romantic notions in the agora

temple of hephaestus - side view

In the middle of Athens, nestled under the Acropolis, is the ancient agora, once the center of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life of the city. Later, it would also serve as a marketplace, where merchants would set up their stalls in the colonnades of long, covered buildings called stoa.  (The Romans would go on to call this conglomeration a forum; we would call it a mall.) A large open area surrounded by buildings of various functions, the agora was a daily part of public life in Athens, whether you were coming to shop, pay homage to a particular god, visit the law courts, use the library, or even go swimming in the great bathhouse. Laying mostly in ruins today, the agora has the feel of an overgrown park or an English country estate. (I can’t help but think of Richard Payne Knight, Uvedale Price and the Romantic notions of picturesque landscape architecture, constructed in imitation of wild nature, which was once in fashion and still survives in the gardens at many a stately British home.) Yet on the top of Agoraios Kolonas hill, keeping watch on the northwest side of the square is perched the Temple of Hephaestus, a well-preserved temple that remains largely as it was built. Like a Parthenon in miniature, it presents a serene sense of what this all must have looked like in the full-flower of antiquity.

temple of hephaestus - looking over the agora

temple of hephaestus

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philopappos panorama

philopappos panorama

That curiosity atop Philopappos Hill turned out to be the marble mausoleum of Philopappos, a prince of the ancient Hellenistic Kingdom of Commegane in upper Syria, which was later annexed by the Roman Empire, and senator under Emperor Trajan. Dating to 116 AD, the tomb, opposite the Acropolis and within the formal boundaries of the city, shows the high position Philopappos had within Athenian society. (Indeed, for the six centuries prior to its building, the area was known as Mouseion Hill, or the Hill of the Muses.) Today, it makes for a relatively solitary uphill stroll to see the two-story monument and take in the unobstructed view of the Acropolis within the context of modern-day Athens. Or, if you’re a Greek teenager, the ideal spot to roll a joint in relative seclusion. As always, click on the panoramic image then click it again for greater detail.

philopappos view

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in prison with socrates

prison of socrates

Philopappos Hill, also known as the Hill of the Muses, is often overlooked due to its proximity to the more famous Acropolis. But the presence of a large monument at the summit – clearly visible from the Parthenon – called to us this afternoon and so we set out to hike to the top and discover what exactly was there. Meandering through the forest we came upon a series of caves with bars on them and realized we had stumbled upon something much more interesting than any monument; we had found the legendary prison of Socrates. And while I thought this would be the perfect time to discuss why Socrates was imprisoned, why he believed it would be unjust to try to escape, and why he drank from the cup of poison hemlock without protest, somebody was obsessed with the prevalence of bees buzzing around the entrance and so, unlike Socrates, we beat a hasty retreat.

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cheese pie, acropolis view

pita - with parthenon

No matter where you go in Athens you seem to always have the giant rock of the Acropolis as a focal point in the near distance. It’s a view that never gets old - especially when dining al fresco. Today’s well-earned lunch: tyropita, or cheese pie, wrapped in buttery sheets of crispy phyllo dough.

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live blog: hitching a ride

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live blog: another acropolis

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live blog: but first ….

A pit stop at the ancient town of Lindos, on the southern coast of Rhodes opposite the Old Town. Once one of the most important cities in classical Greece, Lindos grew to prosperity under the Knights of St. John. So much of medieval Lindos has survived that the town has been declared a national landmark; the streets a maze of continuous buildings with ornate carvings and pebbled alleyways which windingly bring you – almost imperceptibly – to what I’m most excited to see: the ancient acropolis.

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live blog: walk this way

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‘ello, ellas

Today I’m on my way to Greece, country of my ancestors. I can’t believe how sentimental those words sound, yet even now I’m a little choked up at the thought of standing at the foot of the Acropolis. To keep things light, I’m carrying only a backpack and small weekender to get me through Athens, Rhodes, and a handful of Dodecanese Islands. That means no computer for a welcome change. I’ll be live-blogging via Iphone if and when the wi-fi gods allow, so the next few weeks here might be a bit of trouble. Not that I’m bothered. As Nikos Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek memorably pointed out, “Life is trouble.” Then again, he continued on in a much more interesting – if less eloquent – fashion: “To be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble.”

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calton hill

Overlooking the city yet still very much in the center of town is Calton Hill, Edinburgh’s neo-classical answer to the Greek Acropolis.

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