Europe 2016 – Day 29…Athens

There were 2 ports of call where we did not book an excursion ahead.  Athens was one of the ports.  We had been to the excursion desk several times and finally decided on the tour that included Poseidon’s Temple.  Cindy stressed about this, as most people we talked to weren’t going there.  However, the tour did not disappoint.

With periodic rain showers forecast for most of the day, the ship docked in Piraeus, Greece where we met our guide. Due to  extensive bombing during World War II, most of the buildings are post 1945.  There are 3 separate port facilities that are spread out across the city.  It is the closest cruise port to Athens.  In the general Athens/Piraeus area, there are 4 million people, but only 1/3 are Greek citizens.

As we drove to the Acropolis, we noticed that many of the closed stores and offices were covered with graffiti.  Apparently, as soon as a building is vacated, then it is sprayed with graffiti.  However, they (whoever the “theys” are) will not spray a religious or historical site.  Greeks love their churches so they are all well-preserved or being restored.  We drove past the Old Royal Palace that was completed in 1843, it now houses Parliament.

We also passed the Athens Trilogy, which houses the National Library, the University, and the Academy of Athens, the highest research establishment in Greece.

The Acropolis, which means highest, was built in 1000 BC on top of city hill.  It was a citadel chosen for its place of defense and sits 490 feet above sea level.  It consists of 5 sections…the Amptheater, the Propylaea, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Parthenon, and the Areopagus.  When aristocrats took over the Athens area, the Acropolis became an important religious site.  They worshipped Athena hence the city’s name, Athens.  The city became “the Place” to be educated for Romans.  The emergence of Christianity ended Athens as an educational center as it contradicted mythology.  In the 18th century, Greece became independent and chose Athens as the modern capitol.

At the Acropolis, the marble walkways are extremely slick and the periodic rain showers were not helping.  We entered the Acropolis and our first stop was an overlook of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.  It was completed in 151 AD but renovated in 1950. It was built in memory of Herodes wife and was used as a venue for concerts with a 5000 person capacity.  It was destroyed during an invasion in 267 AD.  We could also see the Theatre of Dionysus that was built at the base of the Acropolis hill.  It was dedicated to the Dionysus, the god of plays and wine.  It could seat 17-20 thousand people.  These were the birthplaces of Greek Drama.

We continued our tour to the Propylaea, which serves as the gateway to the Acropolis. The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany is patterned after the Propylaea.  It was designed by Mnesicles. Construction was began in 437 BC but stopped 5 years later due to war.  The original design was never finished.

The temple of Athena Nike is located on the southwest corner and to the right of the Propylaea and was built around 420 BC. Athena Nike was an attribute of Athena, who was the Goddess of wisdom and war.  Combine that with Nike which means victory and the Greek citizens thought they had a goddess to worship so they would never lose a war., hence the name Athena Nike. (No wonder Nike chose that name for a sport shoe company)

The Erechtheion was built between 421 and 406 BC.  The entire temple is on a slope so that 2 sides are 9 feet lower than the other sides.  The building consists of 5 levels. It is built entirely of marble from Mount Pentelikon.  It is dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon.  The first king of Athens, Cecrops, who was half-person and half-snake, wanted a patron god for Athens.  Cecrops asked Athena and Poseidon for gifts.  Poseidon struck the earth and a well was created with water streaming forth, but the water was salty.  Athena struck her spear into the ground, where she then kneeled and planted an olive branch. Cecrops was impressed with Athena and chose her .  Poseidon was not pleased and cursed the city to never have enough water.  Today there is still a water shortage in Athens .

The Pantheon was built between 447 and 432 BC.   It is astronomically aligned with the star cluster Hyades.  The temple was dedicated to Athena.  At one time, there was a mural inside that depicted her birth.  The columns are bigger at the bottom, smaller at the top, but slight bulging in the middle.  Even though it was built as a temple it was used to house the treasury.   In the 6th century it became a Christian church, in the 14th century a mosque, and in 16th century it was used for ammunition storage. When the ammunition exploded, it was heavily damaged.  In 1800, Thomas Bruce, an Englishman, removed some of the surviving sculptures and moved them to the British Museum in London.  It is interesting to note that the sculptures were made of marble except for their hands, face, and feet, which were made of ivory.  In the early 1980s a restoration effort was began and still continues today.

Some of the restoration efforts.

Views of Athens from the top of the Acropolis.  As we stood on top of the Acropolis, we marveled that we were standing in the same spot where people, laughed, walked, and worshipped for 3000 years ago.

We walked back through the Propylaea and over to the Areopagus.  This is also known as Mars Hill.  All criminal trials were held outside on this hill.  People did not want to be inside with criminals.  We walked the old stairs up to the top.  They were very steep and near the top we were having to grab for hand holds. We were a bit disappointed with the amount of garbage at the top, but the climb was worth the view.

We walked down the “modern Stairs, but they were only wire mesh, with one metal support, but we made it safely.  (Can’t get away from that construction mind-set)  We found our bus in the maze in the parking area and headed toward the Olympic Stadium.

It is known as the Panathenaic Stadium, the Killimarmaro, or the Olympic Stadium. It was originally built in 330 BC as a race course.  The location was chosen as it was between to hills so very little excavation.  It was rebuilt in 144 AD by Herodes Atticus and had a capacity of 50,000.  It is the only stadium in the world to be built entirely of marble.  After the rise of Christianity in the 4th century, it was abandoned.  In 1869 it was excavated and the Zappas Olympics were held in 1870 and 1875.  It was then refurbished and used to host the first “modern” Olympic games in 1896.

We jumped on the bus, just as it started to thunder and lightning.  Then it began to pour!!  We drove down a small hill where the bus was to drop us off for lunch, which was included in our tour.  As we looked out of the windows, the water was pouring down the street and flooding the sidewalk.  The tour guide said, “Okay, everyone off the bus for a short walk to the restaurant”.  No one moved and then we all laughed.  After waiting a few minutes, the rain let up and we started towards our lunch, but we had to jump through several inches of water to get to “dry” sidewalk.  We walked up a small hill, running back and forth under the store canopies.  The resturant was at the foot of the Acropolis hill.

Lunch consisted of garlic bread, Greek salad, spaghetti, Caesar salad, pork skewers, boiled potatoes, and yogurt with honey for dessert.  Some people in our tour felt the lunch wasn’t Greek enough.  However, after scrambling for 23 days to locate food, we thought it was nice to be able to sit in a cafe and just enjoy ourselves.  We had some free time after lunch, so we walked back down the hill and went to the Temple of Zeus.  He was also known as Olympian Zeus for his position as the head of the Olympian gods.  The temple construction was started in the 6th century BC.  It would be the largest temple in Greece.  It had 104 columns .  It was pillaged during the barbarian invasions of the 3rd century.  There are now only 16 columns remaining.

We stopped briefly for a picture at the Arch of Hadrian aka Hadrian’s Gate. It resembles the triumphal arches of Rome.  It spanned an ancient Athenian road.  The arch was built to celebrate the arrival of the Roman Emperor Hadrian for the dedication of the Temple of Zeus.

As we walked to the bus, we met a very friendly street salesman and bought some of his nut mixtures.

We re-boarded the bus and headed down the coast towards the Temple of Poseidon.  We passed the old airport, which was being used as a Syrian refugee center.  The guide called it a Hospitality Center, but it looked like a big trash dump.  Tents everywhere, and sheets over the doors.  Made us thankful for what we have.  It was about 30 miles down the coast and an hour drive, so we enjoyed the very arid scenery and also learned some facts about Greece…there are 100 silver mines near Athens.  This helped create the Greek Empire’s wealth.  80% of Greece is covered by mountains.  Mount Olympus is the highest at 2970 meters(9744 feet) and is the symbolic throne of Zeus. In mythology, he changed 2 of his brothers into stars to help sailors navigate the sea.  Greece has 8000 islands but only 200 are inhabited.

Temple of Poseidon…the temple is placed on the first cliffs of the Aegean Sea or the last cliffs as you leave Greece.  So it was either a welcome site or a sad good-bye, when a ship passed this point.  Poseidon was considered a very powerful God, since he ruled the sea.  The temple was built in 440 BC to celebrate a naval victory. It was hoped that the offering of a temple to Poseidon would bring safety to sailors.


The temple was built on an old city site.

After a short walk to the top of the hill, we were free to explore.  The columns are not 1 solid piece but 9 sections stacked on top of each other.  There are 16 flutes or ridges, to limit the wind damage. (Apparently it is always very windy and today was no exception) Lord Byron spent time here in the 1880s, excavating the site.  That was when it was discovered it was honoring Poseidon not Athena as previously thought.

The only wildlife of the day was a turtle, which we thought was pretty ironic as that was the towel animal that we had waiting for us in our cabin on the ship.

We got back to the ship just in time to set sail so no time to shop, but we had picked up a few post cards along the way.  We did have another surprise waiting for us in the room.  Since we sail frequently on NCL, we get a bag of laundry done for free.  Our fresh laundry was waiting for us on our bed.  You could tell how much we missed fresh laundry, as we all picked it up and sniffed it, commenting on how wonderful it smelled.  We went to dinner in the Windows restaurant.  The appetizer was a shrimp potsticker, but it came out as a salad and no potsticker.  We had the whole wait staff try to explain why it was called a shrimp potsticker, we all had a good laugh.  We then listened to some of the different music provided on the ship, and went to bed.  Tomorrow was a “sleep-in” day as it was a Sea Day….woohooo