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A Few Hours on Our Own: The Agora & Monastiraki

Wednesday, 3 April. We had breakfast at the hotel and were just about to go sightseeing when it began pouring, a rare thing in Athens, we hear. It was not even 8:30, but we had very little time and couldn't afford to waste it. We took a chance and caught a taxi to the Agora. Luckily it was open. We wanted to see the Stoa of Attalus close up, and we would be out of the rain.

It was incredibly impressive to see the building reconstructed to its original condition. We were proud that it was largely an American endeavor, led by the American Friends of Classic Studies and financed by the Rockerfellers.

It’s hard to believe such an ancient people could have been so advanced in techniques of construction, plumbing, and architecture. The Stoa is a full block long (381 ft.) and two stories high. The front half of each story is an open, but covered, porch running the length of the building. The ground floor has a Doric colonnade, and the upper level has an Ionic colonnade with a waist-high balustrade. The rear half was divided into shops, 21 on each level. (They are now used for museum displays and offices.) Among the displays were plaster models of both the Agora and the Acropolis as they were 2400 years before.

Darrell at the Agora
Stoa of Attalus colonnade
Inside the Stoa

By the time we left the Agora, it had stopped raining, so we walked toward our hotel. This brought us through an old section of the city (Monastiraki) that was one big flea market. It seemed that every shop and stall sold used goods: stoves, furniture, bicycles, clothes, all in a worn and battered condition. Yet, a couple of blocks further on there were only the most modern stores, such as those found in the best sections of any modern city.

From a stack of junk --

-- To really fine antiques

Acropolis above the flea market

We looked in several shops and bought a couple more vases. Unfortunately, we had to limit ourselves to fairly small items because we were uncertain about our flight back to Pisa. We also looked at a couple of tiny Byzantine churches dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. Each was built on the site of an ancient temple using many pieces of marble scrounged from the ruins of the Agora. One was the Panaghia Kapnikarea, situated in the middle of busy Ermou Street. The other was the Little Cathedral (Mikri Metropoli), also known as the Panagia Gorgoepikoos or the Church of Saint Eleutherios. It's located on Mitropoleos Square next to the large "new" (1842) Cathedral, which we also visited. For lunch we bought some of the sesame-covered bread rings that were sold on nearly every street corner.

New Cathedral

Old Cathedral

The Trip Home

We finally went back to our hotel, packed, and left at noon for the airport in a USAF sedan. The RCAF North Star came in from El Arish about 12:20. We were happy to learn that, thanks to a little fudging of the manifest, we would be able to fly back to Pisa.. (“These planes always can carry a little more weight than they’re rated for.”) We took off at 2:15 and landed at Pisa at 5:45. We stayed at Blandina’s that night.

Thursday, 4 April. We took it easy most of the day, visiting with Blandina and doing a little shopping at Camp Darby. In the evening, we took Blandina and Captain Porter (the pilot) out to dinner at Da Antonio, a great fresh fish restaurant near Livorno. Even including this expense, our trip to Athens cost us only about $50, plus maybe another $20 for several vases.

Friday, 5 April. After a leisurely breakfast with Blandina, we drove back to Verona, arriving around 3:30. We were quite happy with our trip. Although we had been in Athens, itself, only about 25 hours, we had seen a great deal and had come home with several beautiful vases that we would treasure for years to come. Although we would eventually get back to Greece again (1973, 1983, 1995), it would have changed greatly by then.

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