Saturday, November 10, 2007

Athens: Theatre of Dionysus

The theatre of Dionysus, of all the sites in Greece, is probably the most exciting in terms of direct relationship to Greek literature: it was this space, cut into the hillside below the acropolis, that was in the minds of all the great dramatists when they wrote their plays. It was here that plays were performed at the great dramatic festivals, in those days when these classical texts were fresh and brand new literary achievements. It is also deceiving, however, to associate the modern remains with theatre in the classical period: originally there was wooden seating of some kind, which was replaced with stone benches in the fourth century; what we see today was constructed after the most famous era of drama in Athens, in Roman times. It is one of the more problematic sites to reconstruct, and it is often unclear what stones and columns belong to which era. But none of that detracts from the magic of the exact site where some of the most influential literature of all time was first played out. As I work through those literary masterpieces I will picture this site in my mind always.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Athens: τὸ Έρέχθειον

The Erektheion was one of my favorite structures in Athens. The unique design stands apart from the other standard building types, and it has a certain grace about it, sitting quietly in the shadow of the enormous Parthenon. It has three sections: the main temple, the north extension, and the porch; all three sections have separate roofs, and it is built at four different levels. It incorporates Ionic style columns of three different sizes. A relief frieze of Eleusinian stone decorated the outside of the building, perhaps depicting the birth of Erektheos.

The building we see today was built between 421-407 BC, perhaps designed by Mnesikles, who designed the Propylaia. The most famous features are undoubtedly the Καρυάτιδες, who make up the porch of the maidens, the female-figured architectural supports.