Exploring Aegina

By: Christine Sears and Staren Henry

Hiking up Mt. Oros

Today was our first full day on the island of Aegina. We started out by hiking through the mud and rocky ground up Mount Oros (which means mountain, so it’s Mt. Mountain) to the Temple Zeus Elaionas.

Walking up to the Temple site

Mt. Oros

There isn’t much left of the original building, but we do have accounts from Pindar that solidify the usage of the site, probably from the sixth century BCE onwards. Altars to Zeus are typically found high up on mountain tops, especially ones that storm clouds frequently pass over. Aegina only has one natural spring on the entirety of the island, so temple was dedicated in the hopes that Zeus would give them water. Due to the fact that his symbol was the lightning bolt he was also connected with the weather and rain.

What little remains of the Temple of Zeus Elanios

The trail leading up to the site has been there for millennia – in fact, this trail has some of the earliest mile markers ever found. There are eight other trails up the mountain that are also based off of ones used in antiquity. Water continues to be the most expensive resource on Aegina to this day.

The church on the site of the temple

The site was also used as a place for meat distribution, with the remains of a stoa found full of dining rooms. It is unknown when the temple went out of use – the Church that stands there today was built from the stones of the stoa.

Temple of Athena Aphaia

Once we managed to climb back down the mountainside, we drove to the Temple of Athena Aphaia. Aphaia (from the Ancient Greek word φαίνω [phaino], meaning “appear”, though in this case it means “vanish”) was an Archaic goddess who later became equated with Athena. In the myth, she was captured by Cretan sailors, but she escaped and hid (supposedly in a cave just beyond the temple). When she emerged, she vanished into the air, supposedly being taken up to the gods.

The cave where Aphaia emerged from and then vanished, just a few feet away from her temple

Both pediments (though not onsite today) featured scenes from two separate Trojan wars, and were created in two different time periods. The Western pediment (which features the Homeric Trojan war with Ajax) was built in the Archaic period, while the Eastern pediment (which features Heracles battle against the Trojan king Laomedon) was rebuilt in the Classical period, likely due to damage caused to that side of the temple in a natural disaster.

Valerie presenting on the Temple of Athena Aphaia

Valerie talked to us about how the original excavators, C.R. Cockerell and Otto von Stackelberg, took a page out of their friend (and our bitterest enemy) Lord Elgin’s book and stole all the pedimental sculptures and brought them back to Munich. To this day Greece is still trying to recover the artifacts, but unlike with the Elgin Marbles, Cockerell and Stackelberg actually sold the sculptures to the king of Bavaria, adding an extra wrinkle to argument.

Temple of Athena Aphaia, western side
The group arranged in the style of a Pedimental Sculpture

We then headed to a lunch of fresh seafood beside the ocean, and the Professors freed us for the rest of the day to explore the island for ourselves. Some of us purchased pistachios and other pistachio products, as Aegina is lauded as having some of the best in the world. Tomorrow we return to Athens, and our journey through the Peloponnesus and the island of Aegina comes to an end!


The Acropolis

By: Carly Grudzinski and Christine Sears

This morning we were once up bright and early; we met at the Panathenaic Stadium again at 8:00am to start our trek to the Acropolis. Things weren’t looking so good as it was sprinkling and the forecast was calling for rain until tomorrow morning, but thankfully a little while after we got to the Acropolis museum the rain let up! Before we entered the museum, Professors Richter and Salowey stopped to give us some information about the museum as well as the Acropolis itself. Some interesting facts were that the Acropolis was a thriving natural area in ancient times, and that it was home to many small animals and even had a spring, though it is not accessible today. It was initially home to a fortress in the Mycenaean era, before being used exclusively for religious purposes in the Archaic and Classical periods.

Professor Richter told us about the Acropolis museum, and the many controversies that it created. One of these controversies was that building a new museum would require architects to cover a large excavation site; to overcome this, glass floors were utilized. These transparent floors allow not only museum patrons to observe the ground where artifacts are excavated, but they allow archaeologists to continue excavation.

We then went into the museum, checked our bags, and began viewing ancient art. This newer museum displays hundreds more objects than the old museum, including special vases dedicated to the nymphs in hopes of blessings for marriage, reliefs of body parts placed in the Sanctuary of Asclepius to heal people, statues of women in ecstasy from the Sanctuary of Dionysus, a treasury box from the Sanctuary of Aphrodite, and numerous Kore and Kouros votive figures.

The most noteworthy pieces we saw were the pedimental sculptures, continuous frieze, and metopes of the Parthenon. From Professor Richter, we learned that a large amount of the sculpture is missing because it was stolen by the British. He told us that the missing pieces are currently being displayed in the British Museum, and that Greece has asked for the pieces to be returned numerous times. Each time the rightful owners have requested the sculptures from the Parthenon, Great Britain has refused.

Their original argument for this was that Greece did not have the means to conserve and/or display these pieces, which is no longer the case. Now that there is a new Acropolis museum, Greece and its many art historians and conservators are more than capable of this. Great Britain now claims that the pieces are more valuable at the British Museum where they can be viewed by a larger audience.

After that, the group spent a few minutes in the gift shop and looking at other pieces before we finally ascended the Acropolis.

Once on the Acropolis, we were able to see the many ancient structures that still stand today; some of these include the Parthenon, Erechtheion, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the Propylaea.

The Propylaea is the gate that ancient (and modern) peoples had to enter before arriving at The Parthenon, and is characterized by large columns and a coffered ceiling. The Erechtheion is a temple that has caryatids (sculptures of women that serve as supporting columns) on a porch extending from the temple, and according to Greek mythology is where Poseidon struck the earth with his trident.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a large marble theatre that is still used today, and the Parthenon is one of Greece’s most famous temples, which attracts many tourists.

We learned a bit more about the conservation efforts being made on the Parthenon, as well as some stories about the Acropolis during World War II.

After a good amount of time both learning and taking photos, we headed back down the slopes to lunch and an evening on our own. Tomorrow brings yet another early day, but it’s one we all look forward to!