This blog is about my travels. At home in New Zealand, in other parts of Oceania, North, Central and South America and in Europe.
High on a a rocky outcrop, right in the heart of what was ancient Athens, stands the Acropolis. You can get there by walking up the winding cobbled path, fringed by olive trees, to the top of the hill. The views across the rest of Athens and the sea are amazing. The weather was perfect and extremely hot (38C) when I was there. Near the entrance is a reconstructed outdoor theatre, they hold shows there, and I am sure it must be quite something to attend a performance in such a spectacular setting!
As I wandered up the path towards the entrance of the Acropolis, I got a better view of the outdoor theatre, as well as the sweeping views of the city. The main entrance is really something, the ancient columns are still standing, and you can walk underneath them. The structure is being reconstructed, so you can see newer bits of marble and scaffolding in place.
The reconstruction work is being carefully done using ultra modern techniques, for instance special lasers to clean the marble blocks.
Once through the main entrance to the Acropolis, there are several main buildings. The most famous of these is the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to Athena, goddess of wisdom. She is the goddess that Athens is named after, and one of the most important deities from ancient Greece. The Parthenon building is nearly 2,500 years old, construction on the building began in 438BC.
The artworks in the temple are amazing marble sculptures depicting a mythical battle between centaurs and humans. The Parthenon was originally constructed to thank the gods for victory in battle over the invading Persians.
The buildings of the Acropolis have been through a lot over their over two thousand year history. In 1687, many of the buildings on the Acropolis were seriously damaged after being hit by a cannonball during a siege. In 1801, Englishman Thomas Bruce decided to chisel the friezes of the Parthenon off and take them back to England. They were sold to the British museum, where they remain. This is still very controversial and Greece wants them to come back to Greece! Although the Parthenon friezes have been removed, a lot of the original detail remains, and it is slowly being restored to something closer to it's original state.
One of the other most famous buildings on the Acropolis, is the temple of Athena. On one side there are several attendants to Athena, which support the roof on one side of the temple. An olive tree is planted nearby, one has traditionally been kept there, because it was believed that Athena brought olives to humankind.
Just down from the Acropolis, is another rocky outcrop, the Aeropagus. This place turns up in ancient Greek mythology, the gods were said to have tried one another for murder. It is also where the ancient Greeks tried ordinary people for crimes. The punishment was being pushed over the side! Yikes!
The Roman Agora (marketplace) was built a bit later than the Greek Agora, when the Romans had taken over. It was built in around 19-11BC to extend on the main shopping area in Ancient Athens (the Greek Agora). Kind of like overflow car parking space.
At one end of the Agora is amazing structure, the Tower of the Winds. Built in 50BC, is the world's first meterological station. This 2050 year old structure contained a combination of sundials, a water clock and a wind vane. The friezes on the outside of the Tower are eight wind gods. It operated as a clock tower and weather prediction service, and was handily located right in the middle of the town shopping centre. There have been a lot of replicas of this building, particularly from the 18th and 19th Century, when many parts of Europe were super obsessed with everything from the ancient world.
The Greek Agora was the main public meeting place in Ancient Athens. From about 1000 BC, Greek citizens would come to this area to hear statements from the King or ruling council.
The Agora was also a marketplace. Kind of the shopping mall of the time, where you could go to get the latest toga or shop for olive oil. The philosopher Diogenes once lived in a barrel in the Agora - as part of his anti-materialist philosophy. Despite Diogenes advice that excessive and unnecessary consumer goods do not make people happy, most people in the Agora ignored his wise words and the fires of commerce burned bright.
One of the first things I went to see was the ancient Hadrian's Library. It was built in 132 AD in the time of the Roman emperor Hadrian. One corner of the building contained papyrus scrolls, there were also reading rooms and lecture halls. This was a culture that valued learning! The building also contained an internal courtyard with a decorative pool. Parts of decorative mosaics on the floor are still visible. It must have been a beautiful building. I'm also always amazed by the skill of the archaeologists who work out so much about what went on thousands of years ago.
From Madrid I traveled to Greece. When I arrived in Athens, I caught the train to the centre, and got my first glimpse of the amazing Acropolis in the evening light. I got settled in and after dinner I went for an evening walk. It was very warm, and there was a full moon shining on the ruins, and the air had the delicious smell of night jasmine.
I caught the bus out to Portugal. I didn't have much time on this leg of my journey, but I wanted to see Lisbon.
I got less time there than I wanted, my bus had been cancelled, so I had to take a later one, but I got there! I wandered through the cobbled streets of the Alfama in the dreamy afternoon light.
I walked up to the Castillo de São Jorge, which had a great view over Lisbon and across the sea. The moorish castle was built in the 11th century.
From Madrid I took the train to Toledo. Toledo is completely soaked, steeped, saturated in history, and as such is a UNESCO world heritage site. It was a fortified city under the Romans, and then was the capital of the Kingdom of the Visigoths. During the period of moorish rule many beautiful mosques were built. After the reconquista these were converted to Christian churches, but a lot of the beautiful moorish architecture remains. Toledo is called the city of three cultures, due to the Islamic, Christian and also long history of Jewish heritage in the city.
Wandering around the winding medieval streets of Toledo is an experience in itself. It's kind of interesting to see medieval doors with letterboxes and cobbled carparks, well, particularly for someone like me from the new world where most of our buildings were built quite recently.
Toledo Cathedral is considered one of the most magnificent cathedrals in the high Gothic style in Spain. It was started in 1226 built from white limestone from quarries near Toledo.
From Madrid, I caught the bus to the small town of Manzanares el Real.
While I was there I visited the medieval Manzanares el Real castle. For many hundreds of years, Spanish Christians and Islamic north African forces battled for control of the Iberian peninsula. Spain was called Al-Andalus during the last occupation of Spain by Islamic forces, but became Espana after the reconquista (reconquest) of Spain in the 15th Century. It was just after this period that the Manzanares el Real castle was built.
The Castle was built in 1475 for Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, one of the most powerful men in Spain. It was built in a highly fortified way to ward off any attacks during the turbulent times following the reconquista. In 1566 the Mendoza family suffered financial misfortune and the castle was abandoned for a long time.
Another fantastic art gallery in Madrid is the Thyssen museum. It has paintings from medieval times right up to the 20th century. I particularly liked some of the paintings by Kandinsky, who would paint abstract paintings that were inspired by classical music. He expressed his interpretation of the music he heard through form and colour.
In one of Madrid's inner city parks, the Parque del Oeste there is an unusual sight. Round a corner and you see an actual Egyptian temple!
So how did it get there? It was originally built 2,200 years ago in upper Egypt, on the banks of the Nile. It was dedicated to the goddess Isis and stood in the same location for over 2000 years.
In 1960, the creation of a large dam meant that nearby archaeological sites were under threat. Spain helped to fund the international effort to protect these sites, and so as a token of it's gratitude, Egypt gave Spain this temple!
I queued up for my ticket to see inside the temple. Although the tickets are free, only a few people are allowed in at a time. It is quite a small space, although it is two stories. There are also some interactive exhibits about the history of the temple.
The outer part of the temple was originally part of a much larger structure. It was built to allow the rays of the sun to enter the temple at certain times of the day.
I am a traveller from New Zealand. My blog is to inform friends and family about my adventures. I hope you enjoy it!