Medea & Other Friends I Made in Athens (Part 4)

5 September 2022. Part 2: South Slope of the Acropolis.

In my previous post, we had just finished a tour of the Acropolis and were getting ready to head down to the South Slope. I should pause here to discuss the state of the walking surfaces on the top of the Rock. As shown in the two photos below, much of the top surface of the Acropolis is irregular marble that has been worn smooth by the passage of millions of feet over thousands of years. In the past few years, the Acropolis has been made more accessible to the differently abled with the addition of an elevator and concrete and gravel walkways. Despite the fact that these changes are reversible, they have caused a great deal of controversy. However, they’ve also made it possible for those with mobility issues to experience the Acropolis for themselves. And that’s a worthy goal given that it’s been (allegedly) accomplished without making any permanent changes to the archaeological site.

For some reason, as we were queuing up to leave, they suddenly stopped the exit lane from the Acropolis at the entrance to the Propylaia. At first, we thought that someone had fallen, but I guess they just wanted the excess traffic to clear off the stairs below before allowing more people down. Impatient tourists ended up heading down anyway, much to the annoyance of the monuments employee who had left his post at an inopportune moment. We walked down a staircase that wound around the backside of the Pedestal of Agrippa, then descended through the Beule Gate and walked around the top of the Odeon before descending to the South Slope of the Acropolis.

Looking northwest down from the Propylaia steps to the Pedestal of Agrippa.
Looking east up through the Beuele Gate to the Propylaia. Used now as an exit, it was the entrance to the Acropolis.
The west end of the south slope of the Acropolis. A pathway runs from the Beule Gate past the Odeon of Herodes of Atticus (top), then diagonally past a circular Byzantine cistern (bottom, filled in) and a covered pavilion (bottom left corner).

A small pavilion located to the east of the Odeon of Herodes of Atticus (just past the Byzantine cistern) holds several interesting relics, including a couple of headless herms with engraved dedications and a First Century BCE altar stone.

There is nothing sadder than a herm missing both of its heads.
Altar stone dedicated to Hermes, Aphrodite, Pan, Nymphs, & Isis. 1st Century BCE.

Continuing eastward along the path we passed the ruins of the small Temple of Themis, Goddess of Divine Law. You can just make out the foundation and several prone columns of it to the right of the herm in the photo above. After Themis we came upon the Sanctuary of Asklepios (Ἀσκληπιός), the God of Healing. The Asklepieion was dedicated to Asklepios and Hygeia (Ὑγιεία), Goddess of health, cleanliness, and hygiene around 419–18 BCE during the Peloponnesian War. There is (or rather was) a sacred spring just to the east between the Asklepieon and the Sanctuary of Dionysos. Springs on the south side of the Acropolis had been used as a source of drinking water by the Athenians since at least the Archaic period.

The Asklepieion of Athens, looking south from the top of the Acropolis. The Temple of Themis is out of the picture on the right.

Located to the east of the Asklepeion is the Sanctuary of Dionysos Eleuthereus (Διονύσου Ελευθέριος), or “Dionysos the Liberator.” The compound includes the Theatre of Dionysos, the most important center of theatrical performances in the ancient Greek world, and a temenos wall surrounding an archaic temple to the God (built ca. 6th century BCE), a newer temple (ca. 350 BCE), a stoa, and an outdoor altar (βωμός).

The Sanctuary of Dionysos Eleuthereus, Athens, as seen from the Acropolis looking south. The right-angle foundation located center-right in the photograph is part of the foundation of the newer Temple of Dionysos Eleuthereus. The new Acropolis Museum is shown in the upper right.
The Theatre of Dionysos, looking south from the Acropolis. The first row of seats are marble thrones reserved for high-ranking officials, including the High Priest of Dionysos.

Photos above, a statue of the Greek dramatist, Menander (Μενανδρος).

Some examples of the marble thrones which were reserved for high-ranking guests.
The performance space of the Theatre of Dionysos. The white doorways into the side of the Acropolis are part of the Choragic Monument of Thrasyllos.
The foundation of the βωμός of Dionysos Eleutherios, looking west.
The foundation of the βωμός of Dionysos Eleutherios, looking east. Paul is in the background doing the archaeologist thing of looking at the ostraca littering the ground.
The foundations of the newer Temple of Dionysos Eleutherios.
Remains of the wall that once surrounded the sacred temenos of the sanctuary.

As an Orphic Hellenist, I can’t begin to tell you what it meant to me to be standing on the sacred grounds of the Sanctuary of Dionysos. As the focal point for the Greater Dionysia festival that was held every spring, the sanctuary saw the finest playwrights, poets, singers, and dancers of the ancient world. It was here that Euripedes premiered his Bakkhai. I only wish that Dionysos’ temple was in at least as good a shape as that of Hephaestos. But we know that the early church wasn’t going to permit that. Still, I like to imagine that perhaps some particles of ash from ancient sacrifices made in His name may have clung to my shoes as I left the precinct after walking around His ancient Vomos. Just to the east of the Sanctuary of Dionysos are the remains of the Odeon of Perikles. A small covered pavilion located on the spot houses archaeological relics, including a magnificent (there I go again with that word) round altar stone dedicated to Dionysos and decorated with satyr masks and garlands (shown below).

As we were leaving the South Slope of the Acropolis, we came upon a bunch of Silverleaf Nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium) growing in amongst the rosemary next to the Sanctuary of Dionysos (see photo, left). Even though it’s an invasive, non-native species (and baby is it ever – we saw a large field of it at Eleusis), it was still enough to warm the heart cockles of any worshipper of Hekate (Ἑκάτη).

Exiting the gate, we turned south towards the (almost) brand new Acropolis Museum. We were somewhat footsore and definitely hungry by this point. Time for some lunch!

— Να εχεις μια ωραια μερα. —

2 responses to “Medea & Other Friends I Made in Athens (Part 4)”

  1. Carly | Avatar
    Carly |

    I’m dying to visit Athens! 🇬🇷

    1. We had a wonderful time. Well worth it! I’ll be writing about our travels through mainland Greece and Crete in future posts.

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