In Athens there are 4 major attractions that explore the ancient world of Greece: The Acropolis and its Museum, the National Archaeological Museum, and the Agora. The 1st two display what archaeologists found on the hill in the middle of Athens with The Parthenon. This building that is undergoing partial reconstruction was one of many temples dedicated to the Goddess Athena. NAM is devoted to all of the cultures of the ancient Greek world from Neolithic times through Roman domination. The Agora in the valley northwest of The Acropolis is where Athen’s civic and commercial life occurred when Greece was inventing democracy more than 2,500 years ago. Now surrounded by streets with many small museums, busy restaurants, and shops, the Agora is where Socrates attracted followers, St. Paul preached, etc.
There’s not much left of the Agora with one brilliant exception. Persians, Romans, Slavs, and other invader-occupiers destroyed it. Turks turned it into a residential neighborhood. If fact, when 19th century archaeologists began excavating, the Agora was entirely under Athens’ Vrysaki quarter. Today, a visit to it is like strolling through an urban park with occasional broken statues, the jumbled remains of stone walls, etc. But there are 3 must-see attractions that don’t require a vivid imagination.
The Temple of Hephaestus somehow escaped centuries of pillage to become one of the best-preserved religious centers from ancient times. Dedicated to the God of Fire in a neighborhood with plenty of blacksmiths, artisans, and sculptors who would have worshiped him, this temple (seen above) was built in 449 BCE. I was one of many foreign visitors, many from the Muslim world, taking pictures of this Doric marvel erected on its own small hill in the Agora and visible from The Acropolis. One major frieze shows the labors of Heracles, Zeus’ son.
The slightly more than 1,000-years-old Church of the Holy Apostle from the Byzantine Period was restored in the 1950’s. Some of its 17th century frescoes survive, but I didn’t see them because it was closed on the sunny, winter day I was there. Apparently it isn’t generally opened to the public, unlike the Stoa of Attalos.
A stoa is a covered colonnade and this grand one was a strip mall built about 200 BCE with 21 shops on each of 2 floors. Completely destroyed by a German tribe in 267 AD, it was painstakingly reconstructed in the 1950s and is now a museum displaying seemingly everything found by researchers looking for what was left of Socrates’ world after centuries of pillage.
I was delighted to find among them a couple of armless, legless, and headless statues based on The Iliad and The Odyssey that were once in the Library of Pantainos. I have been fascinated by the Greek hero Odysseus, the man who dreamed up the Trojan Horse, outsmarted a Cyclops, and had lots of trouble getting home from the Trojan War since I first read it. A few years ago I began imagining…what if such a man was alive today? What would he be like? This led to a retelling of The Odyssey with a 21st century hero named Deus Everman. Deus will make his debut in Part One of my novel Moving Forward, Getting Nowhere, which will soon be available through Amazon. Athena is now Theena, the tough, clever daughter of Zack (Zeus) who helps Deus get home. I’ll tell you more about this later.