Travels in Greece
Looking down on the Odeon of Herodes Atticus
from the south wall of the Acropolis

The Plaka, the Agora, and the Approach to the Acropolis

Looking down a street in the Plaka The Plaka is the oldest part of the city. Its narrow streets wind up towards the north face of the Acropolis following ceremonial paths from ancient times. The Plaka district is bordered by the ancient Agora to the west, the Acropolis to the southwest, Leofóros Amalias to the southeast and east, and Mitropoleos Othonos to the north. In modern times it is more accurately dubbed the 'tourist' district, catering to visitors from around europe, and around the world. There are hundreds of small shops and restaurants selling every food and product of the country.

More about the Plaka later. I would spent a fair amount of time there over the next few days. It was midway through the afternoon so I decided to head upwards toward the Acropolis. Not being sure which way to head among the Plaka's narrow streets, I simply headed 'uphill'.

One of the things to keep in mind when passing through the Plaka is that Greek shopowners and restauranteurs are very astute businessmen. If you see a rustic, hand-painted sign with an arrow pointing to the Acropolis, don't expect it to take you there. At least not until you've had a chance to go past or even through a restaurant. Or three.

Eventually all the pathways converge to one broad paved walkway, and the buildings on both sides drop away, affording a view of the north face of the Acropolis on your left, and a panorama of the ancient Greek Agora with the mountains beyond on your right. One of the last buildings is the Acropolis Restaurant, which turns out to be a popular place in the evening. Like most restaurants in the district, most of it's seating is outdoors, under trees and trellises. It offers an especially good panoramic view of the city stretching out towards the encircling mountains in the north and west.

The north face of the Acropolis shows many details - areas of the cliff face carved and eroded over the centuries, areas where stones have been laid in the walls or as parts of ancient buildings, gone now but for remnants of their foundations. The only building that still shows on the north face is the Eréchthion, whose broad porch faces directly to the north.

View from the Areopagus As you round the northwest corner, you will see on your right a large stone outcropping with a bronze commemorative plaque on one corner, and a partial stairway carved into its side, worn down by footsteps over many, many years. This is the Areopagus, or 'Hill of Curses'. Here the magistrates of acnient Athens passed judgement on serious crimes, here St.Paul spoke in 54 A.D., and here the Greeks stood and hurled their bullets and curses at Turkish troops occupying the Acropolis during the struggle for independence.

It is a short but difficult scramble to the top of the rock. The surface is steep, and jagged and slippery in turns. The view of the Acropolis from here is lovely, though, with the white marble climbing upwards from the surrounding greenery. If you look closer, you can see people climbing the ramps and steps up to the Beulé Gate.

Looking in the opposite direction you can see all of the ancient Greek Agora, or marketplace. Here, at the shop of a shoemaker, Socrates gave his famous talks. This is a large archeological site, with the well preserved Temple of Hephaistos at the far left (west) and the rebuilt Stoa of Attalos at the far right (east). In between are a vast array of building foundations and fragments. The Temple of Hephaistos is also sometimes called the Thesío, because of the carvings above the columns showing the adventures of Theseus. One of the striking things about any high-level view of the Agora is the greenery. It is an island of greenery facing a blurred sea of white cement buildings to the north.

Scrambling down the Areopagus, I followed the flow of visitors to the tourist office, and bought a ticket to enter the Acropolis. I then found myself caught up again in the flow of people up the zig-zag pathway made alternately of cement, marble, and slate. As I climbed the winding path up to the Beulé gate, the view became an increasing panorama. To the southwest there is Filopappou Hill, with its monument and theater, as well as the Prison of Socrates. To the south is a close-packed sea of buildings continuing uninterrupted toward Piraeus, with a hint of the real sea beyond.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

As I climbed higher, I looked down on the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, built around 161 A.D. by a wealthy Athenian in memory of his wife, It is still used frequently for outdoor performances during the summer Athens Festival. I later found one of the festival brochures, whose schedule included everything from orchestral performances, to popular singers, to the Dance Theater of Harlem. It must be a spectacular place for night time performances -- with the stoa and the floodlit Parthenon as decoration.

Backing up a bit you can get a better view of the three storey portion of the Stoa with its stacked arches, and Filopappou Hill as a backdrop. The white stone seats in the Odeon are a relatively modern feature. The Stoa, once largely destroyed, was rebuilt painstakingly by American archeologists in the 1950's, and gives a good impression of how it must have looked when it was built, eighteen and a half centuries ago.

©1997 Stephen L. Spanoudis; All Rights Reserved

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