Athens, Greece: The Acropolis, The New Acropolis Museum & The National Archaeological Museum of Athens
Following my post on the guide to the city of Athens, it was time for me to make a seperate post with more concentration on a field of much interest to me.
I have always had an immense interest towards 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 sort of schools of thought and the 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 Athens, ancient region of Attica, where democracy was given birth to, 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 till this day.
How could I not visit a place like this? I never gave it a second thought. Ofcourse Athens today is not the Athens of those days, yet I was amazed as to how much of ancient history has been preserved. 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 to life and ever since that moment, I see proof and acknowledgement to that truth everywhere. Finding the truth is up to every individual. Many may not even want to know it, which is absolutely fine too.
The Acropolis of Athens is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and simply must be seen and experienced by anyone visiting 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 which all deserve to be seen and experienced.
The Acropolis from the New Acropolis Museum.
The Parthenon is a former temple, dedicated to the goddess Athena. The construction first began in 447 BC and 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 Classic 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 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 meditate 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 Parthenon, currently being restored.
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 were it belonged to 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 columns of the Parthenon not straight, as well as the Pentelic marble, the yellowish shade being the restored pieces and the whitened being the new pieces of marble.
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.
The Erechtheion, east side.
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 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 sea water started gushing out of the ground. As Athena had won the contest, this is how Cecropia became named Athens.
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 of a trident. What is even more interesting is that from time to time, salt water pours out of those three holes.
The side of the Erechtheion, showing the porch with 6 of the Caryatids (replicas).
The Caryatids of the Erechtheion:
A Caryatid is a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support column or pillar. Although very similar, the six Caryatids are not the same: their faces, draping and hair are carved separately. The three on the right stand on their left foot and the three on the left stand on their right foot. Their hairstyles are crucial in providing support to their necks, otherwise the structures would become weak. The earliest known examples dating to about the 6th century BC were found in the Treasury of Athenians in Delphi. The best known examples however, are those six figures of the Caryatids on the porch of the Erechtheion. Currently, the caryatids found on site are replicas, with the 5 originals to be seen at the New Acropolis Museum. The sixth caryatid was removed by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century and is now at the British Museum in London.
The Romans had made copies of the Caryatids of Erechtheion, installing them in The Pantheon and The Forum of Augustus in Rome, as well as at Hadrian’s Villa at Trivoli.
6 replicas of the Caryatids of the Erechtheion.
The background and mythology on 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.
2 of the original Caryatids at The New Acropolis Museum.
Close up of 1 of the Caryatids at The New Acropolis Museum.
The New Acropolis Museum
Ticket price for adult 5 Euros
The construction of The New Acropolis Museum was completed in 2007 and was designed by Bernard Tschumi and Michael Photiadis. The museum is located right below The Acropolis and has a modern design and stands out in comparison to the surrounding buildings in the Plaka region, which is also one of the regions that has barely been touched by modern buildings and construction. The total area of 25,000 square meters, with exhibition space of over 14,000 square meters, ten times more than that of the old museum on the Hill of the Acropolis. The museum is built over ancient remains, so the first thing you notice is the use of glass flooring both outside the building as well as inside. This allows visitors to view the remains during their visit. The museum mainly exhibits artifacts which were found at the Acropolis. Some pieces are originals, whilst others are replicas, as the originals are located in museums abroad.
Some pieces to view at The New Acropolis Museum:
Metopes of the Parthenon:
A metope is a rectangular architectural element which fills a space between two triglyphs (vertical channeled tablets), which act as a decorative band above a building. Metopes had sculptued or painted decorative scenes. The most famous metopes are the ones of the Parthenon marbles. The metopes were created by several artists and the master builder was Phidias. They were created around 447 BC and the probable date of completion was 442 BC.
There were a total of 92 metopes, depicting the battle between the Centaurs (mythological creatures with the upper body of a human and the lower body and legs of a horse) and the Lapiths (legendary people of from Thessaly, in the valley of the Peneus and on the mountain Pelion).
Unfortunately, most were badly damaged. Many were destroyed by the Christians, when transforming the Parthenon into a church around the 6th or 7th century AD. Others were destroyed during the Parthenon explosion by the Venetians in 1687, during the Ottoman rule. The southern metopes were best preserved and 14 of them are currently at the British Museum in London and 1 at the Louvre in Paris. The remaining metopes which were on the other sides of the Parthenon are badly damaged and are in Athens. You can view and admire a mix of the original metopes, as well as the cast copies of originals at the New Acropolis Museum.
The Magic Sphere is most definitely one of the pieces I simply couldn’t take me eyes off. It is a perfect stone sphere and has several different engraved drawings and symbols on it. It dates back to 2nd – 3rd AD and researchers say that the drawings are of the god Helios, a serpent, a dragon and what looks to be as astronomical calculations are as some say, magical symbols or symbols of alchemy.
There isn’t too much information found on this piece as archaeologists are still puzzled as to what it all means. It certainly carried a certain mystery and hopefully we will have more information about it. Similar spheres have been found in other parts of the world, specifically in Costa Rica.
Accounts of the treasurers of the goddess Athens for 377 – 375 BC:
A relief from part of the temple of the Parthenon, depicting Erechtheus, the mythical king of Athens, and the goddess Athena clasping hands.
This piece in particular made me wonder why would people in the past bother to depict such art on beings which today’s history teaches were just a myth? How is it that there are so many references to the Greek gods and goddesses, if they weren’t really real?
Maybe we still have a lot more to learn about our past.
The Decree of the Boule (Parliament) and the Demos of the Athenians, regulating the relations of Athens and Chalkis 446/5 BC:
This is just one of the many reliefs of Athenian decrees that you can see for yourself at the museum.
The National Archaeological Museum of Athens
Ticket price for adult 5 Euros
The National Archaeological Museum of Athens has a collection of some of the most important artifacts from a variety of archaeological sites in Greece, and what caught my attention, are pieces from prehistorical times to late antiquity. It is located in the Exarcheia district of Athens and is adjacent to the historical building of the Athens Polytechnic university. The construction of the museum began in 1866 and was completed by 1889. It was named The Central Museum and was renamed to it’s current name in 1881. During World War II, the museum was closed and all the antiquities were sealed in special protective casings and buried, to avoid destruction and looting. By 1945 the artifacts were once again displayed.
The museum is broken down into sections as follows:
- Prehistoric Collection (Neolithic, Cycladic & Mycenaean)
- Sculptures Collection
- Vase * Minor objects Collection
- Santorini Collection
- Metallurgy Collection
- Egyptian & Near Eastern Antiquities Collection
- Epigraphical Museum
It is safe to say that there is a lot to see and something for everyone’s interest!
There are a few things you notice that the Greeks seemed to have given more importance to throughout history. Such as; Philosophy (without a doubt), Sports & Athletes, the Arts (specifically Theatre) and the belief in Magic & the Afterlife.
Some pieces to view at The National Archaeological Museum of Athens:
There is a large collection of Ivory artifacts dating 14th – 13th BC.
Even though the artifacts are very small, notice the detailed worked done on the ivory, as that of the bovine head.
Bronze portrait head of a boxer 330 – 320 BC.
Bronze portrait of philosopher with glass paste eyes, about 240 BC.
Statue from Pentelic marble:
Torsos of two statues. They represent Theseus’ fight with the Minotaur.
A room filled with marble portraits of the Greek philosophers.
Hadrian (in the centre) having an imaginary conversation with philosophers and nobleman of the time.
It is no doubt that theatre played a big role in the Greek culture and there are many references to this in the museum.
Oedipus the King of Sophocles theatrical costume.
The famous Greek theatrical masks used during performances, but displayed in marble.
Theatre mask ‘ruler slave’ the first slave of New Comedy 2nd BC.
Theatre mask for a Greek Tragegy 50 BC – 50 AD.
Death & the Afterlife:
One of the topics you see the most appearing in different eras throughout the museum, is death. Or rather, respect towards it as well as the importance of mourning.
Funerary lebes-kalpe (a wine bowl having an oval body without handles and a rounded base) depicting griffins found at Acharnon Street in Athens, about 350 BC.
Dipylon Vase, a monumental Attic grave amphora, from the Kerameikos cemetery, 760-750 BC.
Monumental Attic grave amphora depicting mourning of the dead. Men, women and a child with hands on their heads in grief.
Attic sarcophagus in the form of a couch.
Found in Athens. The sarcophagus was used twice. A reclining married couple was originally depicted on the lid, which has the form of a mattress. When economic difficulties dictated its reuse at a later date, the male figure was cut back and replaced by a group of papyrus scrolls (byblos), and the female head was replaced by a head of a man.
The marble funerary lekythos of Myrrhine, found in Athens 420 – 410 BC.
Marble funerary lekythos, found at Syntagma Square, Athens, the site of an important ancient cemetery. In the center of the image, Hermes Psychopompos (Escorter of Souls), identified by the chlamys, the winged sandals and the caduceus (herald’s staff), leads the young Myrrhine to the Underworld. On the left stand the dead woman’s relatives led by an old man, probably her father, who raises his right hand in a gesture of farewell.
The museum displays many ancient Egyptian artifacts, including mummies. It was hard to choose which artifacts to write about but I finally decided to pick the following:
Double false doors:
Double false door of Ptahnakht and his wife Meritmutes made of Limestone. First intermediate period 2150 – 2040 BC
As the name suggests, this is not an actual door but rather an imitation. In ancient Egypt, these false doors were very commonly used and found in tomb complexes. They were important architectural elements found in royal and non-royal tombs. These served as imaginary passages between the world of the living and the world of the dead. It was believed that they would allow Ka (an element of the soul), to pass through them. It was also believed that these doors would allow the deceased to interact with the world of the living by allowing them to pass through it, or receive offerings from the living, through the door.
The double false doors have the symbol of the eyes of Osiris.
Double false door of Senetites made of Limestone. Probably from a mastaba in Saqqara. First intermediate period 2150 – 2040 BC.
Close up on the eyes of Osiris, the god of the dead and ruler of the underworld. He was also the god of resurrection and fertility.
Relief with Greek inscription “I, Epaphroditos, freedman, dedicated this to Isis” inscription.
Marble plaque with the zodiac circle.
Statue for funerary use:
Statue of the princess – priestess Takushit, found south of Alexandria in 1880. This figure’s garment has an inlaid decoration with the use of precious metal wire. The statue had a ritual, votive and funerary use, approximately 670 BC.
This is certainly one of the most exquisite items at the museum. The wire patterns cover her body perfectly, looking like tattoos. It is a hollow cast of the princess – priestess, which is decorated with incise patterns using precious metal wires.
Wooden funerary model of Ship:
Wooden funerary model of a ship and its crew 2040 – 1640 BC.
Boat models were made using papyrus and were used as grave gifts. It was believed that the boat would carry them to Abydos, to participate in the sacred pilgrimage of Osiris. It was also believed that Ra, god of the sun, travelled across the sky during the day and to the underworld at night in his divine barque.
One of the things both cultures had in common is their fascination and respect for the dead.
Kore & Kouros:
Kore Phrasikleia 550-540 BC and Kouros 540-530 BC from Merenda of Attica.
Kore, statue of a maiden, the female counterpart of Kouros. These statues began appearing in about 660 BC in Greece and remained till about 500 BC.
The Kore, a draped female figure carved from marble standing upright and sometimes on one foot usually the left. The arms are at times down by their sides, but mostly are brought up holding an offering. It is unknown what the Kore represents exactly. Interpretations have been made that the Kore may be a representation of young girls in service of the goddesses.
The Kouros, a young male from marble standing upright. Aspects of the Kouros directly indicate the influence of the Egyptian influence on the Greek culture and history, however over time took on distinct Greek characteristics.
For the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the museum, a new exhibit was open. It shows a collection of items which account the adventurous journey of a young man through condensed time from an abstract and symbolic perspective that draws inspiration from the Homeric Odyssey.
Some pieces to view at The Odysseys exhibit:
Bronze statue of Poseidon from sea region of Livadostra about 480 BC.
Votive offering to Poseidon, the god of seas and worshiped mostly in coastal regions.
Statuette of Poseidon from Ampelokipi of Athens 2nd AD.
Close up of the statuette of Poseidon from Ampelokipi of Athens 2nd AD.
Honorary decree from the Sanctuary of Olympia 300 – 250 BC.
Tablet with an honorary decree of the Eleians for the Olympic victor Demokrates from the island of Tenedos written in the Eleian dialect.
According to the text, the decree would be dedicated to the temple of Zeus at Olympia and sent to the victor’s compatriots.
Figurine of Scylla mythical monster. End of 4 BC.
In Greek mythology, a Scylla was a sea monster that lived on one side of a narrow channel of water opposite its counterpart Charybdis. She was the child of Gaea and Poseidon and was originally born as a nymph who after displeasing Zeus, was cursed and became a much-feared sea monster residing in the Strait of Messina.
Marble funerary statue of a Siren. About 370 BC.
A Siren by mythology, had forms of a bird with maidens’ features from the thighs downwards. One played the lyre, another sang and another played a flute. It was said that by these means they persuaded mariners to linger and ultimately causing their destruction. This is why it is said that the island where they lived, was full of bones.
There was a prophecy that stated if a ship was to pass by them unharmed, then the Sirens would die. Since Odysseus succeeded in escaping them, no one else has met them since, which meant that they have forever disappeared.
Other pieces to view at The National Archaeological Museum of Athens:
The goddess Aphrodite leaning against an archaistic statuette, probably Aphrodite.
Bronze statue of Zeus or Poseidon.
Stele with decree about the temple of Athena Nike 440 – 430 BC.
Stele which orders that a priestess of Athena Nike to be chosen from all Athenian women and her salary to be fifty drachmas, plus the legs and hides of a publicly sacrificed animal. A door for the sanctuary as well as a temple (located at the entrance of the Acropolis) and a stone altar are to be built to the specifications of Kallikrates.
In Greek mythology, Nike was the goddess of victory, daughter of Titan Pallas and the goddess Styx. Nike is represented as having wings and in art is shown as a small figure carried in the hand by divinities as Athens, the goddess of wisdom and Zeus, the chief god and father of Athena.
Athena Nike however, is always represented as wingless. The story goes that the Athenians always represented Athena Nike without wings since the goddess of victory was known to never stick around in one place for too long. So they depicted her without the wings to make sure that she, the goddess of victory, shall never leave them.
Marble group statue:
A very well known marble group statue about 100 BC of Aphrodite, Eros and Pan.
The naked goddess of beauty and love, holding a sandal in one arm, ready to slap Pan, whilst covering herself with her other arm. Eros, attempting to meditate the situation and repulse Pan by grasping one of his horns.
Some background on Pan:
When looking into the background of Pan, the god of forests and shepherds, I came across some interesting information relating to the origin of Panic attacks. The mischievous Pan took pleasure in scaring and tormenting people who travelled through the forest. It is said that the people would get so frightened that they would have a panic attack. It seems that the term Panic attack was derived from Pan, describing the state in which the people were put into during their encounter with the mischievous god.
One of the things I noticed when being in Athens, is how much the city is rich in ancient history, and this is not only because it is where the systems of today were created. I was surprised how the presence of mythology is everywhere. In other cities, this is not felt, as many years and many wars after the ancient times, especially with religions, the traces of the past are discredited and those in power try destroy any trace of a previous ideology or belief. Even though religion is a big part of today’s Greek society, the city and the people don’t feel to put it out there as much as in other places in Europe. Actually, they give more reference towards the ancient history and mythology. I have spoken to a few guides during my visits to the historical sites and museums, and when asking them about certain aspects of mythology, they never seem to shut down the idea that all these pieces, may be more than a simple representation. Actually, they leave it up to you to make your own decision on whether or not these artifacts are an actual recollection or a representation.
I find it very hard to believe that 92 metopes, which were placed on the most important building of that time, and today, would simply be of something that wasn’t real. Most people may think it is insane to think that mythology is actually a recollection of the past, followed by the words I have heard way too many times before of “they are just stories representing something else”. To me, I find more truth about the past in mythology and in stories which were passed down from generation to generation. I do not believe that 1 person had a wild imagination and others just believed him or her. People back then, as people today, always want to see things for themselves to believe something, let alone continue passing on the word about it. Keeping that in mind, this much importance would not be given to something which was made up, unless of course, it was something people did encounter.
Looking into the gods and goddesses from ancient Greece, I couldn’t help and see a similarity with the writings about angels, specifically archangels. It is very hard for me not to see a repetition in history, when time and time again, in different parts of the world, at different times in history, there seems to be a mention of some beings that were perceived as higher beings or gods, by the ordinary people on earth. It is possible that they were seen as gods as they had abilities which the ordinary people did not have. History and mythology also seem to show similarities in their behavior. Although possessing knowledge and certain capabilities which ordinary people did not, they also seemed to have been driven by certain desires to an extreme degree.
Taking this thought a step further and closer to our time, these desires and urges can also be noticed in ordinary people around us who have a certain power or a certain placement in society. I won’t go as far as to say that “ultimate power corrupts absolutely” (although in some cases, that would be very fitting), but it does seem that people possess from birth, to a small degree, the capability of being driven by certain desires. In religion, these can be considered as the seven deadly sins and we are also told that we are all born with them and can fall into the temptation, but where did they really come from? I have a hard time believing that the sin of one woman has cursed the rest of humanity to pay the price for her own sin, pretty selfish at the least if you ask me. However maybe there is some truth to this, to a certain degree. Maybe we are all born to the possibility of falling into the temptation of desires, ego driven desires which can cause harm not only to ourselves but even to those around us. And maybe, there is a possibility that this element of ourselves has been either passed down from the people of the past after witnessing certain beings with explainable abilities living their lives purely for their own pleasure and giving into their own deep desires. Or maybe we have more in common with them than we think and this was passed down to us from them on a biological level?
What ever you choose to believe, there is only one thing I can suggest as a universal suggestion, regardless your belief, if history, religion and mythology teaches us anything, that would be balance. Balance allows us not to lose ourselves in one extreme or another. It reminds us that life is not black or white, but it has a ton of grey, and if you are open to it, you will see life in many different ways.
Athens, to me is filled with pieces of the truth, you just have to be open enough to actually see it.
Thank you for reading & I hope you liked my post 🙂