Grass and weed had grown all over the sanctuary of Dionysus. A brown-eyed vagrant in his tabby coat surveyed a group of varied jacketed brigands from a stone podium. The audience sat, perhaps spellbound by some speech that was Greek to me. They sat enthralled till they found an unsuspecting passer-by in me and rushed to tackle me. Well, I had called out to them.
Dionysus was the God of wine and patron of drama; his sanctuary held the amphitheatre dedicated to him. By six hundred B.C, the theatre was functional and it held thousands of people. The original wooden benches had been changed into stone ones by the Romans. The backdrop of the Cyclopean walls highlighted the fact that the amphitheatre was the birthplace of Greek tragedies.
The whole complex used to be abuzz during the festival of Dionysia. The first winner of performance had got a goat as prize. The reward could suggest the origin of the term ‘Tragedy’ which means “goat’s song.”
With time, the nearby Odeon of Herodes Atticus that is on the southern slope of the Acropolis hill became the centre of performing arts. Till date it hosts numerous events.
Odeon of Heredon Atticus
Besides the theatre, the ancient Athenians loved their Agora. Too bad that the Agora of Athens was under renovation. So instead of exploring the former city centre, we decided to explore the nearby neighbourhood of Plaka. We sauntered among numerous narrow alleyways running up and then down the gradient. Cobblestones paved our paths through houses that could have been centuries old. Due to its proximity to the Acropolis, Plaka is known as the ‘Neighbourhood of the Gods’. Well, I did not see any benevolent Gods, but I did see many purring cats. Continue reading
The overcast sky was bound to fulfil the forecast of a rainy afternoon. To avoid being drenched, we left for the Acropolis early in the winter morning. We walked past the foothills staring at the Cyclopean walls through tree canopies growing adjacent to the hill. It was believed that only the mighty Cyclops could carry massive boulders that seemed to have been set without any mortar.
Steps Leading to Propylaea
Athens took the name of the Goddess, and she was venerated as Athena Polias or Athena of the city. She was deified in the Parthenon as Athena Parthenos, the Virgin Goddess. She had many talents and was also the Goddess of wisdom and creativity, so it was not surprising that on the South-Western slope of Acropolis lay the Odeon of Herodes Atticus that to date is a centre for performing arts. The open air theatre is the main venue for the annual Athens Festival.
Swaying olive trees lined the stone pathway up to the western side, through Propylaea or the entrance to the Acropolis. By the time, we walked through a large marble gateway; a light drizzle welcomed us and paused.
Parthenon has been voted the most beautiful building in the world by Business Insider. Interestingly, it was never the main temple of Athena. The main temple for the cult of Athena was at the northern end of the Acropolis in a temple called Erectheum. It was said to be the spot where Athena had struck her spear and created the first olive tree for her people.
Parthenon once held a statue of Athena Parthenos and functioned mainly as a treasury. Later during the Byzantine rule in the sixth century, the temple became a church dedicated to Mother Mary. By the 15th century, Ottomans turned it into a mosque. And during the Great Turkish War in the 17th century, the building was used as a gunpowder magazine. It was then when the building blew up during the Venetian siege.
From the eastern end of the citadel, a Greek flag fluttered in the wind that could have knocked us off our footing. With frigid faces, we looked down at the square roads cutting through the terracotta-roofed houses creating neat sections of Athens. Beyond the hill, to the east was the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the southeast was the New Acropolis Museum. Continue reading
Syntagma Square(Metro is on the Left)
That winter afternoon in January 2017 was no reflection of the probably heated day in September 1843, when King George I had faced a military uprising and had conceded the nation’s first constitution. We looked around to see the fountain in the Syntagma or Constitution Square. People were flitting in and out of the metro station that lay beside the marble steps at the far end of the square. The flight of stairs climbed to a street and beyond that was the Greek Parliament House.
‘Follow Ermou street opposite the Syntagma Square,’ had said my wide-eyed Greek colleague, ‘you will reach Monastiraki.’
It was late in the afternoon, so we headed straight for the recommended street, towards the flea market and the eateries. Walking through the signs of lifestyle brands we passed by a street vendor selling chestnuts. The scent of Greek coffee emanated from a push cart not far from another seller offering pastries and bread.
Amidst the curtain of people and outstretched leaves of potted olive bushes lining the street, I noticed a dome ahead on the street. It was a medieval church; a home to calmness amidst the chaos of the bazaar. Later, I found out that the Church of Panaghia Kapnikaria that was built around 11th century over the ruins of an ancient temple, dedicated either to Demeter or Athena.
The Byzantine-styled church was to be pulled down during the construction of the Ermou street in 1834, but it was saved thanks to the rallying by King Ludwig of Bavaria. He was the father of Modern Greece’s first king after the nation gained independence from the Ottoman rule in 1832.