Monday, December 5, 2022

An ancient monument to democracy

The Parthenon
It’s hard to imagine a city more important to the history of Western civilization than Athens, Greece. Because history has been recorded there since 11 B.C., we know that in addition to being the historical capital of Europe, Athens is recognized as the birthplace of democracy, arts, science, and philosophy. Plato, Socrates, Pericles, Euripides, and Sophocles all called Athens home during their lifetimes. It is referred to as an educational center focused on the Trilogy of Knowledge—Academy, University, and Library.

With such a long and interesting history, visitors like Larry and me find Athens fascinating. Constructed between seven hills, the city of Parthenon has a promenade around the Acropolis for folks to walk or bike on. (Actually, the term acropolis refers to any large hill, and many cities in Greece have their own Acropolis).

Olympic stadium in Athens

We decided to check out one of the most famous sites of Athens, the Parthenon and the Acropolis on which it is built (The last time we were there it was so windy we couldn’t enjoy the views). After stopping briefly at Panathenaic Stadium where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896—and held there again in 2004--we saw the Temple of Zeus, a building that was completed by Emperor Hadrian in the second century A.D. 

The Parthenon is often regarded as a monument to democracy, as well as a tribute to the Athenians' victory in the Greco-Persian Wars.

Entering the temple through sacred gates

After walking up approximately 100 slick marble and stone steps to ascend the Acropolis, we entered through sacred gates guarding what began as a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena Parthenon (Athena the Virgin). Built more than 2,500 years ago, the Parthenon has become one of the world’s most significant cultural monuments. It is an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece and the most recognized icon of the country today.

Olive tree beside the temple of Athena

Constructed during the High Classical period, it is considered to be the culmination of the Doric order, the simplest of the three Classical Greek architectural orders (others are Ionic and Corinthian). The white marble temple has suffered damage over the centuries, but its basic structure remains intact. Eight columns support the main buildings. An explosion in 1687 during the Ottoman occupation resulted in irreparable damage until restoration efforts began in the late 19th century.

Reconstruction continues

Reconstruction is an ongoing process, but even scaffolding and cranes can’t diminish the wonder of this magnificent structure. We learned that the massive columns that appear to be standing straight, really aren’t. Even in those early centuries engineers knew slanting the columns slightly inward and curving the steps slightly would give the illusion of straight lines.

Carved maidens 

We wandered among the ruins, being careful not to trip on rocks and rubble that indicate the work of rebuilding.  We stopped for photos at the Erechitheion Temple and admired the six lovely maidens delicately carved into columns supporting the Porch of the Caryatids. We marveled at the enormous size of the Temple of Athena (who is now a symbol of Nike) and the ancient olive tree that grows nearby. 

Overlooking the city

Looking down, two ancient theaters come into view, and we gaze over the thriving city below. Then it’s time to carefully descend those same marble and stone steps as we leave this majestic and historic place.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


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