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Monday 2 May Piraeus for Athens, Greece

Our next stop was in Greece, the fourth time we had been there. We moored in Piraeus, a major port and city on the Saronic Gulf close to Athens. Piraeus is historic in its own right and was laid out around 450 BC and was already serving as a port. We again chose not to take one of the organised trips or the organised bus to Athens, which was expensive and allowed only a very limited time in the City. Instead we took the Metro, part of the new transport system that had been built for the recent Olympic games in 2004. The port is much larger than one might expect andwe were moored at the furthest out terminal so it took us nearly 40 minutes to walk from the Cruise Terminal along the side of the docks, full of shipping and ferries, to the Metro. It is poorly marked and despite have been there before we still ended up in the more prominent railway station next door - our excuse is that there were many building works and the metro was hiddn behind them, even so it was embarrassing as we had gained a couple of other passengers. There are booklets in English on how to use the Metro and the tickets were very cheap, only about Euros 1.50 return for old folks for the forty minute trip to the part of Athens containing the majority of the historic areas, which was much better than the $45 for the coach organised for QV passengers ! We picked up a day pass for metro, trains and buses for 4.50 euros but, in the event did not use it enough to get good value. An important factor is that the Metro runs every 10 minutes, and does not suffer from traffic jams.

When we got off the Metro at Monastiraki we found that an area of archaeological interest had been discovered when they were excavating the site and is on display as one leaves. The remains go back to the 8th century BC and also shows a lot of the old road and drain structures from Roman days and where the Erodanos River was bounded and finally taken underground. Like most of ancient Athens there are layers upon layers of settlement and buildings overlaying each other.

Immediately outside the Metro station at is the Library of Hadrian, undergoing extensive excavations and restoration. The main historic sites need a ticket and we bought a book of tickets that had 6 general tickets plus one specific to the Acropolis for Pete (15 Euros or 6 if you are old) and Pauline got in free with her International Student Card - that took some explaining each time because she doesn't look young enough any more, but it worked everywhere!. The Roman emperor built the Library of Hadrian complex in 132 AD. The complex consists of a large, nearly square, walled enclosure, with entrance on the west. The walls were made of Poros limestone and Pentelic marble. The western side had a row of Corinthian columns made from marble in front of the wall. Inside the complex was an open-air courtyard, with a central pool and garden, surrounded by columns made from marble imported from Phrygia. At the eastern end of the colonnade were a series of rooms that housed the "library" where books were stored and served as reading rooms and lecture halls. The Library of Hadrian was far more than a library and provided the people of Athens with a new, multi-purpose, public square and cultural centre that contained a garden, works of art, a library, and lecture halls. Later we found that the Ceramik Museum, entry using the same book of tickets, was at the same site.

Nearby is the Roman Agora (marketplace) of Athens, most interesting to Pete because it contains the Horologian (Timepiece) of Kyrrhestos that is best known as 'the Tower of Winds' which is the logo of the Royal Meteorological Society of which he is a Fellow. The Astronomer Androkinos Kyrrhestos from Kyrrhos in Macedonia built it in about 50 BC. It is octagonal, stands over 12 metres high and is built of Pentelic marble. Pentelic marble is pure white, fine grained and has a mesmerizing, glistening white crystalline surface looking as delicate as glass - it was used by many of the great sculptors of ancient Greece.

The tower was originally topped by a revolving bronze weather vane depicting Triton, a pointed wand in his hand indicated the direction from which the wind was blowing. To the ancients, the winds had divine powers and on the frieze of each side below the conical rooftop there is a ruling the compass point to which it faces. There were complex sundials on all sides and a sophisticated internal water clock with a supply from the Acropolis above. Unfortunately it was not open for viewing. Beside the Tower of the Winds is the remains of one of the Roman Public Toilets built on a large scale with 70 stone seats over a water channel with another smaller channel running in front where sponges could be dipped.

Beside the Tower of the Winds is the remains of one of the Roman Public Toilets built on a large scale with 70 stone seats over a water channel with another smaller channel running in front where sponges could be dipped.

Our next visit was to the most popular of the sights,the Acropolis.It can been seen from every direction but none of the maps actually show where the open entries are. The safest place to gain entry is the Beulah gate.It is a prime tourist site so we suggest you get there very early in the main season, we were a little late on our last visit and it was almost impossible to move, especially on the steep entry route. You have to leave big bags at the gate but were happy with our small rucksack. Acropolis means 'high place'. In the ancient world the Gods were believed to live in the clouds so temples on high places brought the people closer to their gods. First inhabited in 3500 BC and by 1500 BC it had become the Royal Dwelling. Most of what is visible today was built around 450 BC. You pass through the Propylea, a colossal entry gate to reach the upper terrace. This time we were fairly early and it out of the prime season but even so it was difficult to get into the site and get clear views for pictures - on a previous visit it was only possible to move when the tourists were being herded like sheep leaving gaps where one could walk and catch an occasional glimpse of the sights. As we climbed up into the site we passed Cunard tours going slowly down.

There are a number of separate temples, unfortunately most are undergoing extreme restoration - they are undoing and replacing many earlier restoration attempts using iron which are now doing more damage than good due to corrosion, Many of the temples are wreathed in scaffolding so we could not get good pictures of many of the classic sights. Some highlights are the Erectheon with its six caryatids (maiden pillars), they are now replicas but some of the originals are in the Acropolis Museum that we visited at the end. One is in the British Museum.

The Parthenon (Virgin's Chambers) is perhaps the most famous of all Greece's monuments and considered by many architects to be man's finest structural achievement - the flawless proportions feature an upward slope so the form appears to be a perfect rectangle. The columns are also widened at one end to create the linear illusion. The Parthenon was dedicated to the virgin goddess Athena and built between 470 and 432 BC. The Museum in the site was closed.

The site has super views in all directions and we could see Hadrian's Library and the Roman Agora with the Temple of the Winds. There was also an excellent view of Hadrian's Gate and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. We looked down on most of the major historic sites from the various viewing platforms around the Acropolis and decided we would take the route down which led to the grounds round the Theatre of Dionysius rather than back out of the Belauh Gate although that missed the Mount of St Paul. St Paul is said to have preached here on his visit to Athens. The Mount is rocky and the rocks have been polished with an extremely slippery surface even in the dry - Pauline slipped on the smooth rocks last time and slid half way done fortunately without meeting any obstructions and on a well padded part of her anatomy. On the way we down we diverted to pass the top of the Herod Atticus Odeon. We did not have time to do it justice so we continued to the huge Theatre of Dionysus that requires a ticket to enter from below but seems to be included when you reach it from the Parthenon. Dramatic and musical competitions were moved to the Theatre of Dionysus after the wooden benches in the Agora collapsed in 600 BC. The new theatre was on the south slope of the Acropolis next to the temple of Dionysus Eleutherios and was composed of wooden seats surrounding a circular orchestra of beaten earth.

The theatre to our time was designed between 342 and 326 BC, when Lycurgus commissioned an extensive reconstruction in stone and marble expanding the number of seats to somewhere between 17,000 and 30,000. There were 64 tiers of seats in Piraeus limestone - about 20 survive. The ingenious design of the seats allows a 13-inch trough in which spectators can rest their feet without discomfiting those in the row below. There is also a row of 67 high-backed chairs of Pendelic marble for judges and dignitaries each inscribed with the name of the individual for whom it was reserved The elaborately carved throne in the centre of the first row belonged to the Priest of Dionysus. The Roman Era saw major changes to the structure, such as a marble barrier to protect the audience during gladiatorial exhibitions. At the front of the Roman stage was the Bema of Phaedrus - the reliefs depict stories from the life of Dionysus. The crouching figures in the middle show drunken revelry commonly associated with the worship of Dionysus, god of the vine. In the 4th century AD, Romans put down the marble slabs in the orchestra to make it watertight so that they could perform Naumachia - brutal sea battles in which gladiators in boats hacked at each other until the water ran red with their blood.

We passed the Acropolis Museum on our way to Hadrian's Arch, which was erected in 132 AD as a gate between the ancient city and the Roman city of Athens, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which took one of our remaining tickets to enter. Only a few columns remain but it did not take much imagination to realize that this was a huge building. It was began in the 6th Century BC by Peisistratos but not finished until seven hundred years later by Emperor Hadrian in 131 AD. The Classical Greeks are said to have left it unfinished because they believed it was too big and symbolized the arrogance of people who believed they were equal to the Gods, The Romans knew better. During the Roman rule the general Sulla took two columns to Rome for the Temple of Jupiter that led to the development of the Corinthian style in Rome. Originally there were 104 Corinthian columns of which only 15 remain standing. Hadrian placed a giant gold and ivory status of Zeus inside the temple with an equally large one of himself next to it, unfortunately no remnants remain.

We exited again past the Roman Bathes on the site, through Hadrian's Arch and back past the New Acropolis Museum and the Amphitheatres at the foot of the Acropolis and climber up again to the Beulah Gate where we ascended the viewpoint and then turned down to access the Ancient Agora

The Ancient Agora (marketplace) was the heart of ancient Athens, the focus of political, commercial, administrative and social activity, the religious and cultural centre, and the seat of justice. The area was rediscovered when a deep trench cut for the Athens-Piraeus Railway brought to light extensive remains of ancient buildings. It was necessary to demolish around 400 modern buildings covering a total area of ca. 12 hectares in order to uncover the whole area of the Agora.What first came through to us was its sheer size - it was impressive even with almost all the buildings demolished. The maps showed it had contained many Stoa, a word we did not fully understand at the time but subsequent research has told us that in ancient Greek architecture a stoa was an extended, roofed colonnade on a street or square. Early examples consisted of a simple open-fronted shed or porch with a roof sloping from the back wall to the row of columns along the front. Later stoas were often immense, running to two stories, each with a colonnade of a different order and having a ridged roof supported on internal colonnades; rows of shops or offices lined the back wall, which was sometimes decorated with paintings. Such stoas surrounded the agora or marketplace of every large city and were used for public meetings.

We started with a walk through the Agora Museum sited in the Stoa of Attalos, a sort of huge Greece shopping mall of 150 BC fronted by a double colonnade with shops behind on two floors. It has now been completely reconstructed and repaired and dominates the site.

We walked through the Middle Stoa which had obviously been an immense building with roof supported on three colonnades of which only a few pillars remain. The Stoa of Zeus Eleutherios was one of Socrates favourite place where he frequently strolled with his disciples including Plato. He drank hemlock at the edge of the Agora when imprisoned and sentenced to death for "introducing new gods and corrupting youth". We found the remains of the complex drainage system interesting and then climbed up to the Temple of Hephaisteion, one of the best preserved of the temples in Athens, sited on a small rise at the end of the Agora.

It was then time to return to the starting point and passed other smaller but interesting areas. We were atracted to the Site of the Odeion of Agrippa by the remaining colossal statues of Tritons and Giants. The Site of the Odeion of Aggrippa was interesting because their have been so many changes to it and resuse of the area. It was initially a luxurious building designed for musical performances with an auditorium built like an Amphitheatre for 1000. The North face took the form of a Stoa with the six statues of the Tritons and Giants. The original unsupported pitched roof collapsed and it was reconstructed with a supporting wall which reduced the capacity. It was destroyed by fire in AD 267 and a huge Gymnasium (13,500 sq m), the Palace of the Giants (AD 410 - 530) over the much of the central area of the Agora covering the Odeion and much of the South and Middle Stoas with 4 of the colossal statues of Trtons and Giants adorning the entry. The continual changes make interpretation of the whole Agora difficult. We found the remains of a water clock similar to that in the Tower of the Winds

By now we had used all but one of the entry tickets in Pete's pack, the last being for the Kerameikos which we believe is an ancient cemetery. It had been a long hot day already and we were begining to run short of time so we left that for another visit, added to which many of the sites were closing early because it was a holiday for their Easter which is a different time of year to ours - we did not want to find the transport system also got overloaded as the day ended.

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Content revised: 11th May, 2016