OUR FIRST FULL DAY IN ATHENS. We met at the CYA facility for an orientation by our hosts. Before getting into the fun stuff its necessary to lay down the law of the land. We also got a tour of the building where we have access to the lounge, printers, library, and laundry.
After we familiarized ourselves with the facility, we walked out the front door, took about twenty steps to enter the Panathenaic Stadium, otherwise known as Kallimarmaro (good marble), our next-door neighbor. The stadium was built with Pentellic marble from the nearby mountain, same as the Parthenon. Though most of what you see today is restoration, the size and location of the Roman edifice is still how Pausanias, the ancient traveler, describes it, except the river that once flowed has now become ebbing traffic. During the Panathenaic festival to Athena, the massive garment priestesses would spend four years weaving for the gigantic statue of Athena would embark from the stadium on that river, and the old one would be brought back down and deposited behind the stadium.
We returned to CYA for a lovely Greek lunch in the cafeteria. After a short break, we headed out for Philopapos. There was much to see on the way. A shortcut; from Pangrati you can cut through the national gardens to the main road that brings you to the capital square—and you get a free nature walk. Within the gardens is the Zappeion, an exhibition hall funded by a wealthy Greek, whose head is enclosed in the wall of the lobby! We also saw roman baths next to the busy avenue. They were discovered along with many other archeological remains unearthed with the construction of the metro.
Philopapos hill is aligned with the Acropolis, and the valley forming a ‘hallow’ or koiloi road is an ancient way from the sea into the center that is still used today, although reform has excluded cars from the precincts of the area nowadays. We made our way up to our first stop which was a byzantine church, the Church of Agios Demetrios Loubardiaris. Before the Christian church was erected the site was once a sanctuary to Ajax or Heracles; prominent military heroes not unlike Loubardiaris, who was a patron saint of the military. We also passed Socrates’ prison and got to marvel at the artistic and mosaic like pavement designed by the landscape architect Dimitris Pikionis. Pikionis was instrumental in making Philopapos the modern sanctuary it is today.
Imagine you’re a traveler, maybe you’re competing in the Olympic games. Its ancient Athens and you get off the ship from the port and you start walking to the Panathenaic stadium. You walk the koiloi for what seems like thousands of miles, it’s a busy road, and it’s the sun is beating down on you. You start to wonder why you even came to this place; and then just as you reach the top of the hill, you see this: