Athens to Istanbul and A Week In Egypt

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Athens - the Ancient Agora and Environs

Well, Olympic Air has cancelled all flights until May 1st, so we're going to have to stay another twenty days! (April Fool's Joke.) We had another opportunity to sleep in and took advantage of it. After breakfast, which is exemplary at the Grand Bretagne, we headed off for the Ancient Agora. This is where democracy was begun. It was a center for politics, elections, debates, theater, athletics, social and religious life, a place to conduct business, meet friends and discuss philosophy and originated in the Neolithic age (before 3000 BC).

Our investigation of the site, started at the top of a small knoll at the north side of the Acropolis that overlooks the broken walls, columns and paving that used to be the Agora and its reconstructed museum. The first structure we came to as we strolled through the olive and pine trees was the Naos Ifestou (Temple of Hephaistos or the Theseion) dedicated to Aphrodite's husband. It is considered the most well preserved temple in Athens and was used later on as a church. It is six by twelve columns wide. Just below it, the trail leads to the agora, the remains and foundations of many of the original buildings, the large water clock, fountains, pools, the gymnasium and houses.

The Tholos was a sort of dormitory for the fifty citizens who served as prytaneis (or council), housed the official weights and measures for the trades, and was built around 465 BC. It had ornate Corinthian capitals and was the center of political activity. The Stoa of Attalus is completely restored and has become the site's museum. In addition to the well-labeled statuary set in front, there are remarkable frescoes inside. It holds a marble kliroterion with slots for metal nametags that worked like a lottery for electing officials by dropping white or black marbles. Also in the museum are payroll tokens, ballots (disks of bronze), and ostraka (bronze disks with a dent that meant guilty, no mark and rounded meant acquittal). There was a wide assortment of pottery from all areas of the country. Shards used as ostraka (people wrote names of troublemakers on them) suggested that the council vote to kick certain people out of the community. Socrates (who stood trial for impiety here and drank hemlock), Herakles, all the great philosophers from 6 BC to 6 AD had hung out at the speakers stone. We visited the old gymnasium that is in the process of restoration, underfoot was a patchwork of chamomile carpets in bloom (more than 4000 years old). It is a fascinating site with so much history that one is easily captivated and can almost hear the murmur of the market, the philosophers, and the politicians.

We exited over the railway and through the east gate into the Monostraki district. It has the distinction of being the flea market area or the best place to buy mementos. We paused for some cool drinks and pet the local cats as they wandered by looking for handouts. A couple of guitarists serenaded us as we basked in the warmth of the midday sun. We were very near to the Library of Hadrian, a "must see" on Sal's list of places to go today. This large complex (about the size of a city block) was built around 132 AD with an interior court, garden with pool and fourteen unfluted Corinthian columns at its face. It was being reconstructed, so we could not enter the site. It had been the depository for all of the legal documents and laws of the time. We had seen a tablet stating the hours open were 6a.m. - 12p.m, another said that anything could be copied but nothing could be removed. This makes sense because everything at that time was truly written in stone.

Just across the corner from the library is a very fine "Antiquities and Art Shop" that is well worth a browse. Further up Panos Street is the 1st century BC Horologian (Clock) of Andronikos Kyrrhestes popularly known as the Tower of the Winds. This octagonal building is in excellent condition and contained a hydraulic clock and planetarium. Each side functioned as a sundial and is adorned with a relief representing the wind blowing from that specific direction.

Gyros and retsina lunch in the Plaka was very satisfying. We returned to our hotel to relax for the evening. Around 9 p.m., we felt the need for baklava and espresso, so we dropped into the Delphi (sinfully rich baklava) and afterwards we wandered around Sintagma before retiring early (we have to be up by 6 a.m. tomorrow).

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