Saturday, February 16, 2008

Temple of Hephaistos

After all the raving I've done about these landmarks and landscapes of Greece, my praise will undoubtedly be worth less when I say that the Temple of Hephaistos is one of the truly spectacular sights of Greece. There are several factors which contribute to that estimate. In the first place, I'm particularly fond of Hephaistos as a character in Greek literature; this, of course, has little bearing on the temple. The temple is a perfect example of the simple complexity and mastery of form that Greek architecture displays. I know that this will sound like something straight from a textbook on Greek art and architecture, but I'm not sure how to describe it otherwise. It dominates its site with grace. It is far and away the most exciting thing to see in the agora, and it is enhanced by its station just slightly above the rest of the gathering place, on a small hill, and also with the Acropolis looming in the background on an even higher plane. But most of all, it is the completeness of its preservation which makes it one of the best ways to enjoy Greek architecture.

I visited the site on my first trip through Athens, before heading to Thera and Crete, and knew that I would have to come back before leaving. There was a further reason as well: just after I took the first picture on the first visit, my camera informed me that I was out of memory. I searched through the photos, seeking for something to delete, but I knew that I would have to buy more memory anyway, so I planned to photograph it on my next visit. When I returned for a second time, and snapped one more photo, my camera now informed that my batteries were almost dead. I could hardly believe it. I walked through the agora, hoping, on the one hand, to find somewhere to buy batteries, but relieved, on the other hand, when I realized that there was no commerce in the area. But there was a woman who over heard me asking a guard about buying batteries, and she very generously informed me that she was leaving on the following morning, and that I could have her extra batteries. I doubt that she will ever come across this blog, but I am eternally grateful to her.

I sat for a long time in front of the temple, as the last remaining people wandered away, and read from my copy of Homer, occasionally looking out across the most famous of all Greek meeting places, trying to imagine the momentous events that took place there, as well as the everyday affairs of the anonymous citizens. What debates had raged there among philosophers? What orations had been delivered which would change the tide of Greek, and therefore European, history? How many people had felt that timeless thrill of finding a great book in the market at a terrific price? How many had argued with the vendor over the cost of an over-priced book?


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