during the Byzantine era in the 1000s. Outside the church stood some ruins:

The interior of the church was having some restoration work done, but much of the decorations (icons and painted ceilings) were visible. It was a good example of an Orthodox church interior. Here are some pictures:

I had some sesame-flavored ice cream at a place near the Onassis Foundation. I walked through more of Plaka, enjoying the nice weather and the views of the many open-air cafes:

I eventually ended up in the district known as Monastiraki where this Medieval Byzantine Orthodox church stood:

I bought some souvlaki at a place called Savvas, which is supposed to be the best in the city according to some travel guides. I was sitting in a plateia in Monastiraki eating when a little bird flew to my feet and chirped. I threw it a piece of pita and it flew off, but soon returned for some more. The bird flew away again and repeated this until it finally landed on my knee and I fed it pita out of my hand. When I was finished I began to walk away, but the bird hopped around my feet chirping frantically. I shrugged and started to walk when it flew up in my face and fluttered around for a second before flying away to the top of a building. Here's the plateia at Monastiraki:

After this strange encounter I walked through the area of Psiri, which is full of shops and cafes:

I went to the metro at Monastiraki. This station was built alongside an underground excavation of a residential area. It also housed some modern art:

I took the metro to the neighborhood of Kolonaki, which is at the foot of Mount Lykavittos:

The Greek National Gallery, which houses many works of Greek paintings and sculptures from the Middle Ages to the present day is located in this area. Near the museum stood this giant modern interpretation of the sculpture of Nike of Samothrace made out of glass shards:

I got back on the metro and went to Plateia Omonias a large square in a commercial district. It was full of heavy traffic:

I went back to the metro, which had some amphorae on display (clay pots that could be rested upright by diggind holes in the ground). A grave that was discovered while building the subway was also displayed:

I returned to Plateia Syntagma for some night pictures of the Parliament:

If you ever want to see a protest, the best place to go is the Greek Parliament. Across the street stood this group of people protesting (as I later found out) the newly implemented austerity measures the Greek government has implemented to deal with the financial crisis:
I thought it would be best to stay away, so I walked around a corner by the Parliament and ran straight into this opposing group:
I crossed the road (where I took this photo) and watche for a while as the two groups faced each other. It was tense, but nothing happened beyond a faceoff. This was a reminder of the immediacy of history. The past is written upon all the stones in Athens, but here it was being written. Civil unrest has always been so commonplace in Greece that it's become as benign as morning toast. But this current economic situation in Greece, which is affecting the rest of the European Union and causing its member states to turn their blaming eyes upon Athens, has allowed the protests to concentrate into a more organized and serious matter. Many Greeks are rallying behind a single issue. And the situation would only worsen...

Meanwhile, not far from this scene, at Plateia Syntagma, there was the concert for Armenia and a little semblance of peace at the luxury hotels:
I walked through Plaka to get some night views of the Acropolis and along the way I came across this Orthodox Church:

The cafes and side streets of Plaka were more charming at night:

I finally reached the Acropolis:
On my way back to the tram at Plateia Syntagma, I came across this strange window display:

I took the tram back to my hotel at Voula and fell asleep almost immediately.