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October 31, 2009

The glory that is Ancient Athens

Did I neglect to tell you enough about the history of Ancient Athens and the Acropolis in my column last week? I think I should remedy that situation right now.

The Acropolis is the hill on which stands the Parthenon; the symbol of classical architecture, and in fact, of Greece.

You enter the Acropolis just as the ancients did, through the Propylaea. Building began on the Propylaea in 437 BC and was completed in 5 years. It was built totally of white marble and stretches over 50 meters across the entire western face of the Acropolis.

In front of the Propylaea was a flight of 16 steps 71 feet broad, cut in the middle by the entrance and ending at the upper end by the largest gate of the Propylaea. This is the exact route that horses, wagons, and sacred chariots accessed to enter into the Acropolis during the Panathenaic festival.

Once a year the citizens of Athens spent twelve days honoring the birthday of their patron goddess, Athena. The procession began on the north end of the city and made its way through the Agora, climbing up the Acropolis, through the Propylaea proceeding on to the Parthenon. Going inside they submitted their offerings to Athena in front of her 40 foot high statue.

There were horse races, foot races, musical and gymnastic contests, torch races and minstrels who sang Homeric poems. The daughters of the first families of Athens carried baskets on their heads containing offerings to the goddess. Prisoners were set free. Knowing all of this, you can just imagine the spectacle as you ascend through the center of the wonderfully intact Propylaea.

My favorite temple on the Acropolis is the Erechtheum. It is the most sacred and mystical of all temples in Athens. This three portion temple was built by Erechtheus around 400 BC, who is buried inside. Homer described Erechtheus as being a child of the earth, son of Poseidon, and reared by Athena. (I think I know where our modern day soap operas get some of their plot lines).

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