So the Parthenon is Just...There?
A list of the kinds of art I saw in Athens (and where I saw them)
The multiple reasons why I was so excited about the art I saw in Athens
My relationship with Greece when it comes to my creative practice
At the Museum of the Ancient Agora observing how even a body-less man is taller than me.
Athens was like an art history book come to life, not just in a Reading Rainbow meets History Channel kind of way, but in an ultimate immersion 4D movie VR kind of way. Art was everywhere in Athens, either painted on the streets, stuffed into a museum, or looming off in the distance. So, today that’s what I’m going to talk about: The kind of art I saw in Athens and how it made me—an art student and life-long history nerd—feel.
The Ancient Agora
Like the title suggests, seeing the Parthenon resting above the horizon no matter where in Athens I went was inconceivable. As an artist, an art history student, and a general fan of history, I couldn’t fully wrap my mind around the fact that it was just . . . there! The fact I was American also probably played a part in my perpetual state of mind-boggle because Americans tend to be blown away by old stuff. After all, there aren’t a lot of old things in the U.S. because the country is so new. America as it is today was formed around 1600 CE (more or less) and all the history that existed before that has been either partly or fully erased in a variety of ways.
All that said, I took a bunch of photographs of all the old things I saw in Athens. Here’s a few of them accompanied, naturally, by my thoughts.
I had honestly never heard of the Ancient Agora before actually seeing it in person, and even then, the grandness of it didn’t sink in until I started playing Assassins Creed: Odyssey two years later. I didn’t see the entirety of the complex, and the mini tour we had was, well, mini; it was understood, but brief, like the radio edit of a pop song. That’s not a complaint—it was just the nature of our trip—but I really would love to take my time and explore it all if I ever were to be there again.
Museum of the Ancient Agora
Funny enough, it didn’t click that the random mini museum near the Ancient Agora was the Ancient Agora Museum. It was just so . . . quiet. Minimal signage, no security, and only two other visitors aside from our party of 30. The vibe of this place wasn’t a turnoff, though; it just caught me by surprise when I realized the obvious three years later.
Churches & Mosques
We stayed in a part of Athens called Monastiraki, which translates to “little monastery”—named after a 10th century church, the Church of the Pantanassa. I also saw a large cathedral somewhere near the statue of Pericles (I think) and a small mosque in Monastiraki Square.
A part of me thought I would be underwhelmed by the Parthenon—like it was something that had been overhyped in a lot of different ways for a lot of different reasons—but I’ll admit, it was an impressive sight to see. Thing is, I saw its grandeur in glimpses; I’d get flashes of wow, that’s one helluva feat, only to have that feeling be interrupted by the horde of visitors I was fighting my way through. I don’t think the site is usually that crowded, but our tour group visited it on the day it was free entry for everyone.
Subway mini museums
Some metro stations had artifacts on display. I found this 1) Exciting and 2) Fascinating because to put ancient artifacts in busy subway stations creates a feeling of “We [Greece] are displaying this because we value it” while also saying “We have so much of this stuff, we don’t mind leaving some of it in the subway”.
These may have honestly been more intriguing than the Parthenon constantly over yonder. Athens seemed to have a good number of ruins that were just . . . around.
Museum of Anthropology
There’s no way to summarize all that’s in the Museum of Anthropology, but I can say that it’s worth a trip. You’ll see all your favorite art history stars, from steles to kore to the Mask of Agamemnon.
Museum of the Acropolis
This museum was very cool, especially because it’s site-specific (as in to say, its location is directly tied to its contents). I loved how many of the items on display were excavated from essentially next door. After all, the origins of many objects in Western art & history museums can sometimes get a little, shall we say, surprising? Messy? Shifty AF? Some museum artifacts were straight up stolen from other civilizations at some point in history, adding another layer (and list of ethical questions) to their modern day display. It was the exact opposite situation in the Acropolis museum.
That in mind, perhaps you’d be interested in reading about the Elgin marbles (also more accurately called the Parthenon marbles). The short of it? 200 years ago a British nobleman “rescued” some statues from the Parthenon, and they eventually found their way to the British Museum. For a while Greece has been asking for their statues back to no avail, but with Brexit now afoot, things may change.
The flea market at Monastiraki, early morning.
The street art in Athens was definitely my biggest art-related surprise.
Two murals in Monastiraki
They were everywhere, some in unexpected places. And, to be honest, I sometimes had a hard time discerning what was a mural and what was graffiti.
Remnants of the stress that the recession caused, from what I understand. I was most surprised to see it on government buildings. Overall, though, the graffiti in Athens was gorgeous to look at. The layers, the colors, the languages, the . . . everything. As a collage artist, I couldn’t help but be attracted to it.
I didn’t get to see any modern art in Athens, but I still want to make note of it because even if I didn’t see it, I knew Athens was more than just spray paint and marble columns. Here’s a quick list of contemporary art museums.
A view of the Acropolis from Ares Rock.
This was the first international trip I took that wasn’t arts based, which had its pros and cons. On the downside, it was pretty lame being the only person in the group who could see the layers in all the architecture and artifacts, the only person who had the eye of an artist and a historian. It was also lonely being the only one who seemed to have a serious interest in the subject matter, regardless of my major; I had even just finished a (fantastic) class called Greeks in a Diverse World in the semester prior to my arrival in Athens because I enjoyed the subject that much. On the upside, though, it was unique experiencing a country not from an arts perspective because I got to experience things I probably would not have had the trip been about art.
However, I think that I would have found the creative spirit in Greece no matter what the trip was about because I’m just drawn to it. I’ve had a profound interest in Greek myth since my dad bought God of War II from Kmart in over a decade ago. Googling walkthroughs led to a deep research rabbit hole of everything related to Greek myth, which then led to me to create my own reference book of Greek mythological figures when I was 13 (and I used a drawing of a harpy from that reference book in my high school Center for the Arts application). In short, Greek myth is what sparked my interest in storytelling, the way it captures history, identity, language, character, visual art, written text, reinterpretations, representation, the list goes on and on.
But hey, here's something fun! It's a LEGO model of the Acropolis! This was a temporary display at the Acropolis Museum. You can read more about it here.