June 2008 Newsletter: Special Feature
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 Special Feature: Heritage Walks in Athens
 4th Heritage Walk: The City Center from Antiquity to the Ottoman Period

(Continued from May's Issue)

STARTING POINT:
Thisio Station
TERMINUS:
Acropolis Station

The 4th walk takes us through all the centuries of the Athenian past; including those in which the city had been seriously diminished in size and had lost its allure for the outside world. The visitor will enjoy some fine views and also masterpieces of art and architecture.

  • (1) KERAMEIKOS: The official cemetery of ancient Athens from the 11th century BC until the 2nd century AD. The region received its name from the existence in the vicinity of many pottery or ceramic workshops. The walls of ancient Athens: One can still see the "lithologimata", three consecutive rows of stones that date from the classical times.

    Kerameikos Gates:Holy Gate:Dipylon
    : The Kerameikos Gates are the name of the official entrances to ancient Athens at this point. These gates divided the area into the inner and outer Kerameikos, where the tombs were placed. From the Holy Gate began the lera Odos, or Sacred Road, which led to the Shrine of Demeter in Eleusis. From the Dipylon Gate would begin the procession in the direction of the Acropolis during the Great Panethenaic Festival. The Dipylon was the largest gate of the ancient Greek world, its large size being useful for strategic and religious reasons alike. Outside the Dipylon began the road of Kerameikos, commencing in a square for ceremonies (gatherings, sacrifices and athletic competitions) in honour of the dead who were being buried in the nearby Public Memorial.

    Street of the Kerameikos
    : Just outside the Dipylon gate began the imposing Street of the Kerameikos, the so-called "Road to the Academy" that led to the most beautiful of the suburbs. It was here that Plato founded his school. The street was 39m wide and 1.5 km long, and along the sides of the road there were graves of prominent Athenians. On the left of the ancient Street of the Kerameikos, one could see the brightest of all monuments, the Public Memorial or "Polyandreion" that contained the graves of those Athenians that had died in war, who were cremated at public cost. According to Thucydides, it was here Pericles made his famous "Epitaphios" speech, to honor the first victims of the Peloponnesian War. In inner Kerameikos, on the inner side of the wall, stood the Pompeion, a structure used for the preparation of festival processions, built in three phases (400 BC; 2nd century AD; and 4th century AD). At the entrance stood an impressive propylon, and in front of it, a spacious plaza. Every four years, the Panathenaic procession began here.

    Kerameikos Museum
    : It holds a large and varied collection of burial vessels that date from the 11th century BC (Sub-Mycenaean period) until the 2nd century AD (Roman era), and grave gifts of various periods. An indicative list includes an iron sword, the oldest found on Greece (1025 BC); unique archaic pots bearing designs of roosters, lotus flowers, and mourners of the ancient period; lekythi, a type of pot used to contain perfume for the departed; a small lead box; a statuette bearing an inscription with curses of c. 400 BC, a case of sympathetic magic; archaic marble tomb plaques bearing moving inscriptions; and the burial stele of Dexileos (394-393 BC). Special mention should be made of the recently discovered Kouros (male figure) of the Sacred Gate (c. 600 BC), a great work that is thought to be the work of "the master sculptor of the Dipylon Gate".

  • (2) THE JEWISH SYNAGOGUE: The Beth Shalom Synagogue was built in 1935. The Romaniote Synagogue, exactly facing the former, was built in 1904 and is still in function but only on the major Jewish holidays. There is evidence supporting the presence of Jews in Athens since as early as the 3rd century BC. The first ever Synagogue in Athens is thought to have been housed in one of the buildings found within the boundary of the ancient agora.

  • (3) MUSEUM OF TRADITIONAL POTTERY: An interesting Museum displaying modern Greek ceramics, with representative pieces of work made in workshops from all over Greece, and a large collection of vessels. It is housed in a 19th century neoclassical building.

  • (4) BENAKI MUSEUM OF ISLAMIC ART: Antonis Benakis lived in Alexandria and was one of the first collectors of Islamic works of art. His collection includes 10,000 pieces covering 13 centuries of artistic creation, and is considered one of the best of its kind in the world. The exhibits are on display in a fine neoclassical building, recently restored. In the basement of the Museum lies one of the best preserved parts of the ancient city walls. The collection is exhibited in four halls and the works date from all periods of Islamic art. They include: A wood-carved door from Baghdad (8" century), a splendid piece of the late Ommayad period {No. 9121}. A wood-craved door from Takrit (9th century), a marvelous piece of Abbasid art {No. 9128). An Egyptian Fatimid plate (10th -11th century), made with metal colors, signed by the artist Muslim {No. 193761. A Carpet from Tiberias (10th century), made of natural fibers, decorated with Kufic inscriptions {No. 147351. A bronze astrolabe by the astronomer Ibn Al-Sarraj, from Aleppo (1328-1329) {No. 13178}. A ceramic egg from Iznik (Nicaea), of the 16th century, which was once part of the "Dome of the Rock" mosque in Jerusalem {No. 9}. A Calligrapher's box of 1587 for collecting penholders, containing ivory inset, signed by Muhammad Munshi Ghaznavi from Gujarat {No. 10181}. Golden Qajar jewels (18th-19th century) from Persia. A unique collection alike for quality and quantity with a total of 224 pieces. (No. 21549217721. (cnr Dipylou and Asomaton Sts, tel.: 210 3225550)

  • (5) CHURCH OF AGHIOI ASOMATOI: A four-columned cross-in-square church with an Athenian-style dome (second half of the 11th century). Restoration work in 1955-60 altered the original Byzantine style.

  • (6) ABYSSINIA SQUARE: Abissinia was once a name for Ethiopia, so probably this square was named after the few Ethiopians who once lived here. It is also known as "Paliatzidika", or "Yusurum", the family name of some local Jewish tradesmen. There are numerous antique shops in the area, and a bazaar is held every Sunday.

  • (7) MONASTIRAKI - PANTANASSA: Built in the 15th century as a basilica, probably incorporating the ruins of an older church. Once the main church of a women's monastery, and a dependency of the Kaisariani monastery, it was a major weaving center with a large estate, hence it was called the "Great Monastery". During the Greek Revolution (1826-1827), a great part of the fortune was lost, and the name was changed to "monastiraki" (small monastery) as it remains to this day. In front of the church, one could see a "square filled with carriages", which in the 19`h century was the stating point for carriages traveling to and from Piraeus or Kifissia.

  • (8) TZISDARAKI MOSQUE: Built in 1759 by Tzisdarakis, then Voevod of Athens, who removed the 17th column from the Olympieion, and turned it into lime to build the mosque. After this act, the Sultan appointed a new Voevod in his place! The Mosque now houses the wonderful collection of ceramics of the Greek Folk Art Museum, a donation of V. Kyriazopoulos.

  • (9) HADRIAN'S LIBRARY: A rectangular building (122 x 82m) built in 132 AD by the Roman emperor Hadrian. Seen from above, it formed a peristyle courtyard (that is with a colonnade), with special rooms for keeping papyri and books, lecture halls, etc. The impressive structure was partly destroyed by the Herules in 267 AD. It was repaired at the beginning of the 5th century AD. At the same time, a beautiful quatrefoil church was constructed on the grounds of the atrium, a luxurious structure with exquisite mosaics, thought to be the work of the empress Athenais-Eudocia. Somewhere between the 11th and 12th centuries, a small church was built on the west propylon of the Library, where Areos St stands today, namely the church of "Aghioi Asomatoi on the steps" (now demolished). Also in the 11th century, and at the center of the atrium, the early Christian church was transformed into the medieval church of "Megali Panaghia". During Ottoman rule, this was the location of the "Upper Bazaar", the commercial center of the times, with more or less a hundred proprietors. On the southwest side was the Voevodalik, the residence of the Voevod (the Turkish Commander). Close by, near today's Mitropoleos St, one could see the seat of the Demogerontia, or Kouseyio, the seat of the Greek Administration. Until the end of Ottoman rule (1833), this area served a purpose similar to that of the ancient Greek Agora - an administrative and commercial center - for the Athenians. The bazaar at the east end of the Library was burnt down in 1884. Excavation and study of the monument then commenced, and it opened to the public for the first time in the summer of 2004.

  • (10) ROMAN AGORA: The natural extension of the ancient Greek Agora, built in the second half of the 1st century BC, with donations from Julius Caesar and Augustus. The Agora building (111 x 98 m.) had a large rectangular atrium surrounded by stoas, shops, and storerooms. The Ionic peristyle that survives dates from the 2nd century AD. The best preserved sections of the colonnades stand on the south and east sides. In excellent condition is the west entrance, known as the Gate of Athena Archegetis. On the south sides, one sees the remains of a fountain and a stairway that presumably led to an upper floor (maybe to the Agoranomion which supervised the market). A second propylon - of the Ionic order- and a row of shops mark the east side, while on the north one still sees the remains of the Vespasianae (public latrines; 1st century AD). The Roman Agora became even more significant after the terrible destruction of Athens by the Herules (267 AD), after which many activities of the Ancient Agora were transferred to the Roman Agora.

  • (11) FETHIYE DJAMI - MOSQUE OF THE CONQUEROR: Built in the 16th century, on the ruins of an early Christian basilica, within which a small mihrab had been formed for the visit of Mehmet II the Conquer in 1458. That is how the present building obtained its name. After the capture of Athens by Morosini (October 1687), and during the five-month Venetian rule, it was transformed into a Catholic Church, dedicated to Saint Dionysios. After the first liberation of Athens, and until the early 20th century it was adjacent to an army bakery. It is considered one of the oldest and finest Ottoman monuments in Athens.

  • (12) CLOCK OF ANDRONICUS CYRRISTOS or TOWER OF THE WINDS: An intriguing structure that had a hydraulic mechanism. This 1st century BC octagonal tower was built by Andronicus, an astronomer from the Syrian city of Cyrros, a city founded by the Macedonian Seleucides in the 3rd century BC. It is a combination of a weather vane, a sundial, and a hydraulic clock. The relief sculptures depicting the winds and their symbols are impressive. In early Christian times, it is thought to have been consecrated and converted to a Baptistery. In the 18th century, the clock became the "Mevlevi Teke" (a site for Sufi ceremonies), and was filled with green flags and other Islamic symbols. Every Friday, it witnessed the impressive "sema" (ceremonial dance) of the Dervishes. (cnr Aiolou St and I Pelopida St.)

  • (13) MEDRESE: Built in 1721 as an Islamic religious school. After liberation from Ottoman rule, it served as a prison. Only the entrance remains. A huge plane - tree, planted by the thief and prisoner Bibisis, became the much-hated symbol of the prison: ("On the Medrese's plane - tree no bird will take its rest, the leaves have dried, and there is poison in the roots"). Upon their release, prisoners used a special satirical expression, that was to become a well-known proverb: "wave me the plane - tree goodbye...".

  • (14) GREEK FOLK MUSIC MUSEUM: The former residence of the professor of the literature, and Minister in King Otho's government, Georgios Lassanis, now displays a collection of 1,200 Greek folk music instruments, from the 18th century until today.

  • (15) THE HAMAM OF ABIT EFFENDI: The impressive Athens Hamam (Baths) on Kyrristou St, a rare example of its kind in Greece, has been restored to its original form. It dates from the first century of the Ottoman rule. Apart from the purpose of cleansing the body, the hamam served an important social purpose in providing people with the opportunity for meeting, socializing and recreation, especially the women of Athens.

  • (16) BENIZELOS HOUSE: The oldest surviving mansion in Athens (17th - 18th century), once owned by the Benizelos - Palaiologos family, second in rank among the 12 leading families (archons) of Athens. (Adrianou St 96)

  • (17) CHURCH'S TOWER: A building complex on the corner of Hill and Epiharmou Streets that dates from the 18th and 19th centuries, widely known as "Church's Tower". The early structure, built in the first half of the 18th century, consists of a mansion in the form of a tower house. During the Greek Revolution, it became the residence of, and was as a result named after, the Irish general Richard Church. The complex contains one more house, which served as the residence of the English historian George Finlay after the Greek Revolution, in which he lived until his deep old age. (Junction of Scholeiou, Hill and Epiharmou Sts)

  • TRIPODON ST

  • ELLINIKI ETAIRIA

  • LYSICRATES' MONUMENT

  • ACROPOLIS STATION (M)

To read about these 4 locations, please refer to our March newsletter featuring Heritage Walk #1

Excerpt from: "Heritage Walks in Athens" by the Municipality of Athens Cultural Organization,
and by the Elliniki Etairia Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Environment and the Cultural Heritage


Next Month's Article:
Heritage Walk #5: MEDIEVAL AND CLASSICAL ATHENS

 

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