A month is far too short a time to assimilate the wondrous world of the Gods of Greek mythology.
Greek mythology, it is thought, evolved from a large collection of stories and poems, many told or sung by Minoan and Mycenaean singers, beginning as early as the 18th century BCE.
The Ancient Greeks believed that in the beginning, the world was in a state of nothingness, which they called chaos. Suddenly, from light, came Gaia (mother earth) and Uranus (the sky). According to the Theogony written by Hesiod, Uranus and Gaia had 6 sets of twins, called the first Titans.
Kronus, the youngest Titan, seized power from his father, Uranus, and ruled the cosmos with the rest of the Titans as his subordinates. He, Kronus, married his sister Rhea, and their offspring were: Zeus, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon, called the Olympians.
A 10-year war, named the Titanomachy (Titan war), broke out between the gods. Kronus and the Titans fought from Mount Othrys against his son, Zeus and the Olympians, who fought from Mount Olympus. The Titans were overthrown and banished from the upper world. Zeus and the Olympians won the war and became the final and permanent rulers of the cosmos. The Titan, Prometheus was spared from imprisonment because he had not fought against the Olympians and he was given the task of creating man. Prometheus shaped man standing on two feet, like a god, out of mud and Athena breathed life into the clay figure.
Zeus had multiple offspring but only Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus and Hermes, together with Zeus and his immortal siblings Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon are, according to Greek mythology, known as the Twelve Olympians. We saw references to these Olympian Gods as well as Zeus’s offspring, Dionysus, repeatedly in our exploration of Athens.
From this point on Greek mythology gets extremely complicated. There are immortals and mortals, demigods, heros and heroines, and all sorts of mythical creatures like dragons, giants, demons, ghosts, multi-formed creatures like the sphinx-head of a human and body of a lion; the minotaur-a bull headed monster; centaurs-half man, half horse; manticores-head of a human, body of a lion and tail with venomous spines; chimaera-fire breathing monsters with parts from multiple animals; cyclops-one eyed giants; cerberus-the 3-headed dog; pegasas-the white stallion with wings and so many more.
The naming of Athens
Cecrops the founder of beautiful city called Cecropia was said to be half-man half-snake. The gods of Olympus saw his lovely city and wanted to name it after one of them and become its patron and protector. Two rivals, Poseidon, the sea god, and Athena, the goddess of wisdom asked Zeus to choose between them. Instead Zeus decided that the two gods should each offer a gift to King Cecrops and his citizens and let them choose which gift was the best and therefore which god would be the patron of the city.
So on a lovely day the two gods presented their gifts. Poseidon was the first to present his gift. He loudly struck a rock with his trident and a gush of water spouted up from the ground assuring the citizens they would have plenty of water in their parched land.
However, as Poseidon was the god of the sea, the water was salty like the seas. Next up was the goddess Athena. She opened her hand and a single seed dropped to the ground, immediately growing into a lovely olive tree. The olive tree would provide food, oil and firewood. With one voice the citizens cheerfully selected Athena as their patroness and namesake of their city. To this day their remains one olive tree growing at the Acropolis that is said to have descended from that original tree.
When money was invented, the likeness of the goddess Athena and her sacred bird, the owl, were selected for each side of the coins.
Filopappou Hill is also known as the Hill of the Muses, and together with the hills of the Pnyx and the Nymphs these park-like hills are a great place for a quiet stroll. The hill offers some of the best photographic opportunities of the city, the sea and the Acropolis.
The tall Filopappou Monument, built 114-116 CE, crowns the summit of Filopappou Hill and is easily spotted from any location in Athens. The monument was built to honor the prominent Roman consul and senator, Gaius Julius Antiochus. Filopappou was his nickname and you can see him depicted on the monument riding his chariot.
On our way back down the hill we found the prison where Socrates was held. We also discovered some remains of the defensive “Wall of Themistocles” which was built in approximately 460 BCE.
There is one more infamous piece of history about Filopappou Hill. During the 15-year ‘Great Turkish War’, the Venetian, Captain-General Francesco Morosini (1619-1694), was under orders to capture Athens from the Turks. It was from this hill in September 1687, Morosini fired one cannon scoring a direct hit on the Turks gunpowder stored inside the Parthenon. The explosion destroyed the walls and cella (inner rooms), toppled columns and caused much of the ancient frieze, decorative and architectural elements to tumble to the ground. Morosini and the Venetians briefly captured Athens but were unable to hold it.
The Pnyx is a small hill approximately 1km to the west of the entrance of the Acropolis. The historical significance of this place is that the Pnyx was the meeting place for the world’s first democratic legislature. The hill is a semicircular shape and was ideal as a stage to address the crowds that gathered as early as the 6th to 4th centuries BCE.
During those democratic proceedings, laws were discussed and propositions brought forward. All citizens were deemed equal and had the right to speak. There was a rule that anyone over the age of 50 would be heard first. It would however generally be the leaders who would have dominated the greater part of the meetings.
Hill of the Nymphs
This small hill is located very close to the Pynx. The name of the hill is derived from an inscription that was dedicated to the nymphs. In times of antiquity, nymphs were worshipped and still today they are spoken about as if they are fairies. At the top of the hill is an observatory that was built in 1843.
The hill is worth visiting for the spectacular views of the Acropolis and the Parthenon in one direction and the sparkling Saronic Gulf in the opposite direction. We visited just as the sun was setting and it was inspiring!
Temple of Olympian Zeus
The Temple of Olympian Zeus was once the largest temple in Greece. At its completion the structure was 350 feet long by 135 feet wide (107×41 meters). 104 Corinthian columns were used, each standing 56 feet tall (17 meters). 48 of these columns stood in triple rows under the triangle shaped pediments and 56 columns were placed in double rows at the sides of the temple.
Work began on the temple in the 6th century BCE. However in 510 BCE work was abandoned and did not resume until 174 BCE, then a mere 10 years later in 164 BCE, work was halted once again.
It is said that a Roman General, in 86 BCE, took two of the columns to Rome for the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. In effect, these columns introduced the Corinthian style of architecture into Rome.
Emperor Hadrian, a great lover of Greek culture, financed the completion of the Temple of Zeus in 131- 132 CE. During the Panhellenic festival in 132 AD, Hadrian dedicated the temple to Olympian Zeus, the King of the Gods.
Little remains of this mighty Olympieion today; it is believed an earthquake in the middle ages caused most of the destruction. One writing in 1436 refers to 21 columns. In 1852 during a terrific wind storm one more column fell and it can still be seen exactly where it landed. Walking around this ancient site was an inspiring experience and seeing the remaining 15 Corinthian standing columns still gave us an idea of the impressive scale of this amazing temple.
The Acropolis of Athens
The Acropolis of Athens is a 7-acre UNESCO World Heritage site that sits on a rocky hilltop overlooking the city of Athens. The Acropolis is both the symbol of Ancient Greece and the symbol of Democracy. This world treasure deserves a place on your travel bucket list.
Evidence has been found that the hill was inhabited as far back as the fourth millennium BCE (4000-3001 BCE).
Most of the major temples, structures and present day ruins, including the Parthenon (a temple dedicated to Athena), Propylaia (gateway), Erechtheion, (a temple dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon) and Temple of Athena Nike (nike means victory) were rebuilt during the Golden Age of Athens (460–430 BCE) in the 5th century BCE. At least a dozen or more other temples were built but no longer exist today.
Independence Day is celebrated on March 25 in Greece. This date commemorates the start of the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire, and the formation of an independent Greece.
After the Greeks reclaimed their independence in 1829, the Acropolis was “cleansed” of all the non-Greek additions.
Most of the valuable ancient artifacts can be visited in the nearby Acropolis Museum.
The Temple known as the Parthenon or Temple of Athena Parthenos is located on the Acropolis in Athens. The word ‘Parthenon’ means the “temple of the virgin goddess”. The Temple, built between 447-432 BCE, is 228 feet long x 101 feet wide x 45 feet tall (69.5×30.9×13.72 meters) and was dedicated to the goddess Athena, t
The Parthenon survived as a temple dedicated to Athena for nearly one thousand years until late in the Roman Empire, in 435 CE when all pagan temples were closed. Later on it became a church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, then a mosque complete with a minaret and eventually an ammunition storage armory before being severely damaged by the Venetians in the late 17th century during the Morean War (1684–1699).
Decorated along the tops of the Parthenon were large tablets, alternating between a triglyph, a frieze with three vertical grooves and a metope, a frieze with a high relief carving. The frieze of the Parthenon had 92 metopes and according to the building records, the metope sculptures date to the years 446–440 BCE. The metopes of the east side of the Parthenon depicted the Gigantomachy – a mythical battle between the Olympian gods and the Giants. The metopes of the west end show the Amazonomachy – a mythical battle of the Athenians against the Amazons. The metopes of the south side show the Thessalian Centauromachy – battle of the Lapiths aided by Theseus against the half-man, half-horse Centaurs. The metopes on the north side of the Parthenon are of the war and sacking of Troy from the 13th-12th century BCE.
From 1801 to 1812, Britain’s Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin removed about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as sculptures from other buildings on the Acropolis and transported them by sea to Britain. Elgin later claimed to have obtained an official decree from the Turks who ruled Greece at the time, however no record has ever been found.
Less than half of the original metopes remain in Greece, displayed in the Acropolis Museum. Most of the surviving sculptures are in the British Museum in London, referred to as the Elgin Marbles, with a few pieces in the Louvre in Paris and in the National Museum of Denmark and in Rome.
It was truly a privilege to walk around this entire incredible Temple and to try and imagine the ceremonies that took place in the Parthenon high above the rest of the city of Athens. The well worn rocks were slippery from the millions of foot steps that have been before us.
The Acropolis Museum, opened in 2009, focuses exclusively on the findings of the archaeological site of the Acropolis of Athens and its surrounding slopes. There are nearly 4300 objects to view. The original museum, completed in 1874, was at the Acropolis but as excavations continued unearthing more artefacts, the collection eventually out grew it’s space. The museum itself was built on top of an archaeological site of two layers of modest, private roadside houses and workshops, one from the early Byzantine era and another from the classical era. Visitors can see and visit the ruins beneath the museum’s glass floors.
One additional motivation for the construction of the new museum was in the hopes of convincing the United Kingdom to return the Parthenon Marbles to their rightful home.
Ancient Agora of Athens & Museum
The Agora in Ancient Greece was the heart of the city, a large open space or public square surrounded by many public buildings and adorned with altars, temples, stoas, statues, fountains commercial spaces and open air markets. Citizens would meet to discuss politics and daily events at the stoas in the agora. A stoa was a covered walkway lined with columns, commonly for public use.
The Agora was used for social and religious activities, theatrical performances, athletic contests and of course, for business and commerce.
During excavation in the late 19th century, many lost treasures and sculptures were found. Eventually 360 modern day structures were demolished to expose the whole Agora we walked through. Once the excavation was complete in the 1950’s, the Stoa of Attalos, a large 2-story rectangular building with a long sequence of columns that had originally been constructed during the Hellenistic period was rebuilt using its original plans. An inscription on the stoa states it was originally built as a gift to the city of Athens, for his education received, by Attalos II, the ruler of Pergamon from 159-138 BCE. Pergamon was an ancient Greek city that is today in Turkey.
Most of the buildings in the Agora are not at all well preserved with the exception of the Stoa of Attalos and the Temple of Hephaestus, built in 449-415 BCE and said to be one of the best-preserved temples of Ancient Greece.
The Ancient Agora Museum opened in 1957 and it collection includes clay, bronze, glass and ceramic objects, jewelry, weaponry, sculptures, coins and inscriptions from the 7th-5th century BCE, as well as pottery from the Byzantine period and the Turkish occupation.
Studying the Greek gods and mythology could easily be a lifetime’s worth of work. Our month here has completely enriched us and we continue to slowly travel back in time following mankind’s path for the past 3000 years.
Homer’s epic poems, written in the 8th century BCE, The Iliad and The Odyssey as well as his contemporary Hesiod’s two writings, Theogony and Works and Days, (written circa 700 BCE) are some of the oldest literary accounts of the genesis of the world, the succession of the gods, the human ages and the origin of religious practices. Myths have also been preserved in some hymns and supplementing the written evidence are the pictorial representations of gods, heroes and mythic episodes seen in ancient vase paintings, carvings and artifacts.
Did you know the Romans had no gods of their own? Before Christianity, they borrowed the Greek gods and changed their names from Greek to Latin. The Roman version of Aphrodite became Venus, Apollo stayed as Apollo, Ares became Mars, Artemis became Diana, Athena became Minerva, Demeter became Ceres, Dionysus became Bacchus, Hades became Pluto, Hephaestus became Vulcan, Hera became Juno, Hermes became Mercury, Hestia became Vesta, Poseidon became Neptune and Zeus became Jupiter.
Greek mythology has had a major influence on western culture, arts, literature and civilization and is a significant part of all of our heritage.
Yamas from these Athenians,
Ted and Julia
View our Acropolis of Athens photo gallery here
View our Acropolis Museum photo gallery here
View our Archaeological Sites of Athens photo gallery here
- Ancient Agora of Athens
- Tower of the Winds
- Hadrian’s Library (Roman Agora)
- Hadrian’s Arch (Roman Agora)
- Philopappos’ Hill
- Philopappos’ Monument
- Temple of Olympian Zeus
View our Museum of the Ancient Agora of Athens photo gallery here