Wednesday, March 1, 2017

                                                             Bowled over by Zeus

The first time I saw the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, I was not quite—but almost—literally bowled over.  It was so completely unexpected and astonishing that I’m sure my dropped jaw and wide eyes made me look like a cartoon version of myself.  FYI, it has become my favorite historical site in the city.   

We had just that morning done The Big Sights/Sites—you know, starting at the Theatre of Dionysus, heading up the hill to the Odeon of Herod Atticus, and then making the final trek to the Acropolis at the summit.  So I had been suitably delighted (by the performing arts places) and impressed (by the seat of government & religion).  We had scrambled down the far side of the hill, walked through a street market, and found ourselves suddenly opposite a park with some extraordinarily tall columns—even more so because we’d had no idea they were there.  We crossed the road, found the entrance, and entered the temple grounds.

Before we even got to the temple ruins themselves, another feature of the site presented itself:  it is a sanctuary of sorts for stray dogs and cats.  There were bedding areas and portable dog houses, bowls of water and food, and half a dozen decently well-fed creatures of the canine and feline disposition lounging, strolling, sleeping, and generally ignoring us in favor of nature appreciation.  I loved this about the place and the Athenians!

The temple itself was marvelous in the pure sense of that word.  It was a marvel.  How in the world did they build those columns so very high, even considering the fact that each one is a series of stacked segments?  They’re still enormous!  Started in the 6th century BC and not completed until the 2nd AD (Sacred Destinations.com), the temple was more magnificent in its time (as one might expect), with one hundred and four 17m high columns laid out in a rectangle; now there are just fifteen still standing, and the one that has fallen over sometime in the 180 years has been left to lie across the lawn like a giant’s spine.  (I wasn't sure until I looked it up when it fell [1852], but I knew it was there in the 1830’s—the same time period that Greece reclaimed its independence from Turkish control—because one of the informational plaques on site shows a painting from that time period with all 16 columns still standing.) For those who are interested in Doric vs Ionic vs Corinthian, these are the latter.

This year, when I had the opportunity to go back and visit with students, it was different—the surprise was gone—but the pleasure in the aesthetics and the expansive, peaceful space was still quite the same.  

~Valerie Bijur Carlson

1 comment:

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.