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Athens, Greece - Athenian Rain - 31st March 2002

Posted by Edmond on Thursday, May 30, 2002

Tour of the National Archealogical Museum of Athens, the main museum of Athens, which contains most of the artefacts recovered from the ancient greece sites. Then, another walk around the base of Acropolis, but this time visiting the Odeon of Herod Atticus and the Theatre of Dionysius. The day finishes off with walks to Filopappou Hill and monument, Pnyx Hill and the Hill of the Nymphs and Monistiraki in steady showers.

1. National Archaelogical Museum, including the Stratathos Collection
2. Hill of the Muses (Filopappou hill)
3. Hill of the Nymphs (Nymfon hill)
4. Pnyx Hill
5. Monastiraki and Hadrian's Library
National Archaelogical Museum

In the morning we arrived at the old and neglected area around the Viktoria Metro Station. This caught both of us by surprise. We had always been accustomed to the fact that areas around museums were always clean, tidy and safe. However, surrounding streets were littered with rubbish and apartments and buildings looked neglected and grimy with pollution. Hoping that the area would improve, we walked towards the National Archaelogical Museum along Patision Street (28is Oktoviriou).

The National Archaelogical Museum is situated near the Platela Aigyptou and the School of fine arts. As with the surrounding area, the museum has also suffered from the same neglect. The garden at the front of the museum is covered in pigeon droppings and bits of litter and there are lots of pigeons around the area. The pigeons aren't afraid of people and have a common habit of flying very close towards you if distracted.

Despite having the largest collection of Greek artefacts I've seen, the museum's appearance is fairly ordinary. Yet there is enough depth and variety to keep visitors glued to the sculptures, statues and artefacts from the periods of the Etruscans, Mycenae, Cyclades and Ancient Athens as well as some artefacts from Ancient Egypt. Some of the highlights includes the larger than life statues of kouroi (naked youths) that date from the 600 BC - found in Sounion in Room 8, a bronze statue of Zeus in Room 15 and the jockey of Artemision in the centre of the Museum separating the Cycladic, Mycenaean and Etruscan artefacts from the more recent Ancient Athens artefacts. But the must see attraction is the new Stathatos collection donated by Antonio and Helen Stathatos to the Museum. This contains many beautiful greek artefacts ranging from jewellery made of gold and decorated in gems and statues. Found, bought and tirelessly catalogued by Helen, many of these were actually floating around in the illegal black market trade of antiquities, in the hands of various treasure hunters as well as private collectors.

After lunch in Syntagma Square at a fast food joint, we decided to burn off some energy with a tour of the bits of Acropolis that we missed. We first started with the Theatre of Dionysius at the foot of the Acropolis. The fee to get in was about 5 Euros, but fortunately, access today was free. Although the area occupied by this theatre was huge, much of the seating area laid in ruin and overrun by weeds. Among the ruins, stray dogs and cats can be seen roaming for food or taking a peaceful afternoon nap, while tourists explored, chatted or sometimes slipped on the loose gravel. On the stage, a stray dog sleeps in the middle, oblivious of the goings-on of the visitors around the area.

Picking our way carefully across the ruins and loose stones, we walked west from the Theatre of Dionysius until we arrived near a long collonade. Known as the Stoa of Eumenes, this seemed to provide a visible border separating Acropolis from the world below, stretching between the Theatre of Dionysius to the Odeon of Atticus. A tall metal gate also separated the Stoa from the Odeon of Atticus, so we had to walk back out of the theatre and back on Dionissou Areopagitou St to get to the Odeon.

The Odeon of Atticus was fully intact, although much smaller than theatre. However, closer inspection suggests that the seating area looks like it had been gradually restored back to its original splendour and scaffolding around the building is clear evidence that restoration work is being carried out. Unfortunately, the gates were locked. With nothing left to do, we headed for Filopappou hill.

By mid-afternoon, just when we reached the top of the hill, the heavens closed in. Soon, the hillside was drenched in a sun shower. Amid this bleak backdrop, the Sun shone from Piraeus, illuminating Acropolis and the Parthenon as well as the Monument of Filopappou. However, the sunlight soon disappeared behind the rainclouds, so we headed for a small cafe at the bottom of the Filopappou hill.

We waited about half an hour before leaving the warm cafe for the Hill of the Nymphs (Nymfon Hill) and finally the old remains of the auditorium on the Hill of the Pnyx. It was at this auditorium where in ancient times, the Ekklesia, the popular assembly of Athens met to discuss about the affairs of the city before finally using the Theatre of Dionysius. Now, large white slabs of stone mark the place where the members made their speeches. Like Filopappou, there are splendid views of the city, the Acropolis and Lykavitos hill and the rainclouds that hung behind the mountains bordering Athens.

Knowing that more rain was on the way, we rushed back down the hill to Apostolou and Pavlou St. Like the Plaka, restaurants are plentiful around the area and the rain that fell before wasn't enough to dampen the atmosphere of the area. After crossing the bridge on Plateia Thiseiou, we proceeded down Adrianou Street towards Monastiraki, passing more restaurants, pubs and market stalls along the way. At the end of the street was the Museum of Popular and Decorative Arts and the remains of the Hadrian's Library next to it. Apart from the tall columns, it was hard to distinguish that this was a library as most of it was being excavated for artefacts.

We walked around the Roman Agora before finally setting for Acropolis when the showers returned, thus ruining our initial intentions of having dinner at Pavlou Street. As it was getting late and slippery, we carefully made our way back to our starting point at Dionissou Areopagitou Street and back to the hotel.

Thus, our day at Athens had been ended prematurely by showers. Despite the miserable weather, the walks and views around the hills around the Acropolis proved most rewarding with spectacular views of the city while the National Archaelogical museum proved that its dull looks can be deceiving by providing an interesting insight into Ancient Greece.

Edmond, 2002