History Lesson Part 1

Trip Start Sep 15, 2008
Trip End Oct 15, 2008

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Monday, September 15, 2008

With London's 'warm' weather in rapid decline, I was offered a chance to extend the summer and spend some time in Greece and Turkey. The offer came from Emma and Dom, my university mates from back in Melbourne, who were traveling Europe as a part of a 12 month long trip around the world. A month of island hopping, sailing the Med and exploring ancient temples and rediscovered cities. What a horrible prospect. It wasn't a difficult decision, so I headed off to catch up with my friends in mid-September.

The flight from London to Athens was surprisingly short. Leaving late in the night, I was able to get some sleep on the way, although this was not quality by any means. I arrived in Athens in the early morning before the sun had risen. I had some very poor directions to my hostel, and after taking an airport bus, two public buses and spending about two hours wandering around in full pack, I checked into my temporary home for the next three nights.

With little time for recovery, I headed out into the city, eager to take in the sights. Closest to the hostel was the Panathenaic Stadium, a huge horseshoe shaped arena used in the first of the modern Olympics in 1896 and then again in 2004 games. Further on, I visited what was essentially a large paddock with a few impossibly tall columns that were the remnants of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The temple, when it was complete, would have been huge, however only a handful of columns were still standing and one had collapsed 150 years ago and had been left where it fell. Still very impressive if only a remnant.

After a flying visit to Hadrian's Arch, I started the climb up the to the most distinctive landmark in the country. You can see The Acropolis from all over Athens, so the view of Athens from the top is what you would expect. Winding up the path past facades of arches and ancient theatres - including the still used Theatre of Dionysis - you reach the entrance gate known as the Propylaea. Beyond the gate is the main event, the Parthenon. Besides most of the surviving sculptures being in the British Museum, the Parthenon is an impressive site. Restoration works also meant that they were several cranes poking out of the temple, and scaffolding along one side. Famous landmarks covered in scaffolding was something I had become used to in Europe so for me this did not detract from the experience too much. To one side of the Parthenon was the Erechtheum with its iconic Caratids' Balcony overlooking the Parthenon and the city itself.

Back down on street level, I caught the metro to the other side of the city to visit the Ancient Athens Agora. Here I took in the Temple of Hephaestus (looking like a mini Parthenon but much more accessible), the modern Stoa of Attalos and the round Agii Apostoli Solaki Church. It was interesting to see the ancient road that had been excavated and the old sculptures that had survived two and a half thousand years.

Last stop of the day was the Roman Agora, which while being pretty nice was pretty much just more of the same and I had been a little overloaded with ancient stones for one day. From here I wandered back thought the streets of Athens to the hostel and a much needed rest.

Early the next morning, I met up with a Danish guy from the hostel and caught a local bus two hours down the coast to Cape Sounion. Before leaving for Greece, I had seen an aerial picture of the Temple of Poseidon and knew that it was somewhere I wanted to visit. The site is a fairly simple temple ruin with most of the columns still standing, but it is located on a cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea. People in ancient times would come here to pay tribute to the god of the sea. Such was the reverence of the Gods. Inscribed on one of the columns is the name, or graffiti, of Lord Byron, a famous nineteenth century poet who had allegedly been there close to 200 hundred years before.

Back in Athens, I spent the afternoon at the Athens Archaeological Museum. This museum has one of the most amazing collections of Greco-Roman artifacts, many of which had been reclaimed from the sea. Walking around the many many rooms, it was here more than anywhere else, that you can see the influence that Ancient Greece has had on the culture, learning and art of modern Western countries. It was also quite strange to see artifacts that I could remember from high school history text books and to be standing right in front of them.

On day three in Greece, and my last day on the mainland, I took a bus three hours north to Delphi. This is a modern Greek town attached to an archaeological site, located on the south-western spur of Mount Parnassus and providing a spectacular view of the valley of Phocis below. The remains of the old city of Delphi are spread over the hillside just outside the town. I visited the Temple of Apollo, another theatre and huge stadium right at the topmost point of the site. Some of the remaining stone buildings are quite well preserved, particularly the treasury buildings. The most recognisable structure is the Tholos in the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia at the bottom of the hill. After several hours exploring the ruins I boarded a bus back to Athens.

If I had had one more day I would have loved to have visited Meteora, where 14th century monks built monasteries on almost inaccessible rock pillars. Maybe next time.
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