Athens, Greece – Day 11 / Cruise Day 10
The Athens Musem
The Acropolis Museum in Athens was totally stunning and modern. The museum was opened to the public in 2009 and is an archaeological museum focusing on the findings of the archaeological site of the Acropolis of Athens. The museum was built to house every artifact found. Looking down through the glass floor in the lobby of the building and on the exterior patio, we realized that the museum lies on top of the archaeological site of Makrygianni and the ruins of a part of Roman and early Byzantine Athens. It was quite interesting to be able to see the footings of former construction through the glass floor.
There was quite some controversy over the plans of the new museum and whether it was appropriate to build it on top of the archaeological site in Makrygianni. Another concern was whether or not a modern building would fit well into the landscape.
Our guide today is Christine, and she is very very well educated on the subject of Athens and offers some amazing information. Again, I am up front and center as she is speaking. Today is a very warm day, and Athens is not a lush climate, the vegetation is sparse and brownish green, not much opportunity for shade. Christine tells us as much as she can on they history of the Acropolis while we are inside in the AC.
The caryatid (above) is a sculpted female figure which served as a column on the porch of the Erechthelon on the north side of the Acropolis. There were six caryatids on the porch. The very best preserved of the six figures, removed by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century, is now in the British Museum in London. Inside the Acropolis Museum are the original remaining caryatids, cleaned and in place. The effort to clean, preserve and protect the sculptures is key. Cleaning the stone is painstakingly slow, but yields amazing effects.
Women of Importance
Greeks valued women, we see female Sphynx statues and many, many maiden sculptures that stood with the seated Goddess Ahena who protected them. Athena has the snake as her sword and the Medusa on her breastplate armor. Athena is the goddess of wisdom and prosperity, her symbol is the owl.
The British Museum Connection
When I studied abroad a semester in London with Syracuse University, I had the absolute pleasure of sitting in the British Museum with my sketchbook and my instructor, drawing the frieze. We noted the rhythms of the horses feet being like music.
The Parthenon Marbles have been requested for return to Greece from the United Kingdom, as they were acquired in a controversial manner. It is suggested by some British officials that Greece had no suitable location where they could be displayed. Creation of a gallery for the display of the Parthenon Marbles has been the key to all recent proposals for the design of a new museum.
The Earl of Elgin obtained a controversial permit from the Ottoman house to remove pieces from the Parthenon while serving as the British ambassador. From 1801 to 1812, Elgin’s agents removed about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon. The marbles were transported to Britain. Christine tells us that 92 metopes of the 114 metopes in the frieze relics are in the British Museum as part of the Elgin Marbles collection. In the Acropolis Museum, the majority of the frieze shown is castings.
The Parthenon is a temple on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, dedicated to goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron. The construction began in 447 BC and was completed in 438BC with decoration of the building continuing on until 432 BC. It is the most importantly surviving building of Classical Greece, its sculptures are considered to be the high points of Greek Art. The Parthenon is regarded as an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece, because of its importance in history, The Greek Ministry of Culture is currently carrying out a program of selective restoration and reconstruction to ensure the stability of the partially ruined structure. This construction was evident as we walked around.
There are 80 stone steps up to the monuments of the Parthenon and Erechtheum, all under restoration since the 1800’s. Athens was founded in 1400BC and in 1834 it became the capitol of Greece. As we walk up the stairway we are encouraged not to touch any of the stones. What a view we have from the top of the Acropolis! Stunning.
The east pediment narrates the birth of Athena from the head of her father, Zeus. According to Greek mythology, Zeus gave birth to Athena after a terrible headache prompted him to summon Hephaestus, the god of fire and the forge, for assistance. To alleviate the pain geo ordered Hephaestus to strike him with his forging hammer. When he did, Zeus’s head split open and out popped the goddess Athena in full armor.
The west pediment depicted the contest between Athena and Poseidon during their competition for the honor of becoming the city’s patron. Athena and Poseidon appear at the center of the composition, diverging from one another in strong diagonal forms.
Work on the pediments lasted from 438 to 432 BC and the sculptures of the Parthenon pediments are some of the finest examples of classical Greek art.
Propylaea of the Athenian Acropolis
The monumental gateway to the Acropolis, the Propylaea, was built under the general direction of the Athenian leader Pericles, but Phidias was given the responsibility for planning and rebuilding of the Acropolis as a whole at the concision of the Persian Wars.
It is believed that what stood inside the Parthenon was a gold and ivory massive sculpture of the Greek goddess Athena, made by Phidias and his assistants. This sculpture of Athena is the only piece known to be from the hand of Phidias. A number of replicas and works inspired by it, both ancient and modern have been made. It was considered one of the greatest achievements of the most acclaimed sculpture of ancient Greece. Phidias began his work around 447 BC.
The deterioration of the sculpture began when the gold sheets were removed to pay for troops, and bronze replacements were put in their place. It was also damaged by a fire about 165 BC and repaired, and later was removed altogether by the Romans.
We may not have seen the sculpture of Athena herself, but the Acropolis offered some breathtaking views of Athens, a huge amount of history, and a scale that took my breath away.
I had actual Parthenon dust on my shoes at the end of the day, wow.
All we have left now to visit is Venice, Italy and then we fly back to the states from there. Just before that trip is a day at sea and the ship’s formal night. Stay tuned.
For more information on my workshops visit Facebook page for a complete listing of classes. No Facebook account required.
Click on any Douglas Nelson Photography image to enlarge. Visit his photo Facebook page for more stunning images.