Athens

About the Port

Athens dominates the Attica region of Greece and is one of the world's oldest cities, with its recorded history spanning over 3,400 years. Its earliest human presence started somewhere between the 11th and 7th millennium BC.

The attraction for a cruise is obviously its ancient history and monuments - particularly around the Acropolis. Moldavia will have berthed at the port of Piraeus - around 7 miles from the centre of Athens. Modern-day cruises berth in the inlet to the left of the marker for Piraeus on the image below.

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Athens - Google Earth [5]

Arrival and Departure

Moldavia arrived in Athens today Tuesday 11 August at 17:00 and will sail for Gythion tomorrow Wednesday 12 August at 19:00.

The next leg of our journey to Gythion is about 300 nautical miles and we expect to arrive at about 07:00 13 August after sailing through the night.

Athens Port Leaflet

P&O provided a leaflet about Athens as an introduction for visitors which is reproduced below.

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Athens Port Information Leaflet [1]
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Notice to Passengers for the Athens Excursion [1]

Photos and Souvenirs from Athens

I would imagine that most people on the excursion would have bought one of these museum admittance tickets.

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Athens Museums Ticket [1]

The Acropolis

The Acropolis is the large outcrop of rock that overlooks the city of Athens. The name is derived from the Greek words for 'highest point' and 'city'. It is the location of several historically important buildings with evidence of occupation of the site as long ago as the 4th millennium BC. The important remaining buildings - the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike - were all constructed in the time of Pericles (about 495-429 BC).

Buildings on the Acropolis were badly damaged during the Sixth Ottoman-Venetian or Morean War (1684-1699) during which the city was besieged. The Ottoman Turks had fortified the Acropolis and were using the Parthenon as a gunpowder magazine and it exploded when hit by an artillery round.

The history of Athens and the Acropolis are complex and documented elsewhere so I am not going to go into any details. Wikipedia has many useful entries as a starting point.


The album postcard below shows a view looking up to the Acropolis

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Postcard view of the Acropolis [1]

I took the photo of the Acropolis below from a slightly different angle whilst working in Athens in 2010.

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View of the Acropolis from 2010 [3]

The caption on the album postcard below confused me for a while but it refers to the Evzones. The Evzones are elite Greek soldiers whose duties include standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior and the Presidential Palace. They also raise and lower the flag at the Acropolis every Sunday. At least they do now but I can't be sure about 1936. They wear a elaborately embroidered uniform. I am not sure whether the one on the left has a cigarette stub in his mouth - surely not if on duty though!

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Two members of the Evzones - presumably somewhere on the Acropolis [1]

The modern photo below shows a group of Evzones during the changing of the guard.

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Changing of the Guard [4]
The Parthenon

The Parthenon was once decorated with marble sculptures and friezes. Between 1801 to 1812, agents of Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin removed about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon and others from the Propylaea and Erechtheum.

Elgin had the Marbles transported by sea to Britain, claiming to have obtained a firman (an edict or administrative order issued the central government of the Ottoman Empire - the rulers of Greece at that time). This firman has not been found in the Ottoman archives despite its wealth of documents from the same period and its existence is disputed. In 1816 the 'Elgin Marbles' were purchased by the British Government for £35,000 and displayed in a specially built gallery. They remain in the British Museum to this day.

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Part of the frieze from the Parthenon at the British Museum [6]

Various efforts have been made to get the 'Elgin Marbles' returned to Greece. In 2018, Jeremy Corbyn UK Labour Party Leader at the time - said he intends to have them returned to Greece if he becomes Prime Minister. Although I agree the marbles should be returned, being lumbered with Corbyn as PM would be a high price to pay.

The marble sculptures that His Avaricious Lordship didn't remove were themselves removed by the Greek authorities for display in the Acropolis Museum.


The album postcard below shows the exterior of the Parthenon as it appeared in 1936.

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Postcard showing the Parthenon [1]

The album postcard below shows the interior of the Parthenon as it appeared in 1936.

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Interior of the Parthenon [1]

The Temple of Athena Nike

The temple of Athena Nike (Nike means 'victory' in Greek) is situated on the Acropolis and was built around 420 BC. It replaced an earlier temple which the Persians demolished in 480 BC. The replacement temple was demolished by the Ottomans in 1686 and the masonry used to build defences.

The temple was rebuilt again in 1834 after Greece gained independence from the Ottomans. In 1998 it was completely dismantled so the floor could be replaced. The frieze was removed and is now housed in the new Acropolis Museum that opened in 2009.


The album postcard below shows the Temple of Athena Nike as it appeared in 1936.

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Postcard of the Temple of Athena Nike (Temple of Victory) [1]

The photo below shows the temple as it is now from a slightly different angle.

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Modern photo of the Temple of Athena Nike [2]

The Erechtheion

The Erechtheion is a temple dedicated to Athena and Poseidon that is located on the Acropolis and built by the sculptor and mason Phidias between 421 and 406 BC at the order of Pericles. The structure preserves multiple sacred precincts and is complex. The building was damaged by shellfire from the Ottomans during the Greek War of Independence.

One of the most attractive parts of the building is a porch on the north side which is supported by six female figures - the Caryatids. At least there were six until our light-fingered friend Lord Elgin removed one of them, and other parts of the building, to adorn his home in Scotland. He also attempted to remove another Caryatid but ended up smashing it.

All the remaining Caryatids are now in the Old Acropolis Museum and have been replaced by replicas. I personally think the Greeks are wise doing this as there are still Earls of Elgin around. In 2019 we are on the 11th Earl and there is an heir lined up to become the 12th Earl when he pops his clogs.


The album postcard below shows the Erechtheion as it was in 1936.

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The Erechtheion [1]

The album postcard below shows the Caryatids on the Erechtheion as they were in 1936.

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Caryatids on the Erechtheion [1]

I took the photo of the Erechtheion below whilst working in Athens in 2010 and was not the slightest bit tempted to remove bits of it to adorn the Watson stately home.

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Modern photo of the Erechtheion [3]

Theatre of Dionysus

The Theatre of Dionysus is considered to be the world's first theatre and is cut into the southern cliff face of the Acropolis. It was dedicated to Dionysus the god of plays, wine and various other things and could seat up to 17,000 people.

It was redesigned by the Romans and, although the current structure dates back to the 4th Century BC, it has been modified many times. The works performed there included those by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and Menander.


The album postcard below gives a 1936 view of the theatre.

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Postcard showing the Theatre of Dionysus [1]

The photo below shows the site in 2018 from a different angle.

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Modern photo of the Theatre of Dionysus [2]

Kerameikos

Kerameikos is an area of Athens to the north-west of the Acropolis that was once the potter's quarter and the site of an ancient cemetery. The modern word 'ceramic' is derived from the placename. The cemetery also marked the beginning of the Hiera Hodos (Sacred Way) - the road to Eleusis. The area is now enclosed but can be visited. The Kerameikos Museum houses a collection of funerary items.


The album postcard below shows the area as it was in 1936.

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Postcard showing the Kerameikos [1]

The modern photo below shows the same area from a different direction.

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Modern photo showing the Kerameikos [4]

Hadrian's Arch

The arch is thought to have been built to celebrate the arrival of Roman Emperor Hadrian and to date from 131-132 AD. It is constructed with Pentelic marble - the same material as used to build the Parthenon. It had two inscriptions - one naming Hadrian and one naming Theseus as the founder of the city. There has been much discussion about how the inscriptions should be interpreted.


The album postcard below shows how the arch appeared in 1936.

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Postcard showing Hadrian's Arch [1]

The photo below is a modern view of the arch which appears very much unchanged from 1936. The Acropolis can just be seen in the background behind the arch.

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Modern photo of Hadrian's Arch [2]

The Panathenaic Stadium

Athens has several ancient stadia and I compared the photo from the album below captioned 'Gipsy and Alan - Stadium Athens' with all of them before concluding that they were at the Panathenaic Stadium.

The Panathenaic Stadium - also known as Kallimarmaro (beautiful marble in Greek), like many of the ancient structures in Athens, has been rebuilt and modified many times. It was originally built around 330 BC as a racecourse for the Panathenaic Games and later rebuilt in marble by Herodes Atticus around 144 AD with the capacity for 50,000 spectators.

The stadium was abandoned in the 4th Century AD and more or less ignored until 1869 when it was excavated, and later still refurbished for the first modern Olympics in 1896. It was used again in the 2004 Olympics and is the finishing point for the annual Athens Classic Marathon. The Olympic Flame is taken from here to the host nation of the Olympic Games.


Album photo captioned 'Gipsy and Alan at the Olympic Stadium'.

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Gipsy and Alan at the Olympic Stadium [1]

The photo below is a modern view of the stadium.

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Modern view of the Olympic Stadium [2]

The closest I have ever got to an Olympic event was to pose with one of the oldest torch-bearers of the 2012 Olympics, 85 year-old Larry Smith of Sunderland where I was working while the round-UK relay was going on. In case of doubt, I am the unfit one on the left.

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Brian Watson with Larry Smith and the 2012 Olympic torch [3]

Temple of Olympian Zeus

The Romans regarded Jupiter as equivalent to Zeus hence I suppose the inscription on the postcard below. The Greeks started construction of the temple in the 6th Century BC and dedicated it to Olympian Zeus. It was damaged and looted by the Romans in 86 BC and Sulla had some of the columns removed and taken to Rome to be incorporated into the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. It was not completed until the time of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd Century AD.

It fell into disuse when Greece was invaded by 'barbarians' in the 3rd Century AD. Thereafter it was treated as a quarry and materials removed in the construction of new buildings in Athens. It is surprising how much of it remains given its history.


The album postcard below shows the Temple of Olympian Zeus as it appeared in 1936.

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Postcard showing the Temple of Jupiter (Olympian Zeus) [1]

Pillar Saints

The interesting photo below was taken at the temple in 1865 by Constantinou Dimitrios. It shows a small stone structure above the furthermost columns in which a religious Ascetic, or Stylite had lived. Stylites lived on pillars - preaching, fasting and praying and believed that the mortification of their bodies would help ensure the salvation of their souls. They were common in the early days of the Byzantine Empire.

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Photo showing the Temple of Jupiter with 'stylite' dwelling on top of the furthermost pillar. [2]

The first Pillar Saint was known as Simeon Stylites the Elder. He climbed a pillar in Syria in 423 and remained there until his death 37 years later. Many followed in his footsteps - at first in the Middle East but later the practice (or madness depending on your viewpoint) spread further north but gradually died out during the Ottoman period.

People would visit a stylite with offerings of food and drink and he would let down a basket on a rope to receive them. There is no agreement about how the stylites relieved themselves. Some say waste was passed down in baskets and others that the base of the pillars were stained with urine and excrement.

The first Athens stylite seems to have been a bit late on the scene and took up position around 1800, building a small hut to protect himself from the elements. The last one at Athens died around 1860 and the Greek authorities removed the stylite's hut some time in the early 20th Century as it was not in keeping with the Greek temple.

Unbelievably there is still at least one active stylite in the 21st Century. A Google search revealed that there was a monk named Maxime Qavtaradze living alone on a natural rock pillar in Georgia as recently as 2018 and he might well still be there. Admittedly he lives in relative luxury compared with the stylites of old but he is still up there mortifying the flesh.

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Maxime Qavtaradze's pillar in Georgia [7]

The photo below shows the Temple of Olympian Zeus as it was in 2016.

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The Temple in 2016 [2]

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a stone theatre on the southwest slope of the Acropolis. It was completed in 161 AD by the wealthy Athenian Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife Aspasia Annia Regilla. It was roofed with wood made of 'cedar of Lebanon' and could hold an audience of 5,000 people. It was destroyed by the Heruli (an East Germanic tribe) in 267 AD and left in ruins until the 1950s when it was restored and is now the main venue for the Athens Festival held each year.


The album postcard below shows the exterior of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus as it was in 1936. This is a view from behind the stage area.

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Postcard showing the Odeon of Herodes Atticus [1]

The image below from about 1880 shows the interior of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus before renovation.

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Image showing the interior of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus before renovation [2]

I took the photo below from the Acropolis looking down on the Odeon of Herodes Atticus during a work assignment in Athens in 2010.

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Photo showing the Odeon of Herodes Atticus [3]

Description of an Athens Visit on Moldavia

Our album gives no verbal account of the visit to Athens - or to anywhere else come to that. However I have come across an account by a newspaper reporter who visited Athens on Moldavia which was printed on 29 August. I can't check whether it was the same cruise as the name of the reporter is not given in the article but it is quite possible.

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Account of a visit to Athens from Moldavia in August 1936 [8]

Image Credits

  1. From the website owner's album from the voyage
  2. By courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
  3. Website owner's personal photos
  4. Found on the internet with unknown provenance
  5. By courtesy of Google Earth
  6. By courtesy of History Extra
  7. By courtesy of Ancient Origins
  8. By courtesy of the Western Morning News and Daily Gazette