1. GREEK MAINLAND
First of all comes Athens, the very center of Greece. On the submit of her Sacred Rock, the Acropolis, that lovely temple, the Parthenon has stood for 2.500 years. It is the most perfect example of art that the ancient world has bequeathed us, and it is a symbol of the grandeur of Hellenic Civilization. It can truly be called the embodiment of the Greek Ideal.
The divine symmetry of its form defies imitation. It is rectangular in shape but nowhere in the temple do we find long straight lines. The columns are not all the same thickness and we are not equally spaced and the whole temple has a slight imperceptible curve inward.
In this way the architect instinctively modified the harsh monotony of mathematical perfection and created the delicate harmony of lines that give structure a form that is ethical and at the same time imposing. It is the greatest manifestation of the artistic ability of the human mind. This temple as the name indicates, was dedicated to the worship of the Virgin Goddess Athene, the divine maiden whose heart was invulnerable to love. She was the guardian deity of the city of Athens to which she had given her name.
In order to gasp the full magnificence of its beauty, one must let the imagination help the eye to form a clear, complete picture of the temple as it once was. We must imagine the carvings that decorated all its sides depicting whole scenes from mythology – the birth of Athene from her father’s head, Zeus and other themes. We must picture the magnificent interior with its columns and paintings over which dominated the colossal gold and ivory statue of the goddess – thirty feet high on α pedestal eight feet high – the work of Phidias the master sculptor who knew the secret of giving life to inanimate stone.
The imposing impression of the somewhat heavy Doric style of the Parthenon is beautifully balanced by the delicate lines of the Erechtheum. This temple whose exquisite ornamentations re eternal patterns of beauty, was built to the north of the Parthenon for contrast for purely aesthetical reasons.
The Erechtheum is the oldest and loveliest temple of the Ionic style. It is also dedicated Athene Polias (guardian of the city) and was named after Erechtheus, one of the earliest kings of Athens and also one of the first priests of the goddess.
The transcendent grace of the structure is greatly increased by the statues of the Caryatides, the lovely maidens of serene dignity with long, beautifully draped robes which are substituted for columns to support the architrave on the southern side.
And to complete our mental picture of this part of the Acropolis, we must imagine, between these two temples, immense bronze statue of Athene standing erect clad in full armor. So huge was this statue that the tip of her spear she held upright in her hand gleamed like a star and when the rays of the sun touched it could be seen even far out as Sunium.
Almost all of the Acropolis was dedicated to the goddess Athene who, in her various forms, was worshiped as the guardian deity.
The tiny, elegant Nike temple on the southern side of the Acropolis was dedicated to Athene as Apteros Nike of Wingless Victory, the victorious goddess whom the Athenians fancied as wingless so that she could not fly away but would always remain with them to crown their arms with success.
The entrance to this sacred precinct occupies the whole of the western side of the rock and gas all the magnificence that is appropriate to such a masterpiece as the Propylaea, a structure that rivals the art and beauty of the Parthenon. One of the halls of this building was an art gallery, full of the work of the most famous artists of that time. Today we know of them only from the descriptions that have come down to us because none of the works have survived.
All of these buildings were finished chiefly during the Golden Age of Pericles in the 5th century BC when every manifestation of Greek Civilization had reached its peak.
The Roman Era too left it’s traces on the Acropolis. Outside of its Propylaea is the bare pedestal on which once stood the statue of the Roman statesman Agrippa while to the east of the Parthenon, the ruins of the circular temple to the Goddess Roma, can still be seen.
The longer one stands on this sacred ground the more profoundly do one’s thoughts dwell on the age which created all this beauty and on the goddess who was worshiped here as incarnation of wisdom.. the architects in striving to create the perfect temple for her worship, gave us in tangible form the true expression of their age. The nobility and idealism of the Greeks intellect and character had its counterpart in the simplicity of the Greek temple. The ideals they embody will serve as an inspiration through the ages.
From the Acropolis there is a fine view of many interesting ruins. From the Eastern wall, the huge stadium of gleaming white marble can be seen on the pine covered hill of Ardetto. It has been rebuilt in modern times on the site of the ancient ruins. Not very far from it are some of the columns, in the lovely, ornate Corinthian style, that formed part of the gigantic temple to the Olympian Zeus. They still give us the idea of grandeur of that building which was begun by the Peisistatidae and completed by the emperor Hadrian, six centuries later. Close by and dividing the old city of Athens from the new, is the Arch of Hadrian, built in the Roman style.
On the southeastern slope of the Acropolis itself are the ruins of the Theater or Odeum of Herodes of Attica built also in Roman style. The acoustics are so fine that it is still used during the summer for performances of ancient dramas and concerts and symphonies. Then there are the ruins of the immense stoa of Eumenes which occupies the space between the Odeum and the Theater of Dionysus. This stoa was two stories high with a double row of columns and was adorned with statues, monuments to the various Maecenas or patrons of art and with other ornamentations and served as a place of recreation to the spectators during the intermissions.
Further on are the few remains of the temple to Aesculapius, the god of Hygeia or Health and the ruins of the Theater of Dionysus, which was one of a group of buildings which included a temple to Dionysus. A little further up is the monument to Thrasillos and the Odeum of Pericles.
This whole vicinity is devoted to music and the theater. And truly, where could a more appropriate place be found than in the very place where Dionysus, the god of wine and vegetation was worshiped, for out of the rites of his wordship, the Dionysian Festivals of Attic, the Greek drama was born. This is what mythology tells us about it:
The lovely maiden Semele (perhaps a personification of the Earth during Spring) inspires such strong passion in Zeus, the supreme ruler of the universe and the personification of the sky, that he visits her in the form of a golden shower. From their union, Bacchus or Dionysus is born- allegory of the spring rains that penetrate the earth to promote vegetation.
Semele, the most beautiful of mortal maidens that attracted the love of Zeus, asked him to appear before her in all his godlike array. Semele asked Zeus to gratify any request she chose to make, but when he learns what her desire is, he tried to dissuade her but is forced against his will to grant her request. She and everything around her is destroyed by his lightning and only Bacchus is saved and is entrusted by Zeus to Hermes, the messenger of the gods who carried him to the distant home of the forest deities, the nymphs. They have his cradle near a grape vine and when he tasted the grapes and the vine made from the juice, he became intoxicated and Bacchus and all his train began to dance. In mad revelry they pass from land to land scattering intoxication and the unfeigned joy of life.
This was the God Dionysius and this way the worshiped him here, with revelry and merrymaking and from the singing and recitations at the festivals arose music, poetry and the drama. The myths and festivals inspire such great poets as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes and others who are even today considered masters in that form of art.
From the western side of the Acropolis, we get a restful view of the green hills. On the crest of one of these hills is the monument to the hero Philopappos. Another hill, the Pnyx, was the marketplace of the Athenians around which were various governmental buildings. Here the assemblies were held, and discussions of political importance were made, after the hearing of the eloquent orations that were delivered from the “bema” or platform. The trapezoidal base of the bema still exists. Further on in the hill of the Areopagus (Are’s Hill), so named because Ares, the God of war was once tried here, before a court of judges composed of the twelve Gods of Olympus. To this day, the Supreme Court of Greece is called Areopagus. From this hill, the Apostle Paul first spoke to the Athenians of Christianity.
The last of these hills is the hill of Nymphs. Directly opposite is the Theseus. It is the best preserved of ancient temples. More to the east is the site of ancient Agora or Market place were numerus ruins of buildings and porticos give us a clear idea of the whole. At the east end of the marketplace is the temple of Aeolus or the Horologe of Kyrestus. The Market place, on its northwestern side borders on the ancient Cemetery called Ceramicus from the neighboring pottery, one of the most important t ancient industries was carried on. In the Cemetery, tombstones and vases of great artistic value have been unearthed. The paintings on some of them give us the idea of the progress made in art in Ancient Greece.
In the small space around the Acropolis we find so many ruins that they alone could give us a full picture of magnificence of Ancient Greece. It is not however, the only place of importance so we shall pass rather quickly over these places that are scattered here and spend more time in the places where the group of ancient ruins give varied phases of the life of the ancients on their art. Attica still has so many such places.
When still quite a distance from land, on your first voyage to Greece your eye caches the gleaming white of the columns that where once the temple of Poseidon at Sunium. Poseidon was the God who governed the seas and the oceans and with one wave of his mighty trident he could stir up the fiercest waves or calm the wildest storm.
The columns have withstood the ravage of time for 2500 years and still remain the seamen of the God who ruled over the vast oceans, the God who the Greeks pictured as riding a chariot drawn by spirited horses whose long, flowing mane resembled the crested waves they were supposed to personify.
On the pains of Marathon, the tomb still stands in which the Athenians buried the heroes that fought almost single handed against the far superior in numbers and well equipped Persian army. It commemorates the great victory of Freedom and civilization over Barbarism and Slavery.
At Kalamos we find the ruins of the shrine where the prophet and physician, Amphiaraus was worshiped. There were also Stoae or porticoes that served as chambers for the sick who came to be healed; the indispensable aqueduct that furnished that water for bathing the sick and the theater for the recreation.
On the road that leads to Eleusis at Daphni is the most famous Byzantine Monastery well known for its mosaics. This has been built on the ruins of an ancient temple to Apollo.
At Eleusis itself we find the ruins of the shine where the temples and theaters dedicated to the worship of the Goddess Demeter. Eleusis from the Greek work which means “arrival”. The goddess had wandered over the face of the earth searching in deep grief for her daughter, Persephone, who had been abducted by Pluto, the God of the Underworld or Hades. Zeus, in answer to her supplication, consented to let Persephone return to earth and spend part of each year with her mother. During this time, Mother Earth laughs and is happy and everything blossoms and bears fruit but when her daughter is forced to return to Hades all nature mourns and is barren. The Eleusinian Mysteries were, at first, a ceremony that presented the drama of these two goddesses. Later the metaphysicians symbolized in the Mysteries the death and resurrection of the soul.
Directly opposite Eleusis, on the tiny island of Salamis, is the historical bay where few Greek ships destroyed the Great Persian fleet and saved Greek Civilization from the certain destruction.
Across from the bay, one can see the mount Aegakeas where Xerxes, seated on his throne, watched the Great Naval Battle. Aegina, an isle in the Saronic Gulf, is one of the earliest commercial and industrial centers of Attica. On it is one of the oldest and loveliest temples dedicated to Aphaia Athene surrounded by many other buildings, alters, Propylaeum, all with beautiful decorative sculptures.
On the rest of the Greek Mainland are various other site of great archeological value such as Tanagra which has an important place in the history of art for the many statuettes, the famous figurines that were found in the tombs and the in numerable pieces of pottery of excellent workmanship.
Chaeronea has its Acropolis, the ruins of the royal palace and the immense statue of the lion which is near modern place Lebadea. Orchomenus, one of the wealthiest and most powerful cities of the Minoan Age, has the famous Bee-hive Tombs that date back to the Mycenaean Age.
Near the historical city of Plateaa is the Monastery of Luke which includes two churches of the Byzantine Period, richly decorated with mosaics and other works of art.
Illustrated edition dedicated to the Grecian Civilazation.
Year V. Period III. Supplements 18-25
Dir. Z. A. Macatounis- Athens 1949
Pesmazoglou St. 1a
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