5 September 2022. Part 4: The Greek Agora.
Exiting the grounds of the new Acropolis Museum, we headed west on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, and then northwest on Apostolou Pavlou. Our goal was the Athenian Agora, located northwest of the Acropolis. Along the way, we saw several excavated homes from the Roman era on both sides of the street. We also happened upon some delightful tortoises hanging out on the Acropolis/Areopagus side of the street. This species is the Greek tortoise, or spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo Graeca). Keep an eye out for them while you’re visiting!
After the roman ruins we passed the Fountain of Pnyx Hill, a carved cistern that once collected water from springs on the Pnyx. During WWII, antiquities were placed in the cistern and its entrance was sealed with concrete in order to prevent them from being looted by the Nazis. A short distance past this is a small cave sanctuary of Pan dating to the archaic era. Pan is known for his ear-splitting shriek, which is said to terrify those who hear it (hence the term “panic”). The God is said to have used His scream to panic and drive the Persians from the field at the Battle of Marathon. Herodotus claims that it was this act that caused the Athenians to devote a cave on the north slope of the Acropolis to the worship of Pan.
We took a “short cut” along the south border of the Agora that wrapped around the north side of the Areopagus. This ended at the intersection of Polignotou Street and the ancient Panathenaic Way. The Way was blocked by gates on the north and south. The north gate led into the ancient Greek Agora. The south gate led to the Acropolis past the Eleusinion, or Eleusinian Sanctuary. Paul said that when he was here for school this gate was open all of the time and he and his classmates used to take the Panathenaic Way to the Acropolis.
From the area of the Panathenaic Way we took Polignotou to Dioskouron to Pikilis to Vrisakiou to Adrianoy. Walking west on Adrianoy Street brought us to the entrance of the ancient Agora of Athens. The ancient Agora was the business and government center of Athens after these activities were moved from the area of the Acropolis from the 6th through the 4th century BCE.
Our next stop was the ruined Temple of Apollo Patroos, built in the mid-4th century BCE. It once contained several important sculptures of Apollo and may have been used up until the Roman Emperor Theodosius I ordered the closure of all of the Pagan temples. Theodosius, for those who don’t know, was initially responsible for the destruction of Pagan temples and sacred relics across the empire – the first in a long line of abject assholes.
From the Temple of Apollo, we climbed up and up and up to the top of Agoraios Kolonos hill and the Temple of Hephaistos. Fortunately, it was nowhere near as tall a hill as the Acropolis as I was quickly running out of steam. The Temple was dedicated in the mid-5th century BCE to Hephaistos, the Olympian god of fire, smiths, craftsmen, metalworking, stonemasonry and sculpture. It is said to be the best-preserved temple to the Greek Gods in Greece. This is due, in part, to its conversion to and use as a church. You still don’t get any gold stars for that.
Coming down off of Agoraios Kolonos hill, we saw the remains of the Bomos of the Twelve Gods – basically only one corner of the foundation. The remainder is buried. After that we saw the bomos of Zeus Agoraios. And, finally, before heading back towards the Panathenaic Way, we saw a vothros, or libation pit, for making offerings to the dead.
After this, I had the boys go on to the Stoa of Attalos without me. I sat and rested and drank the remainder of my water. It’s a good thing that I did. The guys showed me a picture of a steep flight of stairs to the second floor of the Stoa that I wouldn’t have been able to negotiate in my exhausted state. Maybe on the next trip.
I dehydrated rapidly despite guzzling water. It’s the stairs more than anything else. They’re treacherous as shit – slick marble in many places, uneven, cracked patchwork, and varying heights. There’s no handrails at many drop-offs as you’re climbing, and many of the paths (e.g., on the acropolis) are rocky, slickened marble. In short, negotiating them safely is exhausting. One of the boys was with me acting as a minder for much of the time, which was appreciated as I almost did a header a couple of times today. You have to pay attention, which is hard with all of the distractions. That being said, I wouldn’t have traded today for anything. It was a lifelong dream come true.
On our way back to the Airbnb we came upon a life-sized Witch outside of the Hans & Gretel candy shop. I would’ve loved to have stopped just to see the interior, but I was running on fumes at this point.
I had a 2-hour nap afterwards while the boys went shopping. Then it was dinner in the Plaka at the Taberna ta Gioubetsakia. I was ravenous. The baklava was the size of a small baby, and I ate every damn bit of it.
On the way back to the Airbnb, we walked through a three-way crossroads with a moonlit Acropolis as a backdrop. A fitting ending for our last night in Athens. Tomorrow should be easier as we leave the city and drive west and north. Lots of relatively small, flat archaeological sites.
— Να εχεις μια ωραια μερα. —