Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Agora and More-a (Athens, part III)

I woke this morning to partly cloudy skies, and decided that I’d better get moving before the forecasted rain started.  I had breakfast at the hotel, and chatted with a woman who I recognized as being with a large group of students the night before.  She was one of two professors from Whittier College in Los Angeles leading a group of 30 students on a two week tour of classical Greek and Roman sites.  In the course of our conversation, we discovered that she happened to know one of Sara’s colleagues at Coe College.  And later I talked with another person staying here who works at Chico State University, the alma mater of one of my closest friends.  It’s like four degrees of separation at this hotel, college style.

Church near Kerameikos
I left the hotel and walked west toward the main historical areas.  I was tempted to again walk up the Acropolis to see the Parthenon in the morning light, but opted not to when I saw the long lines of tourists walking up to the entrance.  It made me realize just how unique it was the day before when, at the end of the day and with rain not too far off, I was one of perhaps five people on the entire Acropolis.
Instead, I continued along the pedestrian boulevard that skirts the Acropolis and the Agora.  Athens is a busy, sprawling city, and most of the streets I’d been on felt fairly congested.  This walk presented quite a contrast.  On one side is the connected green space of the Acropolis and Agora, and on the other is the park of Philopappou Hill which then gives way to some pretty side streets. 

How awesome would it be to have this for your tombstone?

I first visited the Kerameikos, an archeological area that was home to the ancient city walls and gates.  The road away from the city, the “Sacred Way,” was lined with graves.  A later gate was built for another road which was part of the famous Panathenaic Way, and at one time led to Plato’s Academy.  At that point the sun was out and it was warm enough that I took of my fleece jacket.  After walking through the ruins, I went into the Keramikos Museum.  It was a great little museum filled with tombstones, pottery, and jewelry, some over 3,000 years old.  I think I was the only visitor to the Kerameikos during the hour I spent there.

I next walked to the Agora, the Athenian city center below the Acropolis.  I walked up the hill to the Temple of Hephaistos, a relatively minor temple in its time, but one of the most intact today.  While there aren’t really any other surviving buildings in the Agora, foundation excavations give a pretty good idea of how things were laid out.  I went through their museum, which is located in reconstructed market building from the 1950s, and learned a bit about the Athenian justice system.

View of the Agora.
From there, I walked to the ruins of the Library of Hadrian and the Roman Agora.  The latter was the “new” marketplace after Athens fell under Roman rule.  Both sites contained some interesting things.  Most notable was the octagonal Tower of the Winds built in the 1st Century BC in the Roman Agora. 

By this time it was nearing 1:00 p.m. and I decided a break was in order.  I wandered a bit in the Plaka neighborhood before stumbling on an out of the way place that, interestingly, described itself as “The most traditional family restaurant.”  The menu outside was only in Greek, but I was able to ascertain that the prices seemed reasonable.  The restaurant, called Scholarhio Ouzeri Kouklis, was a good find.  Because I’d had a big breakfast, I only ordered a salad, but I’d be interested to go there again.

After a break, I walked back toward my hotel the long way, counterclockwise around the Acropolis.  Because the lines were shorter, I decided to go up the Acropolis again and have another look.  I’m glad I did, since I learned quite a bit more at the museum last night.  On my way down I took a path that runs past the Theater of Dionysos and almost to my hotel.  I stopped for a look at the theater and, since I was close, decided I’d stop at the hotel for a cup of coffee and to change into boots.

The change was a good idea, as there was a light, but steady, rain when I came out.  My plan was to head up Philopappou Hill.  The views from the top were worth the effort, and I didn’t mind the rain.  I then walked to the Pnyx, where Athenian citizens gathered to vote in the early days of democracy.  By then, the rain was a bit heavier, so I made a retreat to the hotel to relax and regroup before dinner.

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