A for Athens

Learning Greek is arduous. Ναί (like nay) means yes and όχι (pronounced similar to okay) means no.

Speaking of languages, we came across an ancient writing system called Linear A, (currently undeciphered) used by the ancient Minoans on Greece’s island of Crete. Then there is Linear B, an adapted form of Linear A borrowed from the Minoans by the Mycenaean Greeks. (Linear B has been translated). Linear B script has been found on clay tablets and vases, dating from about 1400 BCE to 1200 BCE. Linear B is considered to be the oldest, most well preserved form of the Greek language that currently exists.

Greek Linear B Alphabet

Athens

The city of Athens, or Athina as the Greeks call it, in Attica, Greece was the major city of the polis or city-state of Athens as far back as the classical era, 480-323 BCE. Today this metropolis, the capital of Greece, has a current population of ~ 3 million people.

Athena and the rest of the Greek Gods may be in Greece’s distance past but the symbol for the goddess Athena was the wise owl. Athena was the patroness of Athens and still today the owl – Athene Noctua, is the symbol of the city. According to myth, an owl sat on Athena’s blind side, so that she could see the whole truth.

The Owl was the symbol for the goddess Athena.

Naming of Greece

In English we call this country Greece, but in ancient times the name of this country was Hellas or Hellada. Today the official name is the Hellenic Republic, “Helliniki Dimokratia”.

Greece comes from the Latin name Graecia, meaning land of the Greeks. It is unclear why the Romans called the country Graecia and its people Graeci, because the Greeks called their land Hellas and themselves Hellenes at least until the onset of Christianity (The Byzantine period). One explanation was the Romans believed “Hellenes” stood for pagan rituals, idolatry, a belief in Zeus and the twelve gods of Olympus and they wanted the people to adopt Christianity, so gave the country a new name and new identity.

Blue + white Greek flags at Panathenaic Stadium

National Observatory of Athens

Our apartment was very close to the National Observatory in the Thissio neighborhood of Athens. Founded in 1842, the observatory was the first scientific research institute built after Greece became independent in 1829.

A guard at the Visitor Center informed us the Observatory was closed to the public for the holidays, then suggested we write to the director to ask if we could visit the temporary outdoor collection of sundials. The director agreed so the second time we climbed the steep hill to the Observatory we gave our names to the guard who then invited us in to the garden for a private your. The exhibition of elegant sundials designed by Greek sculptor, Andreas Galanakis, was a delight as was the very pleasant guard who wandered around chatting with us. He even shared with us his secret viewing spot of the Acropolis.

This was our favorite sundial – isn’t she unique?

Perictione, the dancing woman sundial

Museum of Shadow Puppets

The Haridimos Karaghiozi Shadow Theater invites children from 2 to 102 to enter and enjoy the museum and if you are lucky, a shadow puppet show. One young couple with a boy were the only other attendees during our visit. Sotiris Haridimos is the passionate soul behind the amazing collection of 900 characters and sets. He was explaining to the boy how the puppets worked and the two of them put on an impromptu show moving their two puppets back and forth across the stage behind an opaque screen. It was such a treat to see!

Karaghiozi are Greek shadow puppet theaters, descendants, via the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, of ancient shadow puppets of the orient. Although Sotiris Haridimos has many puppets, his key figure is a male puppet called Karagiozi, who represents the struggle of the Greek people, particularly during the Turkish occupation. At one end of the screen is the Sultan’s palace, symbolizing affluence and at the other end is Karagiozi’s shack, symbolizing poverty. Karagiozi himself has a hump back, symbolizing the weight of the world. He has an overly large nose and one arm three times longer than the other. Many of the light-hearted stories performed are about Karagiozi’s efforts to get money by impersonating a person with authority like a sea-captain, a military officer or a doctor and using his intelligence to achieve small wins but which ultimately lead to problems and he is caught in his deception. Within the plot is a lot of symbolism, improvisation and historical references that make his shows enjoyable to children and adults.

Haridimos Karaghiozi Shadow Theater

Museum Alex Mylona – MOMus

MOMus is a contemporary art museum that showcases the work of Athenian sculptor, Alex Mylonas. She was a passionate artist whose works covers a period of 50+ years. She created in marble, copper, iron and bronze, as well as drawing and painting.

Alex Mylonas (1920-) opened her museum in 2004 in Athens and although this museum highlights the artist’s sculptures, a small section includes Mylonas’s recent colorful paintings. Mylonas organizes periodic exhibitions of artists from all over the world and she hopes her museum will continue to offer more temporary exhibitions. In the meantime MOMus is a museum where one can become acquainted with the work of this prolific, but little-exhibited, Greek artist.

On the ground floor there was a particularly good Museum Shop that was difficult to resist.

Museum Alex Mylona

Zappeion

The Zappeion, opened in 1888, was the first building to be built specifically for the revival of the modern Olympic Games. It was used during the 1896 Summer Olympics as the main fencing hall.

This striking building is located in the National Gardens in the heart of Athens and today is used as a conference center.

Zappeion Conference Center

Flisvos Marina

The weather fully cooperated the day we chose to visit this pretty marina. The skies were a spectacular shade of blue and the water was calm. We strolled around the marina admiring the yachts – Flisvos Marina caters to 115 feet (35 meter) and larger yachts. It has more than 150 berths for these larger yachts. It is a great place to go for a walk or a run and the marina is a favorite weekend destination where dozens of Athenian families were out enjoying the variety of cafes that line the boardwalk.

Flisvos Marina

Two weeks ago we posted a couple of photos about the ancient warship called a trireme in the blog entitled Cradle of Western Civilization, but we did not go into much detail. During our afternoon at Flisvos Marina we were able to get much closer to this interesting vessel. During the 7th century BCE, the Greek naval architects added a third bank of oarsmen and thereby produced a ship with all the speed and manoeuvrability of it two-line predecessor, but with vastly increased power. In the summer of 1987, a replica trireme, named ‘Olympias’ was built based on as much information as could be found. The Olympias was put through some trials and it performed spectacularly. The Trireme could sprint at more than 9 knots, travel for hours at 4 knots with half the crew rowing in turns, execute a 180° turn in one minute in an arc no wider than 2½ ship lengths and the crew were fully trained within a few short weeks.

The Trireme had 2 weapons. The first was it’s ram, a mighty timber jutting from the front, that was enveloped in bronze. The 10 spearmen and 4 archers onboard would have been their second weapon.

‘The Olympias’ – Reconstruction of a Trireme

The Hellenic Navy Battleship “G. Averoff” was also at the marina and we were able to board and tour this ship. This battle cruiser fought in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 as well as the first and second World Wars and was a symbol of heroism and pride for the Hellenic Navy and the Greek people. Today this historical battleship is used for teaching and as a museum open to the public.

Hellenic Navy Battleship, the “G. Averoff”

Famous people of Greece

Throughout history there have been so many Greeks that have left their mark on history including Saint Nicholas, Cleopatra, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Spartacus, Pythagoras, Homer, Archimedes, Aristotle Onassis, Hippocrates, Pericles and so many more.

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh,(1921-), the husband of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, was born in Greece. During the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922) the royal family, including baby Philip was exiled and the monarchy was eventually abolished in Greece.

Music

We heard some great Greek music during our stay and have added a number of songs to our Spotify list. (‘Epefte Vathia Siopi’ and ‘To Agalma’ by Giannis Poulopoulos; ‘Kokkino Garifallo’ by Giannis Patios, Haris Alexiou; ‘Roza’ by Dimitris Mitropanos; ‘Prin Hathi To Oniro Mas’ by Tolis Voskopoulos, Marinella; ‘Themes from Serpico’ and ‘Zorbas o Ellinas’ from Zorba the Greek as well as ‘Strose To Stroma Sou’ by Mikis Theodorakis and half a dozen songs by the talented voice of Haris Alexiou to name just a few.)

Many musicians use the distinctive and popular sounds of the bouzouki instrument, a member of the lute family with a pear shaped body, a flat top and a long neck. A bouzouki resembles a mandolin with its double strings but the bouzouki is tuned one octave lower than a mandolin.

If you are searching for a new sound we recommend listening to a few of these. Bouzouki music and a glass of mashika and you are all set.

Yamas from these Athenians,

Ted and Julia

View our B&M Theocharakis Foundation photo gallery here

View our Flisvos Marina photo gallery here

View our MOMUS photo gallery here

View our Museum of Shadow Puppets photo gallery here

View our National Observatory of Athens photo gallery here

View our Zappeion Hall Conference center photo gallery here

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