Greece, Athens and Peloponesse (Aug/Sep 2023)


On Thursday 24 August we left from Amsterdam to Athens, where we stayed until 31 August in a brand new hotel, International Atene Hotel. The hotel is rather close to Omonia square where we had good public transport options to discover Athens. Near Omonia square there are about 5 hotels more, enough Greek restaurants, bakeries and small, cozy, patisseries and coffee shops. The surroundings of Omonia square are a bit shabby, but changes are made for a fresh start.

Well prepared we started with our program the next day with, off course, the National Archaeological Museum
, devoted to ancient Greek art. The museum can be done in one day, but is is better to reserve some more time: there is too much to see. The museum houses some of the most important artifacts from a variety of archaeological locations around Greece from prehistory to late antiquity. It is considered one of the greatest museums in the world and contains the richest collection of Greek Antiquity artifacts worldwide.
The Marathon Boy or Ephebe of Marathon, which was found in the Aegean Sea in the bay of Marathon in 1925, 340–330 BC, the Artemision bronze statue of Zeus (460 BC), the Jockey of Artemision (Hellenistic bronze statue of a young boy riding a horse (150–140 BC).
The Phrasikleia Kore is an Archaic Greek funerary statue by Aristion of Paros (550-540 BC). It was found carefully buried in the ancient city of Myrrhinous (modern Merenta) in Attica and excavated in 1972. The exceptional preservation of the statue and the intact nature of the polychromy elements makes the Phrasikleia Kore one of the most important works of Archaic art.
The gold elliptical funeral diadems from Shaft Grave III (Mycenae) and the golden funeral Mask of Agamemnon (1550–1500 BC).
The Varvakeion Athena, (Roman-era statue, 200-250 AD). It is generally considered to be the most faithful reproduction of the chryselephantine statue made by Phidias and his assistants, which once stood in the Parthenon.
And the Akrotiri Boxer fresco is one of many well preserved wall paintings of Thera (Santorini) and a leading example of Minoan painting (1700 BC) and the fresco with landscape in spring time at Akrotiri, both discovered in 1967.

On Saturday we had a long walk from Syntagma square to the Byzantine Museum
. We passed the National Library, the University and the Academy on our way to the parliament, where we were just in time for “changing the guard” and Lykeion, Aristoteles school.
The Byzantine Museum was founded in 1914, it was originally situated on the first floor of the Academy but it was later moved to the villa of the Duchesse de Plaisance, also known as the Ilissia villa, a building of 1848. It houses more than 25,000 exhibits with rare collections of pictures, scriptures, frescoes, pottery, fabrics, manuscripts, and copies of artefacts from the 3rd century AD to the Late Middle Ages. It is one of the most important museums in the world for Byzantine Art.

The Acropolis museum
 is next on Sunday. The museum was built to house every artifact found on the rock and on the surrounding slopes, from the Greek Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece. The exhibition shows beautiful Peplos and Antenor Kore, the original Karyatids Erechtheion figurines, with different hairstyle, Herakles and the Triton (A three-bodied Daemon which was part of the pediment of the Hekatompedon temple, built between 570–550 BC. Goddess Nike (1st-3rd century AD) and of course friezes (copies of) from the Parthenon. The museum is specially prepared for and ready to receive the controversial Elgin Marbles, now in the British museum waiting for their return.
The museum lies over the ruins of part of Roman and early Byzantine Athens.
We found out that we are already got tired from all the impressions so far, but we did not finished our program yet, so . . .

Monday 28 August we visited Piraeus
 which has a long recorded history, dating back to ancient Greece. The city was founded in the early 5th century BC, when plans to make it the new port of Athens were implemented. Nowadays Piraeus is one of the most important harbors of Greece, the 5th largest passenger port in Europe.
We went by public transport on a day-ticket, € 4,10 a person. Most impressive was the Archaeological Museum of Piraeus
. It had some excellent and really remarkable, bronze statues of The Piraeus Athena (4th century BC). The Piraeus Athena was discovered in 1959 by workers. The excavations uncovered an ancient burned down warehouse, which contained two groups of statues packed ready to be shipped. The Piraeus Athena was found along with a bronze statue of The Piraeus Artemis and The Piraeus Apollo amongst other artefacts, a collection now known as The Piraeus Bronzes. The museum offers also an open-air exhibition along the ruins of the Ancient Greek Theatre of Zea.

Until this day we visited mainly museums, but on Monday it was time for the Acropolis of Athens
. On our way to the top we passed the Theatre of Dionysus, an ancient Greek theatre. It is built on the south slope of the Acropolis hill and is originally a part of the sanctuary of Dionysus Eleuthereus.
Next is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, built by Herodes Atticus in memory of his Roman wife, Aspasia Annia Regilla in AD 161. It is a stone Roman theatre structure, located on the southwest slope of the Acropolis and was originally a steep-sloped theatre with a three-story stone front wall and a wooden roof made of expensive cedar of Lebanon timber. The Odeon was used as a venue for music concerts with an audience capacity of 5.000 and was destroyed and left in ruins by the Heruli in AD 267.
In 1950 it was renovated as one of the most famous stages in the world. A lot of great artists performed at the Odeon: in 1957 Maria, 1962 Frank Sinatra, 1984 Nana, 1991 Luciano Pavarotti, 1996 Sting, 2000 Elton John and in 2010 Andrea Bocelli.

The entrance to the Acropolis was a monumental gateway, the Propylaea. To the south of the entrance is the rather tiny
Temple of Athena Nike (421 BC). At the center of the Acropolis is the Parthenon or Temple of Athena Parthenos. The Parthenon was built in the 5th century BC in thanksgiving for the Hellenic victory over Persian Empire invaders during the Greco-Persian Wars. Like most Greek temples, the Parthenon also served as the city treasury. Construction started in 447 BC and was completed in 438 BC; work on the artwork and decorations continued until 432 BC. In the Morean War, a Venetian bomb landed on the Parthenon, which the Ottomans had used as a munitions dump, during the 1687 siege of the Acropolis. The explosion severely damaged the Parthenon. From 1800 to 1803, the 7th Earl of Elgin took down some of the surviving sculptures, now known as the Elgin Marbles, which, although he had the permission of the then Ottoman government, has subsequently become controversial.
East of the entrance and north of the Parthenon is the temple known as the Erechtheum
, or Temple of Athena Polias, an ancient Greek Ionic temple on the north side of the Acropolis, which was primarily dedicated to the goddess Athena. It was built, known from more recent scholarship, probably in the 430s, when it could have been part of the program of works instigated by Pericles. The temple is famous because of the Porch of the Maidens. The Maidens are all copies. Five of the originals are in the Acropolis Museum, the sixth is “kidnapped” and is exhibited in the British Museum in London.

Walking along the South side we visited the Roman Agora of Athens
, one of the biggest markets during 2500-1800 BC, governmental offices, the Temple of Hephaistos, 5th century BC and the reconstructed Stoa van Attalos, nowadays the Agora Museum.
Still some energy left. We walked to the antique district
Kerameikós, also known by its Latinized form Ceramicus It is an area of Athens located to the northwest of the Acropolis, which includes an extensive area both within and outside the ancient city walls, on both sides of the Dipylon Gate and by the banks of the Eridanos River. It was the potters' quarter of the city, from which the English word "ceramic" is derived, and was also the site of an important cemetery and numerous funerary sculptures erected along the Sacred Way, a road from Athens to Eleusis. At the cemetery we saw more relaxing turtles than people.

The last day in Athens, Wednesday 30 August, luckily another day to see as much as possible. From the metro station Evangelismos we walked a steep road to the cable car, to visit Mount Lykavittos
 for a magnificent view at The Acropolis. From Lykavittos we went to the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture our last plan for this day, this visit to Athens. The Benaki Museum offers again a beautiful exhibition of antique artefacts from the Classic (4th-5th century BC), Hellenistic and Roman periods (3rd BC-AD 3rd), Late Antique period (AD 4th– 9th), the Byzantium World (AD 9th-15th) and Greek Icons (AD 15th- 17th).
After The Benaki Museum we walk further to the Panathenaic Stadium
 situated at the foot of Ardittos Hill. This huge horseshoe-shaped structure hosted the first contemporary Olympic Games back in 1896 when they were revived for the first time since antiquity. It is built on the site of an ancient stadium constructed in 330 BC and later transformed by the Romans into an arena. It is the only stadium around the globe to be made out of white marble, hence the stadium's nickname Kallimarmaro (beautiful marble). Nowadays the stadium is used for large-scale events, with its capacity of 45.000 spectators.
From here we walked to the Temple of Olympian Zeus
, dedicated to "Olympian" Zeus, a name originating from his position as head of the Olympian gods. Construction began in the 6th century BC during the rule of the Athenian tyrants, who envisaged building the greatest temple in the ancient world, but it was not completed until the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD, some 638 years after the project had begun. During the Roman period, the temple, which included 104 colossal columns, about 17 m high, was renowned as the largest temple in Greece.
The Arch of Hadrian
 or Hadrian's Gate, is a monumental gateway, built in in 131 or 132, resembling a Roman triumphal arch to celebrate the arrival of Roman emperor Hadrian and to honor him for his many benefactions to the city. It spanned an ancient road from the center of Athens, Pláka, to the complex of structures on the eastern side of the city that included the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Pláka was developed mostly around the ruins of Ancient Agora of Athens and is the oldest district of Athens, continuously for more than 3.000 years inhabited, from the neolithic to the present day. Nowadays it is the district full of restaurants, bars and tourists. 

For pictures Athens press the picture


For visiting the Peloponnese, a peninsula located at the southern tip of the mainland, we rented a small car, just enough for 2 persons and the luggage. The Peloponnese is connected to the mainland by the Isthmus of Corinth, where the Corinth Canal was constructed in 1893 and nowadays also connected to the mainland by several bridges across the canal. The Peloponnese has a mountainous interior and deeply indented coasts and possesses four south-pointing peninsulas, the Messenian, the Mani, the Cape Malea (Epidaurus Limera), and the Argolid in the far northeast. Mount Taygetus in the south is the highest mountain in the Peloponnese, at 2,407 m. Other mountains are Cyllene (northeast, 2,376 m), Aroania (north, 2,355 m), Erymanthos and Panachaikon (northwest), Mainalon (center) and Parnon in the southeast, all ± 2.000 m. high.
The last trip we made to the Peloponnese was about 35 years ago. We planned to visit Epidaurus, Mycenae, Corinth, Olympia and maybe even Delphi. But unfortunately our driver was eliminated by Covid for 3 days, so we skipped some activities.
We booked a very nice small family hotel in the city of Nauplion (Nafplio) called Anemos Rooms& Appartments, a nice room and a fantastic host and staff. Nauplion is a very nice relaxed small town, about 170 km from the Airport, with an old history and lots of very tasteful and pleasant (fish)restaurants at the harbor or in the center. The chose this city because it is rather close to the several sites we wanted to visit.
Nauplion itself has 3 beautiful (guarding) fortresses, Palamidi (from our balcony we had a nice view on this) and Acronafplia, an old Venetian fortress Bourtzi, a small island situated as aa entrance to the harbor, and the Archeological Museum.
On Monday 4 September we make our first trip, not too far, just the Palamidi Fortress and then to Karathona for a beach view, because the sea is rather cold. The Palamidi Fortress is situated at the summit of Palamidi Hill and the view at the top from the city and other fortifications is stunning. It was built between 1711 and 1715 by the Venetians and consisted of a complex of bastions with water reservoirs, storerooms (ammunition and food) and barracks. The fortress is well preserved.
The day after (still recovering) we visit the Akronafplia Fortress, walking steps or using the elevator. After some search we discover the elevator, partly to the top. The Akronafplia ("Inner Castle"), 900 x 400 m, is the oldest part of the city of Nauplion. The fortress was first built in the 3rd century with thick walls that reach a height of 85 m. Until the 13th century, it was a town on its own. The arrival of the Venetians and the Franks transformed it into part of the town fortifications.

On Wednesday 6 September we drove to the Ancient Theatre of
is a theatre in the Greek city of Epidaurus, located on the southeast end of the sanctuary dedicated to the ancient Greek God of medicine, Asclepius. It is constructed in the late 4th century BC on the west side of Cynortion Mountain, near modern Lygourio, and belongs to the Epidaurus Municipality. The Theater is considered to be the most perfect ancient Greek theatre with regard to acoustics and aesthetics.

Mycenaean civilization, mainland Greece's (and Europe's) first major civilization, dominated the Peloponnese in the Bronze Age mainly from the palaces of MycenaePylos and Tiryns. The Mycenaean civilization collapsed suddenly at the end of the 2nd millennium BC. Archeological research has found that many of its cities and palaces show signs of destruction. The subsequent period, known as the Greek Dark Ages, is marked by an absence of written records.
It is Thursday and we are recovered enough to visit Mycenae. First we visit the Treasury of Atreus
 or Tomb of Agamemnon, which is a large the monumental Tholos, constructed between 1300 and 1250 BC. The main tomb consisted of a circular burial chamber, or thalamos, topped with a corbelled dome, but the question “who might have been buried here” remains.
We visit the onsite Museum, very busy, newly built, well presenting the artefacts. It gives a lot of information about ancient Mycenae and shows beautiful old tressures from the excavations. The ruins of the Acropolis of Mycenae
 with its Grave Cirkles, Cyclopean walls, and the entrance, The Lion Gate were impressive. The royal tombs correspondent to the Homeric description of the capital of Agamemnon, with the two royal Grave Circles, but it was a bit difficult to get a good impression of the Acropolis. At the top it started to rain with heavy winds, but lucky for us most of the tourists left, so we could again make some better pictures from the Lion Gate.

On Friday 8 September we went to the ruins of Ancient Tiryns, rather close to Nauplion, a fortress with very massive walls. It reached its height of importance between 1400 and 1200 BC, when it became one of the most important centers of the Mycenaean world, and in particular in Argolis. Its most notable features were its palace, its Cyclopean tunnels and especially its walls, which gave the city its Homeric epithet of "mighty walled Tiryns". Tiryns became associated with the mythical hero Heracles, as the city was the residence of Heracles during the period that he performed The Twelve Works.
Archeological museum in Nauplion, situated at the Sidagmatos Square, is housed in a magnificent Venetian building, dated from 1713. It features a historical presentation of the cultures of the Argolid, tools and pottery from the Stone Age, exceptional finds from the Bronze Age, such as the famous Mycenaean body armor from Dendra and aspects of Argolid daily life in the historical period.

In the afternoon we took the little ferry to the Venetian Fortress Bourtzi (“Tower”), the small island guarding the entrance of the harbor in ancient times. The fortress was constructed by the Venetians after the departure of Mahmut Pasha in 1473 and equipped with cannons. In 1502, the Venetians changed the fortifications on the southwest side into an independent rampart and erected an artificial mound of boulders to which they attached a chain. The chain was then connected to the city to prevent hostile ships from entering the harbor. This fortress is well renovated and gave a great view at Nauplion and its fortresses.

It is already Saturday and we drove to Ancient Corinth, which was one of the largest and most important cities of Greece, with a population of 90,000 in 400 BC. The Romans demolished Corinth in 146 BC, built a new city in its place in 44 BC, and later made it the provincial capital of Greece. The onsite Museum gave a fantastic view of the old age of Corinth.
Famous is also the
Corinth Canal. The canal connects the Gulf of Corinth in the Ionian Sea with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It is about 6.4 km in length and only 24.6 m wide, making it impossible for many modern ships. Nowadays the canal is more a touristic attraction. The construction start was in the year 67 under Roman Emperor Nero, but the project ceased shortly after his death. Construction started again in 1881, but many geological and financial problems it was only finished in 1893. The canal never became a success due to the narrowness, several landslides  and navigational problems.
We visited the Archaeological Museum
 of Corinth with beautiful sculptures and artefacts, the streets of ancient Corinth, the Roman Pirene fountain and the Apollo temple. High on the mountains we saw the Acrocorinth overlooking the ancient city, sometimes called “The most impressive of the acropolis of mainland Greece”. But we were rather late, almost closing time and a tough walk probably.
As an alternative we went to Ancient Nemea
 on our way back to Nauplion. The site has a little Museum with some elements from the excavations. The stadium has recently (± 1974) been discovered and could be entered by the athletes from a well-preserved vaulted entrance 36 m. long tunnel (320 BC), with ancient Greek graffiti on the walls. On the other side of the tunnel is the Apodyterion, or locker room. Athletes used this space to prepare for the competitions by removing their clothing and rubbing their body with olive oil. The stadium was used for the Nemean Games, which were held every two years. Nemea was one of the four sites for the competitions, beside Delphi, Isthmia, and Olympia.
Beautiful at the end of the day in lower sun: the Temple of Nemean Zeus
 (330 BC), located within a large sacred area with many buildings and features. The temple remains date back to the 4th century BC, but the temple was built on top of an earlier version dating back to the 6th century BC. It had 32 columns, only three of which remain standing today. Six columns have been reconstructed for reference when visiting the site.

On Sunday 10 September we planned a one day cruise from Tolo, south of Nauplion, to the islands of Hydra and Spetses. A early rise, the weather is ok and Tolo has a nice cozy harbor with little fishing boats. We arrived just before some big groups, so we found ourselves a good place on the boat. But the trip, starting at 8:30, was boring and a bit cold, but the boat was ok.
Hydra is a car and motorbike free island. Transport (luggage from guests, food and groceries) is mainly done by donkeys, which was extra relaxing. The island has many small, colorful streets, sometimes a bit steep, a small colorful cathedral and some cozy taverns completed our impressions. With enough time to visit Hydra was nice to visit.
The island of Spetses on the contrary is boring, busy with motorbikes and a lot of young, loudly people.
The trip back to Tolo was, shortly said, not really nice, only the sunset was beautiful. At 19:30 we arrived in Tolo.

Before we forget. We tried a lot of restaurants in Athens and in Nauplion. In Athens, especially in the Pláka district they were ok. But some in Nauplion were really great and to be mentioned: Pidalio and Mitato. Terrific Red Snapper, Greek salad, Lamb Souvlaki, Grilled vegetables, Anchovies, the Greek white wine Moschefilero and of course Ouzo.

Monday 11 September, our last day in Nauplion. We made a walk along the Arvanita Beach, where some people were sunbathing and swimming in clear water of acceptable warmth. From there we did the Arvanita Walk, along the foot of the Acronafplia fortress. Although the entrance was blocked, because of rock sliding danger, we walked, like other tourists, the path and were treated with some nice views at big sailing ships and rock formations, and finally ended at the boulevard, for a drink.

Tuesday 12 September we drove back to the airport of Athens, delivered the car, checked in, had some Greek food and flew back to Amsterdam were we arrived at 18:30, completely exhausted but very satisfied.

For pictures Peloponnese press the picture