During my trip to Greece, I was privileged to visit many iconic and ancient places steeped in history.
One of the places that I found the most amazing was my visit to the city of Athens – one of the oldest cities in the world with its recorded history spanning over 3,400 years.
It is believed that Athens is the place where democracy was born. It’s influence on Western civilization is paramount and, even today, modern society and culture are hugely influenced by ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
Like many other cities, Athens was built over seven hills. Acropolis, Areopagus, Philopappos Hill, Hill of the Nymphs, Pnyx, Mount Lycabettus and Mount Anchesmos.
In ancient Greece, hilltops were highly desirable both from a military and a religious standpoint as they were imbued with natural elements like springs and caves that Greeks believed marked the presence of the gods. Even today, these high viewpoints and large open spaces bring us a sense of peace and enjoyment.
When we hear the word Acropolis, we instantly think of the Acropolis of Athens, as it is one of the most famous ancient attractions in the world. Built majestically upon a huge rock overlooking the city, the Acropolis is an ancient citadel which was the city’s central fortified area.
Like most citadels, it would have been placed inside the city’s outer walls and would have been the last line of defence against enemy invaders. Acropolis in Greek means “high city” and it boasts some of the best views of Athens.
Over the centuries, it has been home to kings and a mythical home to the gods and, after the long climb up, it was surreal to be in a place that I had read so much about.
The Acropolis’ most famed temple has to be the Parthenon that towers over the city. It is considered the main temple and was dedicated to the goddess Athena – protector and patroness of the city of Athens itself.
The Parthenon was actually built upon the ruins of an older temple, also dedicated to Athena, which was destroyed during the Persian invasion of 480 BC. The new temple was then built decades later and painted in bright colours that have since washed away, leaving only the original marble. It also housed a monumental statue of Athena, standing at around 11.5 metres, and covered with gold and ivory. Sadly, nothing remains of the statue, and it was lost at an unknown date.
Throughout history, the temple underwent several transformations. It was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and then later was turned into a mosque in the 1460s when Greece was under Ottoman rule. It then remained a mosque for around 200 years.
The Parthenon is open to the elements because its roof was blown off in 1687 during a war between the attacking Venetians who were trying to conquer the Parthenon from the Ottomans. Most of its beautiful sculptures and friezes were destroyed and those that remained, including the infamous Elgin Marbles, were taken to the UK where they were eventually sold to the British government and have been displayed in the British museum since 1816. To this day, Greece has been unsuccessfully asking for their return.
Atop the Acropolis, next to the Parthenon, there is also a smaller temple known as the Erechtheion. Although it is not as grand as the Parthenon, it is the location of the famous myth of the competition between Athena and Poseidon for control of the city of Athens. A hole in the ceiling and floor of the northern porch is meant to indicate where Poseidon’s trident struck to create a spring for the people of Athens. However, according to the myth, the spring was made from seawater and had little to no use to the Athenians.
Athena responded with an olive tree and was proclaimed the winner of the competition, thus becoming patroness of Athens. An olive tree is still planted just outside the temple and is said to be grown from a cutting of the original tree gifted by the goddess. Although Athena was victorious, the temple was still used to worship both deities.
Greek mythology has had an extensive influence on the arts and literature, and I never tire of reading and learning about Greek myths and legends. Even today, the stories told by the ancient Greeks challenge my views and motivations and help me shape and understand my view of the world. I look forward to visiting Greece again, hopefully this time during the summer to see how their famed beaches compare to ours.
|| [email protected]
Jay recently graduated from the Faculty of Fine Artes in Lisbon. Jay’s interests are exploring new cultures through photography and the myths, legends and history that define them.