Tag Archives: Athens
One of the problems with Athens is that there are almost too many historic and archaeological sites — the city is full of fascinating landmarks, and many of them are in guarded areas that are closed during the best hours of sunrise and sunsets.
For ordinary tourists, this is no issue, since they simply want to explore the site. For photographers, who may want the backdrop provided by early morning or late afternoon sunlight, it’s a problem.
I had this problem with the Tower of the Winds. The site — which is one of the best-preserved in Athens — is closed at the times I would most like to shoot, and like many other archaeological sites, tripods are not allowed. But the site was too beautiful and too intriguing to be discouraged by these setbacks.
There is little that we know with certainty about the Tower of the Winds. It was built in the 1-st century BC by the Syrian astronomer Andronicus, and was meant to serve as a kind of timepiece. Designed in an octagonal shape, each side of the tower faces a point of the compass and each side is topped with a frieze depicting the Anemoi, or the eight winds of Greek mythology.
Sundials were placed beneath each frieze and inside the tower was a unique device known as a clepsydra, or water clock, which was powered by a stream of water flowing down from the Acropolis. Though it is lost now, the tower was originally topped with a weather vane, which may have also been used to predict the future as well as tell the direction of the wind.
Over the centuries, the tower had other purposes. Early Christians used it as a bell tower for a cathedral and later, when the area was under Ottoman rule, the tower was used by dervishes as a place of contemplation.
Nowadays, the restored tower is a tourist attraction, but it is the structure’s original purpose that intrigues me. In this city that gave so much to the world — from philosophy to democracy — I stand awestruck in front of what is essentially a two thousand-year-old weather station. I was determined to capture the significance of the site, using long exposure to emphasize the moving clouds behind the tower. It seemed appropriate to me to do this, given the tower’s importance to the Greeks as a timepiece and predictor of the future.
After exploring and photographing the Parthenon, I wandered around the Acropolis. It was easy to become lost in thought there, imagining Athens in the time of the philosophers. Eventually I made my way to the Areopagus, a large outcropping of rock to the west of the Acropolis. It was a rock with a dark history, as it was once the site of trials for those accused of homicide.
That wasn’t the only significance of the Areopagus. It is believed to be the site of a famous meeting between Alexander the Great and the philosopher Diogenes. Alexander, whose personal tutor was Aristotle, was as much a student of philosophy as a general. The brash young commander, who had already met and won the praise of many of Greece’s most influential philosophers, was dismayed that Diogenes had not yet come to meet him and chose to go to the philosopher himself. He found Diogenes on the Areopagus, reclining in the sun. Eager to win the philosopher’s respect, Alexander asked Diogenes if he wanted anything; the philosopher’s simple reply was “Stand out of my light.” Rather than feel insulted by the philosopher’s indifference, Alexander was impressed by his haughtiness.
I think of this meeting as I wander the Areopagus and set up my tripod to photograph the Acropolis from the other side. Looking over this grand city from this vantage point, I can imagine Diogenes with the sun on his face, speaking imperviously to Alexander. Athens can do that; it’s a city that inspires a feeling of grandeur. Lounging atop the Areopagus in the sun, I can imagine it must have been easy for the philosopher to speak indifferently to the man who conquered most of the known world by the time he was in his mid-twenties. I take my shots, and with a setting sun in my face, I feel a bit like a philosopher myself.
Visiting Greece was a dream — what traveler hasn’t imagined walking along ancient streets in the shadows of Olympian Gods? When I planned the trip to Greece, Athens was the first stop on my itinerary; I could hardly wait to see one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the birthplace of democracy and philosophy.
The first to visit and shoot in this grand city was the Acropolis and Parthenon. Athens is a city of stark contrasts, where the distant past seems to live alongside a very modern metropolis. I wanted to see Athens the way the ancient Greeks would have seen it; I wanted to approach the Parthenon, that beautiful temple to their patron, Athena, with the same sense of wonder and pride they must have felt.
I found what I think must be the best view of the Acropolis at the top of Philopappos Hill. The hill is in the center of Athens, but from here, the modern city of cars and busloads of tourists somehow manages to disappear. I walked among olive trees in the footsteps of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and at the top of the hill, I was rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Acropolis at dawn. Seeing the Acropolis from this vantage point, with modernity temporarily suspended, I think I felt something of what the ancients must have felt here…