In Athens, historic sites are everywhere in the city. However, the Acropolis, Parthenon, and Erechtheion are some of the most incredible historical sites in the city of Athens. I have always had an immense interest in ancient history, the reason for life, and trying to grasp a slight glimpse at the bigger picture of it all. Ever since I was a child, I always asked questions and wanted to know the universal truth that stands behind it all. As I got older, getting exposed to all sorts of schools of thought and social institutions, I thought I would finally get my answers. I was patient, I was a sponge for knowledge. I picked up crumbs of information from all the different fields of knowledge and tried to make connections because it would only make sense that everything eventually connects to the ultimate truth. Nothing connected, nothing made sense. Those questions didn’t disappear, they began digging deeper into my mind until eventually, they became the most important thing in my life. It became very hard to function even on simple daily tasks that is when I decided to do my best to search for answers. The reason why I am saying all this? This is how Greece, among other places, ended up on my list of places I just had to see and experience for myself.
Greece, or shall I say Ancient Greece, is the Cradle of Western Civilization. It is on those roads of the city of Athens, the ancient region of Attica, where democracy was given birth, which is the system many countries apply today. It is on this land that the great philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Socrates, and many others, developed their philosophies and it is their works that we study and try to understand to this day.
How could I not visit a place like this? I never gave it a second thought. Of course the city of Athens today is not the Athens of those days, yet I was amazed as to how much of ancient history has been preserved. Some as historical sites, others in museums in the city of Athens. A lot of the things I will be writing about are things the majority of readers will leave open to interpretation, as they should. I have found my truth in life and ever since that moment, I see proof and acknowledgment of that truth everywhere. Finding the truth is up to every individual. Many may not even want to know it, which is absolutely fine too.
Athens historic sites
Athens is concentrated with historical sites and museums. Everywhere you look, you are reminded of the ancient and rich history of the city of Athens. They certainly left me speechless. I have always had an immense interest in ancient history, the reason for life, and trying to grasp a slight glimpse at the bigger picture of it all. Ever since I was a child, I always asked questions and wanted to know the universal truth that stands behind it all. As I got older, getting exposed to all sorts of schools of thought and social institutions, I thought I would finally get my answers. I was patient, I was a sponge for knowledge. I picked up crumbs of information from all the different fields of knowledge and tried to make connections because it would only make sense that everything eventually connects to the ultimate truth. Nothing connected, nothing made sense. Those questions didn’t disappear, they began digging deeper into my mind until eventually, they became the most important thing in my life. It became very hard to function even on simple daily tasks that is when I decided to do my best to search for answers. The reason why I am saying all this? This is how Greece, among other places, ended up on my list of places I just had to see and experience for myself.
The Acropolis of Athens is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and simply must be seen and experienced by anyone visiting the city of Athens. The Parthenon, built by Ictinus, the Erechtheion, the Propylaea, the entrance to the Acropolis, designed by Mnesicles, and the temple of Athena Nike, are all monumental structures that all deserve to be seen and experienced.
The Parthenon is a former temple, dedicated to the goddess Athena. The construction first began in 447 BC and was completed in 438 BC and was directed by a Greek sculptor, painter, and architect Phidias or Pheidias. The structure itself was a replacement to an older temple of Athena, which is referred to as Pre-Parthenon or Older Parthenon, which was destroyed in the Persian invasion of 480 BC. It is considered to be the most important surviving building of Classical Greece. It is also seen as the symbol of Ancient Greece, Athenian democracy, and western civilization.
Background on The Parthenon
The Athenians who built it, saw this structure as a symbol of the celebration of Hellenic victory over the Persian invaders, as well as a thanksgiving to the gods for their victory. The Parthenon served a practical purpose as the city treasury. Later, in the final decade of the 6th century AD, the structure was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In the early 1460s, after the Ottoman conquest, it was turned into a mosque. On 26th September 1687, the Ottoman ammunition, which was kept inside the structure, ignited by a Venetian bombardment. The explosion severely damaged the Parthenon and its sculptures. Between 1800 to 1803, the surviving sculptures, known as Elgin Marbles, were removed and sold to the British Museum in London in 1816, where they are displayed to this day. In 1832, once Greece gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire, Greece began a series of projects to restore its monuments. Greece expressed its disapproval of the removal of the Elgin Marbles from the Acropolis and the Parthenon. In 2014, UNESCO had offered to mediate between Greece and the UK in resolving the dispute of the Elgin Marbles but was later turned down by the British Museum. You can read more about the current situation on this topic here.
The structure and reconstruction of the Parthenon
During the construction in 447 BC, Phidias or Pheidias, to make the construction more appealing to the eye, implemented the Golden ratio. The Golden Ratio in nature and the human body influences what humans perceive as aesthetically pleasing, and is something that is found in nature and pretty much everywhere around us. The Parthenon reflects this, and not only because it lacks straight and parallel lines.
In the 1980s, a reconstruction project of the Parthenon began. Something interesting was revealed during this reconstruction process. Every marble piece and there were thousands, was completely different and unique, and no two pieces were alike. This meant that reconstructing the structure would be very similar to a complex puzzle, where every piece, out of the thousands, had only one specific place where it belonged and fit perfectly. This also meant that the design of the structure was similar to orchestrating a symphony, using many different instruments which all work in perfect harmony together.
The Parthenon today
Today, the Acropolis is daily visited by architects, archaeologists, engineers, conservators, draughtsmen, marble masons, and workers, all working to bring back this structure to its former glory. When I was there, I witnessed the groups of experts who are carefully studying the structure and slowly bringing it back. The entire structure is made from Pentelic marble and officials have given the Penteli quarries solely for the reconstruction of the Parthenon. It is safe to say that although the country may be facing certain difficulties, even during such times, the Greeks try their best to reconstruct and treasure their history.
The Erechtheion or Erechtheum is an ancient temple on the Acropolis which was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon. It was built between 421 and 406 BC by Mnesicles. Phidias, the sculptor, and mason of the structure was employed by Pericles to build both the Erechtheion and the Parthenon. Its name was derived from a shrine dedicated to the legendary Greek hero Erichthonius. It is said that the structure had two large rooms, in which one had a statue of Athena and the other had a statue of Poseidon.
There is a myth behind the Erechtheion
Although there are many variations, the most popular one is as follows:
Athena and Poseidon both wanted to claim to be the deity of Cecropia. Zeus decided to make a contest in which each had to present a useful gift to the people of Cecropia. Depending on which gift the people cheered to the most, would result in who would win the contest and become the deity of the city of Athens.
The contest took part where the Erechtheion stands today. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and a horse appeared, representing horsemanship. Then, Athena, demonstrating her powers, struck the ground and an olive tree appeared. The people cheered for Athena’s gift and she had won the contest. Poseidon got so mad at this that he struck his trident on the ground and seawater started gushing out of the ground. As Athena had won the contest, this is how Cecropia became named Athens.
An interesting fact is that researchers have studied the site of the Erechtheion and say that they discovered 3 holes in the ground of what may be a trident. What is even more interesting is that from time to time, saltwater pours out of those three holes.
The background and mythology of the Caryatids
The Greek term karyatides literally means “maidens of Karyai”, an ancient town of Peloponnese. Greek mythology speaks of a girl named Carya, who was loved by Artemis (the goddess of the hunt, forest, Moon, and archery), who died and was transformed into a walnut tree. Artemis repented for Carya’s death and was given the epithet Caryatis.
Karyai had a famous temple which was dedicated to the goddess Artemis as an attribute to Artemis Caryatis or Karyatis, “As Karyatis, she rejoiced in the dances of the nut-tree village of Karyai, those Karyatides, who in their ecstatic round-dance carried on their heads baskets of live reeds, as if they were dancing plants”. Pausanias, a Greek traveller, and geographer mentions that each year, the women would perform a dance called the Caryatis at a festival called the Caryateia, in honour of Artemis Caryatis.