After being on top of the Acropolis, I decided to make my way towards Hadrian’s Arch and the Olympieion.
Hadrian’s Arch, dedicated to the Roman emperor Hadrian (who was a huge admirer of Classical Greece) by the citizens of Athens, is a gateway that resembles a Roman triumphal arch. The word “gateway” is especially significant here because the arch stood on the line of Athen’s ancient city wall. Hadrian had expanded Athen’s city walls by building a new urban section east of the Acropolis, affectionately called “Hadrianopolis”. The side facing the new neighborhood had an inscription reading: “This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus”, while the other side facing the Acropolis had “This is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus” inscribed upon it.
Unfortunately you can’t walk under the Arch – it must feel like walking through a time portal!! Even if you can’t walk through it, you still get to view the Acropolis and ancient Athens through a spectacular “lens” 🙂
As I headed to the Olympieion, I was disappointed to see that it was closed. I had not done enough research beforehand, and it turns out that most tourist sites close around 15:00 during the winter. I guess Greek people also don’t really like winter 🙂
In the wake of this disappointment, another opportunity presented itself: I started a conversation with a very nice taxi driver who offered to take me to some places and give me information on them, in exchange for €20. I enjoy supporting the local community and not giant tour companies, so I agreed.
First, he took me to the Panathenaic Stadium, an impressive marble structure that hosted the first modern Olympic games in 1896. The marble looks so perfect and white, no wonder it is also called “Kallimarmaron”, meaning “beautifully marbled”. It also has a seating capacity of around 45,000!! If you pay to go inside, you can even stand on those step things and pretend you won a gold medal 🙂
Afterwards, we drove up Mount Lycabettus, the hill I referred to in my previous blog post. I was correct in saying that it appeared taller than the Acropolis hill: it stands 277 m (908 ft) tall, and is the highest point in the immediate area. Although Lycabettus means “the one that is walked by wolves”, the origin of this hill actually has a really weird founding story, according to Greek mythology.
The legend says that Mount Lycabettus was created when Athena dropped a mountain (no big deal) that she was carrying for the construction of the Parthenon (I knew the Gods were involved! It’s a conspiracy!) Why did she drop the stone? That’s the interesting part 🙂
Sometime before this whole stone episode, Athena went to see Hephaestus (God of blacksmiths, artisans, metallurgy and fire) to get some weapons made. He made a pass at her, which didn’t work out too well because Athena was intent on staying a virgin (they also share the same father, awkward), so she fled. He ran after her with the intention of raping her, but she fought him off (thankfully!). During this struggle, some of his semen fell on her thigh, which she quickly wiped away in disgust. When it hit the ground, a baby was born that Athena decided to raise in secret. She named him Erichthonius and put him in a box to be watched over by three of Cecrops’s daughters, with the warning to never open the box. Of course they did anyway, and they were so shocked by the sight of the baby (apparently there was a snake involved as well) that they went crazy and jumped off the Acropolis to their deaths. Curiosity killed the cat right? A crow had seen all of this and when he reported it to Athena who was in mid-flight, she was so enraged that she dropped the mountain. In case you’re wondering what happened to Erichthonius, he became an early ruler of Athens 🙂
On top of Mount Lycabettus is a beautiful restaurant (so romantic!) as well as a Christian Orthodox church dedicated to St. Georg. The view is really phenomenal from up there: Athens seems endless, as if there are no streets and all the buildings are just right next to each other. The streets of Athens are notoriously narrow 🙂 I even managed to catch the beginning of the sunset! The city looks beautiful when it is bathed in the sun’s rays 🙂
The last stop of our mini-roadtrip was the Hellenic Parliament, which used to be a royal palace. Every hour, the changing of the guards takes place here, and I got a good laugh out of seeing a group of Chinese tourists whip out their ipads and phone cameras to film the whole performance!
I can’t believe I saw so many things on my first day in Athens! No wonder my feet were hurting when I got back to my host’s place 🙂