Almost everywhere in Athens you look, you can find remnants of former civilizations in Athens. This blog discusses some of the more interesting museums and archaeological sites that we found.
National Archaeological Museum
The National Archaeological Museum is an incredible collection that begins with Neolithic vases and figures and proceed through Hellenistic sculptures, covering all areas in between and most artistic media. Although we found fascinating articles, and good explanations throughout the well-laid-out in generally chronological order (by period or by theme) and documented museum, we were especially impressed by a number of classes of art, and a few pieces, in particular. Among these are Cycladic art, from the Cyclades Islands, dates from about 3200-2800 BC. Although this work included a wide range of pottery (including a fun and functional “hedgehog cup”, “nipple vases” ), bronze and obsidian tools and silver figures it is most famous for two much more unusual burial items:
- Frying-pan” clay figures, whose significance and use is unknown (possibly plates, drums or measuring units?), have the shape of pans but have incised designs, such as those that represent the sky or the sea;
- Graceful, stylized, violin-shaped, white marble figurines of people (especially naked women) with folded arms and vaguely recognized features that were painted (often in shades of blues and blacks). These items, which were valued and sought throughout Greece, ae very reminiscent of the clay, Chinese Han burial figurines which were produced about 2,500 years later.
The museum also contained Mycenean pressed gold burial items such as breastplates, armbands and especially, haunting and detailed death masks including, but not limited to one referred to as “Agamemnon’s death mask”.
They also used gold to make jewelry, cups, chalices and to decorate items such as sword handles. Other interesting Mycenean items include jewelry with amber, ivory and lapis lazuli; lovely wall paintings and a helmet made of boar tusks;
- Large-scale, life-like, marble carvings representing heroic figures (such as Hercules, or Herakles), gods, and beautiful women (kore) or men (kouros);
- Bronzes, initially created by hammering (such as the beautiful, life-size Horse with the Little Jockey) and later cast (like Marathon Boy, Zeus and Warrior from Boeoitia, the latter of which is a classic representative of Greek art’s Geometric Period);
- Early Classical Style marble statues who stances were more natural, such as though counterbalancing) and motions more fluid.
- Monumental sculptures of people that were intended to express power or personality attributes;
- Vases and there evolution through periods, such as Attic Black, Attic Red and the very different (particularly tall and slender) White Ground styles;
- Gold and Silver jewelry, including necklaces, earrings and increasingly complex gold wreaths (perhaps as alternatives to the highly honored laurel wreaths earned by champion athletes);
- Clay figurines, that were often informal and sometimes whimsical or used as toys (such as those with swinging arms);
- Frescos, especially those from ancient, 16C BC Thira tomb excavations.
Kerameikos Archaeological Site and Museum
This archeological site is based around a good-sized, partially excavated settlement and, most interestingly, a cemetery from roughly 850 B.C. The cemetery, still partially intact, displays some tombstones and monument in place and many more in the museum. These contain many headstones engraved with images, including some of entire families in high relief, objects buried with the individual and monuments that range from simple mementos to full-sized lions and bulls that were intended to portray the image of the individual. A very interesting site.
The Ancient Agora contains the remnants of ancient Athens’ political center and primary marketplace. It housed the city’s meeting halls, administrative offices, legal courts, theaters, schools, shopping centers, prisons and mint. The grounds consist primarily of rubble, a state in which it is likely to reman since so much of the original material was removed that UNESCO will not participate in any renovations. The only intact structure is now a beautiful and traditionally very functional second century B.C. tower
Tower of the Winds
This Second Century BC marble weather vane and water clock has carved friezes that classify the eight different winds. Its sundials displayed the time and whose complex water clock was used to determine official times
The remains of the Roman Agora, which was built by the Romans on the edge of the Ancient Agora, used to have a large concert hall named the Odeion of Agrippa as its centerpiece. Although the site consists primarily of foundations, column sections and marble slabs laying around the grounds, the highlight is the reconstructed, two-story stoa (or marketplace). This building houses a museum that categorizes objects recovered from the Agora in chronological order from the Neolithic, through Bronze and Iron Ages and the city’s Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods.
Wait, There’s More
Athens has so much history. The archeological sites give us some insight into how they lived, worked and played. We wonder what people 2,000 years from now will think of our civilization from the items they dig up from our lives.