Piraeus (Athens), Greece Day 1

                                                      Olympic Stadium (1895)

April 9, 2012

Piraeus is the port city for Athens, the modern city in which ancient history abounds.  Piraeus is a nice city in its own right, the third largest municipality in Greece, and part of the Athens metropolitan area.  In the 5th century BC, it was established as the port for Athens, but its history goes back to prehistoric times.  Piraeus has the largest harbor in all of Greece; it is the largest passenger port in Europe and the third largest in the world. 

Piraeus is an overnight port for us on this cruise.

For the first day we scheduled an excursion called ‘Athens & The Acropolis’.  We drove through Piraeus to Athens, with our first photo stop at the original modern Olympic stadium.  The stadium (pictured at top) was built in 1895 for the 1896 Olympics, and is built entirely of marble.  Apparently, since Athens sits on 7 marble hills, marble is a lot cheaper than wood, so the Athenians use marble for everything.  The stadium was reconstructed from the remains of the ancient Greek stadium, and it is the only stadium in the world that is built entirely of white marble.  The stadium was refurbished in anticipation of using it to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympics in 1996, but the games did not return to Greece  until 2004.  From the stadium the Acropolis is visible in the distance.  We drove by several other new stadia, such as the ones for basketball and soccer.

We also passed the parliament building, where soldiers stand guard over the tomb of the unknown soldier, as well as some other imposing classical style buildings, like the Academy of Arts & Sciences (below) with its statues of Plato and Socrates on our way to the Acropolis.  

The Acropolis Museum, pictured at here is built so that the top floor is the same size, shape, and orientation as the Parthenon.

At the base of the hill there is a terraced park that you walk through to get up to the acropolis.  The walkways here are all marble.  It is somewhat of a climb to the top but it is mostly pretty easy.  When you visit it is wise to wear shoes with good treads on the soles because the marble can be slippery, especially when it gets wet.  At the top, just past the entrance gate you start to get some really good views.

This photo shows the Acropolis Museum from above.  The other thing that stands out is the Theater of Herod Atticus, at the base of the hill, which was built by the Romans in 161 AD and is still used today for classical concerts. One can also see the Areopagus, the supreme court, which was known to the Romans as Mars Hill, where all trials were held.  All trials were held in the open air because the Greeks did not want the air or surfaces in their buildings contaminated by criminals.  The rock appears much larger when seen from below. 

The Erechtheium is the third building on the Acropolis, and is best known for its porch of the Caryatids, the Caryatids being the figures that are supporting the roof.  The Caryatids you see today are replicas.  Four of the originals are in the Parthenon museum, and the fifth is in the British Museum.  This building is the most sacred spot on the Acropolis.  It marks the place where Athena and Poseidon vied to be the patron saint of Athens, a contest Athena won.  

Everywhere you look there are pieces of the buildings waiting to be added back in their original place.  This is possible because each of the stones are unique.  

In the spring, the other thing you see on the Acropolis is wildflowers.  They are everywhere.

There are additional photos of the Parthenon in this album.  The short columns are the result of an ammunition explosion.  There was a similar explosion in the Propylaea when it was hit by lightning shortly after the Turks stored some gunpowder in it.

From the Acropolis one can also see Roman ruins such as those in this photo.  One can also look down on the Agora and see the Temple of Hephaistos in the Agora.  Both it and the Parthenon were built concurrently in Doric style.

Our guide for this tour took a lot of time to explain the Acropolis and its reconstruction, as well as to discuss Greek mythology.  Most of those facts have long since evaporated from memory.  One that does remain, however, is that the reason the marble of these buildings turns yellow with age is due to decomposition of iron in the marble.  When you look at the buildings you can always tell where replacement parts were made, because their white color is in noticeable contrast to the color of the ancient marble.

One of the facts of life in Athens is that you can’t dig anywhere (literally), without encountering antiquities.  That automatically slows progress on whatever project is being undertaken, but the Greeks have developed a system for dealing with antiquities that means projects aren’t held up forever when finds are made.  They have also been creative with what they do with what they find.  The  most interesting solution is that they left them in an situ display at a subway station when they were building the subway.

This turned out to be a really great excursion.  Our guide, Kriton, was very knowledgable, and his English was excellent.  On top of that we had perfect weather for the tour.  Getting to go up on the Acropolis and visit the ancient buildings was a wonderful experience.  This was definitely an excursion worth recommending to others.

There are many other photos in the photo album for this section.

                                                   The Acropolis, showing the Parthenon

© Susan L. Stone 2015                   rovingstones@me.com