Saturday, January 31, 2009

City Beneath the Surface Above: Public Archaeology and the City Walls of Ancient Athens

On Thursday morning, Leda Costaki took us on a search for the city walls of ancient Athens.

Leda Costaki, whose 2006 dissertation explored the road system of Athens, explains the city walls visible in the Kerameikos. They are made up of two parts, the wall itself, and the proteichisma, the wall ‘in front of the wall.’ So two walls, with ring roads and moats included. Here note the multiple phases of the structure, marked by different types of stone and different construction techniques.

Since Athens has been inhabited continually for several thousand years, multiple versions of the fortification walls are known. There's the pre-Persian War wall, the Themistoklean Wall (5th c. BCE), the Kononian fortifications (4th c. BCE), the Valerian Walls (3rd c. CE), the Justinian repairs, the 13th c. Medieval fortifications, and the Turkish fortifications (utterly demolished as soon as the Greeks gained independence in the 1820s). Numerous cemetaries have been found surrounding the exterior of the walls/gates, such as the famous Kerameikos cemetary.
The infamous CGMs (columnar grave monuments) of Athens, stored behind the Kerameikos Museum).

Because Athens has been continually inhabited since antiquity, with the population skyrocketing in the last two hundred years, archaeological excavation has had to deal with the modern inhabitants of the city. Over the past century, the approaches archaeologists have employed have been varied, from buying plots of land and dismantling houses to forcibly moving refugee camps in preference for the ancient remains. It hasn’t always been pretty. But when it comes to the ancient city walls, modern building has usually been allowed to precede, provided it keeps the walls relatively intact. Leda’s lecture was most interesting, for me at least, because she addressed the difficulties the Archaeological Service has had preserving remains amidst a modern metropolis.

Every time construction begins, builders must get the approval of the Service, and if antiquities appear while foundations are being dug and concrete poured, then the Service swoops in to perform a ‘rescue excavation.’ Leda stressed the enormous pressure weighing on the shoulders of the Service members, who are hounded on all sides by historians, archaeologists, land owners, construction companies, and governmental offices. Usually all they can do is scramble in get the antiquities out as fast as possible – they don’t have the luxury of meticulous record keeping, detailed measurements, and copious notebooks that other archaeological teams enjoy. In and out – save the antiquities from destruction and looting – then move on.

Leda provided some fascinating history of rescue excavations in Athens, which became a problem as soon as Greece gained independence in the 1800s and the population swarmed in from the countryside. More recent waves of population movement into the city and the subsequent construction of buildings led to an enormous amount of rescue excavations in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 80s, however, the Archaeological Service was contending more with the impact of cars, since overpasses, highways, and other infrastructure needed by an automobile nation were changing the landscape of the city. In the 90s, it was all about the new metro system, abundant remains showing up pretty much everywhere a new metro station or line was planned. And then, of course, there were the 2004 Olympics, which transformed the city and cost approximately 7 billion euros.

The Archaeological Service has also had to determine how best to preserve certain remains (like city walls) while also meeting the needs of construction projects. Leda’s lecture on the city walk was structured around the different preservation philosophies employed over the last several decades.

Will Bruce, Rebecca Ammerman, and Ben Sullivan peak through grating to view parts of the city wall.

The walls, for example, have been hidden away in basements.

They have been preserved in, you guessed it, parking garages, with no signs whatsoever indicating to car owners that they are parked next to the fortification walls of ancient Athens, 2,400 years old.

In this case, the 4th c. BCE proteichisma is housed in the parking garage, but the main wall was actually entirely dismantled and move to the plateia outside.

More recently, there has been an interest in making sure the walls are available to the public.
This section of the wall lies in the basement of an apartment building. The owners have built a seperate entrance that is open to the public.

At the Divani Palace Acropolis Hotel, the walls are preserved on the bottom floor of the hotel, next to the gift shop. Notice that the antiquities have been covered in houseplants, to make them more aesthetically pleasing.

The National Bank of Greece has left the entire lower level of their structure open for the public, who can look down at the walls or walk on glass floors to view the ancient drainage system.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Modern Art Museum in Athens

I had the morning off, so I finally made my way down to the Modern Art Museum of Athens. It's just down the street, next to the Hilton.

I'd never been to this particular museum, but was looking forward to a special exhibit on Greek painters. Luckily there was hardly anyone there, except for the ever present museum guards following me from room to room.

I am, though, a sucker for paintings with texture, and was fortunate to see several pieces that caught my eye.

Panayotis Gravvaios, Mani, 1988.
Thanasis Tsingos, Flowers, 1960.
Costas Tsoklis, Untitled, after 1978.
There was also a lot I quite hated.

Takis Katsoulidis, Zeus Xenios, 1972.

Nikolaos Othanaias, Harbor - History - Harvest, 1940.

Achilleas Droungas, Athena - Athens, 2003. 

There was also a decent amount of creepiness, which is always fun.
Dimosthenis Kokkinidis, Refugee Housing, Pireaus, 2003.

Costis (Traindafyllou), To the first oracle, Earth, 2003. This thing scared the crap out of me. It looks all innocuous at first, but then...
It actually crackles with electricity. It zaps when you're totally not expecting it, with little lightening bolts playing across the surface.

Theodoros Rallis, The Booty, 1906. And then there's this, which I am not even going to comment on.

Nikolaos Vokos, Still life with fish. Slimey fish. Yum.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Opa at the Stoa Athanaton: Rembetiko from Guest-Blogger Hüseyin

This weekend we finally got out of the house, in an effort to appreciate something in Athens not of the ancient variety. We decided to attend the Stoa Athanaton ('Arcade of the Immortals'), to here some rembetiko, a traditional form of Greek music.

The place was full, a sit-down club on the second floor, a soaring roof of wooden rafters, black and white pictures of past rembetiko groups adorning the walls. The band was already playing when arrived at our table. Reservations were made in advance, and we were warned that the night would be extraordinarily pricey.

Throughout the night, vocalists would join the group, sing for a bit, trade spots with others. There was a great animated female vocalist who impressed, but none could surpass this dude (who you can see in the links below):

The place was packed tight, smokey and energetic. As one apt description notes,"Old-timers with cigars shower musicians with flowers, and, when the mood strikes, dance to gritty songs of heartbreak." Once the whiskey and wine were flowing, the crowd belted out the songs and took a turn on the dance floor, everyone from macho young males to white-haired old ladies.

What is rembetiko? Here's 'guest-blogger' Hüseyin Çınar Öztürk to tell you. (This comes from an email he sent to all who would be in attendance, minus the bad words and cut down and adjusted significantly from the original length. Feel free to skip down to the links to get an idea of what we heard.)

"I write this to inform you about this rebetiko (pl. rebetika) business. Actually, even the pronunciation of the word is not certain, rembetiko would go as well. The etymology of the word is not known, Greeks think that it should be Turkish, but it is not certain. Anyways, a little history: In İzmir - Smyrna, during the first decades of the 20th century, a certain type of urban folk music was born. It was played and sung by Smyrniote Greek in the so called "café aman"s, and was a mixture of Anatolian scales, rhythms, and western influence (Izmir, at the time, was a huge harbour and many Italians and French tradesmen lived there - the so called Levantains). Then, the rebetiko instrument par excellence, which is called buzuki, was not invented yet; and local Near Eastern instruments like oud, kanoun, kemenche, and the like were used alongside guitar and violin. (This very early Anatolian phase of rebetiko songs is now called Smyrnaika, and are considerably different than the Piraean style, see below). -The melodies and the rythms were quintessentially Anatolian, which break the general minor-major western scales, and many classical Ottoman makams (scales) were used. (note for all: Classical Ottoman music was itself a combination of byzantine church music and near eastern music).

-The rythms were also pretty Anatolian, instead of your typically Westener 4/4, the most used rythm is 9/8; 11/8 or 7/8 were also not uncommon. You will hear these rythms many times tomorrow night. And that's why Europeans cannot dance to this music, because their ears are so used to 4/4 or 6/4.Enough theory. This early stage of İzmir rebetiko was a lower class urban music, although it incorporated rural folk melodies and rhythms of West Anatolia as well: the Zeybek (a Zeybek was a local Anatolian bandit, and that style is now called in Greece Zeimbekika).Then, a strange thing happened. After the 1st world war, and the Turkish war of indepence (which, in Greece, is called the Asia Minor Catastrophe [note the similarity: the Greek War of Indepence from Ottomans is called in Turkey "the Greek Rebellion"; well, let's blame the French Revolution for all nationalistic movements, as an easy way out]), Venizelos and Kemal Atatürk decided that a population exchange was the only way to prevent further complications. As a result all Greeks of Anatolia were transferred to Greece, and all Turks from Greece came to Asia Minor (exceptions being Greeks of Istanbul, and Turks of Western Thrace). Hence, approximately 2 million Greeks and 1.2 million Turks became poor immigrants. Note that many Greeks from inner Anatolia did not even know Greek, and many Turks from the islands did not know Turkish at all, tough times for everyone.

Anyway, back to music: The Greeks from Western Anatolia settled in Piraeus; and the second stage of rebetiko started. Soon after their arrival, the instrument buzuki was invented. The Anatolian Greeks were using Anatolian saz or baglama (tuned to "bozuk"[broken or out of order] tuning); and in Greece they could not find any. So the instrument which you will hear tomorrow was created in Athens in early 20s. In Piraeus, accordion and flute also became a part of the tradition (flute soon died). Since they became very poor immigrants in Greece, the lyrics also changed accordingly, prostitution, drugs, street fights, and lower class struggles became favourite themes. Buzuki has a very distinctive sound, and so the sound of the music changed considerably; however, Anatolian scales and rhythms continued. Even now, if you buy a rebetiko songbook, you would see Ottoman makam names like Saba, Ussak, Rast, etc. instead of A minor. On the other hand, the major scale started to get used pretty often.Under the Metaxas regime, for some time, rebetiko was banned in Greece, for it was considered "turkish". In the 40s, composers coming from the other parts of Greece, like Tsitsanis from Thesalloniki, adopted the style; and rebetiko became very popular. In late 50s and 60s, rebetiko also influenced the Greek singer-songwriter tradition deeply; and in the songs of laika singers like Kazancidis (in Turkish, "the cauldron maker"), or later Dalaras, you can still hear rebetiko influences.The Greeks who migrated to America and Australia from Athens/Piraeus in the 30s composed many rebetika as well; and it would be fair to say that, after Athens/Piraeus, Melbourne and Chicago are pretty strong centres of this genre.

A very important note: Greek folk music is very diverse. So in Thrace, you would hear Balkan rhythms and melodies, in the islands it's a whole different ball game; and the cheesy popular Greek music has nothing to do with the real Piraean rebetiko (do not confuse Britney Spears with Muddy Waters). With rebetiko, you would dance zeimpek (zeybek) which is a solo dance. Another important note: In the Near Eastern/Anatolian tradition, there is a musical form, which is called GAZEL (or "uzun hava" - long breath). It is basically a vocal improvisation upon a repeating instrumental motif. The word Aman (Help! in Arabic) is used very often, and that's why this form is called "amane" in Greek. Usually it is used as an introduction or as the middle part of a relatively slow, sad song. (remember that the rebetiko taverns were called "café aman"s in Smyrna). So, if one of the singers starts shouting "aman" tomorrow, don't be surprised, it happens pretty rarely in taverns though.)
Now the links: A song composed by the great Vamvakaris - one of the 1st generation Piraean composers. 'Oli I Rebetes tou Dounia': Classic. Another great song, great singer. By the way, you will see this moustached guy tomorrow night, he'll be singing at the tavern. Now, probably, 70-something. The moustache is still that impressive. However, I adore the "sad" use of the major scale, see right here. Sinefiasmeni Kiriaki: Cloudy Sunday. D Major scale, yes. But, it could not be more touching. About the Nazi invasion of Greece. The most famous composition of Tsitsanis."

Thank you for that, Hüseyin.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Paths and Empty Roads by Archaeological Sites in the Greek Countryside

The Regular Year program involves a lot of walking. In order to get accepted into the program, the School requires a doctor's verification that you are in reasonable health. This isn't to say that we were all fit as a fiddle, as if our first hike up Lykabitos Hill wasn't like hiking through the valley of the shadow of death. Brutal, is how I recall it. But during the fall trips we got into much better form, so that I was on my way to being as healthy as I was when I drove a pedal-cab at OSU football games.

But then the trips ended, and Christmas happened, and nowadays we do far fewer walk-abouts. This was clear to me yesterday, when we went to the ancient sites of Thorikos, Sounion and Zoster. I'd forgotten what physical activity was like, and how, on foot, the empty road appears ahead of you.

Scott Gallimore navigates a dried creek bed, directly next to the classical-era stoa at Thorikos. Up ahead of him you can just make out the collapsed blocks of the building, which at some unknown point slid into the river.

Lindy Dewey-Gallimore treads the abandoned railway line that runs through Thorikos. Over-grown and unused, several of the railroad ties were ripped out within the last day or two. They'll no doubt be more useful where ever they are now. Site formation at work!

Regular and Associate members travel the winding mountain road at Vari. Our bus couldn't make the trip because the road had been blocked by a funeral. Our destination was the shrine of Pan and the Nymphs in the Vari Cave. We made the hike back in total darkness.

The countryside is green and wet in all directions, a far cry from the dry and yellowed landscape of Greece's summer. Usually this a good thing, but some plants are apparently a nuisance.

Margie Miles, Mellon Professor, on her way to the Thorikos Stoa.

One such example is a verdant and clover-looking plant that spreads like a carpet in olive groves. It turns rocky Greece into a British countryside.

We learned about this dark and evil plant on Wednesday from Harriet Blitzer, who spoke to us during the Weiner Lab seminar. Harriet works on, among other things, olive cultivation and the domestication of plants. She is particularly forceful when it comes to this cloveresque greenery, which was imported to Greece and has thrived to everyone's dismay. It apparently acts like a sponge, holding water in, but kills all the local wild flowers; instead of olive groves starred by spring blooms, only this dread plant remains (yes, I've forgotten its name already). Think kudzu in the South, although it hasn't quite reached the point of swallowing whole trees. It sure is pretty to look at, but I imagine in the spring I'll think differently, when all the wild flowers are gone.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Nap time in the Erechtheion

Long day today. Twelve hours visiting sites in Attica, climbing two mountains. Now stuffed full of one of my favorite dinners that they serve at Loring Hall. Will sleep it off and post tomorrow. Until then, here's a scene from the Erectheion yesterday that should let you know how sound asleep I wish to be.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Good ol' Mnesikles: Climbing on the Propylaia

We did the Propylaia today. That's the monumental gateway on the Athenian acropolis, constructed in the 5th century BCE. We were given a tour by the architect in charge of the Propylaia's reconstruction, Mr. Tanoulas.

It was a chance to climb all over the building, check out its various rooms, and see what it looks like from behind.
The northeast room of the Propylaia, looking towards the Parthenon.

I think we were most looking foward to climbing on top of the Propylaia, since last year's Regular Members were going on about how awesome it was. (Of course, they didn't get to climb up the Frankish tower in the Parthenon - Booyah!) At the end of our tour, we were given the chance to visit the Propylaia's roof.
Climbing up the scaffolding.

We got lucky. It was another absolutely gorgeous day.

Regular Member Tom Garvey looks down into the northwest rooms of the Propylaia.

Eric was walking around with a goofy grin on his face the whole time; it was hard not to enjoy the view, the sunlight and the novelty of being on-top of the famous ancient structure. Meanwhile, we got to see all the architectural tidbits up-close and personal, in a way that usually only happens in an art history classroom, when pictures are blown up to gargantuan sizes.

Hanging out with architectural elements. Hello, triglyph.
Cool day.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Acropolis Dogs and the Parthenon's Phases

On Thursday, we visited the interior of the Parthenon to hear about the reconstruction project which has been going on there (I'll be posting about reconstruction projects in the near future).

Photo: Melinda Dewey-Gallimore, 2009.

We climbed up the 13th century tower located at the southwest corner of the Parthenon, which is one of the only post-antique structures still preserved on the Acropolis, the rest having been dismantled to make way for the 'important' bits. The tower was constructed not long after 1204 when the Parthenon was converted into a Catholic church by the Franks. It was made of spolia and contained a spiral staircase, which was incidentally a lot of fun to climb up. The view was phenomenal. Eventually the tower was turned into a minaret when Athens came under Ottoman rule in the 1400s.

A drawing from the 1700s showing the minaret as it stood in the SW corner. The picture depicts the bombing of the Parthenon by Francesco Morosini in 1687.

Despite the tower being an astoundingly important piece of historical evidence preserved on the Acropolis, it is surprisingly little discussed. Sitting on the porch here in Lorring with other graduates, I was a bit appalled to see how little we collectively know about it. It reinforces how much we need projects like The Other Acropolis or Anthony Kaldellis' forthcoming book The Christian Parthenon: Classicism and Pilgrimage in Byzantine Athens. (If you can't wait for its release, check out his online lecture A Heretical (Orthodox) History of the Parthenon.)
While up on top of the tower, we were shown this:

Photo: Melinda Dewey-Gallimore, 2009.

It's a dog print preserved in a terracotta tile. None of us can figure out when it dates to, since it doesn't appear to be ancient Greek or Roman. Any ideas?

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Report on Christmas Break, And So Begins the Winter Quarter

The Christmas holidays have finally come to a close, and I really am back in the blogosphere (did I just actually say ‘blogosphere?’). Our Fall Quarter here at the School ended with a six-day trip to Crete, amidst a whirlwind of seminars, paper run-throughs and efforts to avoid nervous break downs. We got into the holiday spirit by having two tree trimming parties here in Athens, one at the Director’s House and one in Lorring Hall. There was even carol singing, believe it or not, accompanied on the piano by the Assistant Director of the British School, Robert Pitt.

Lorring Hall’s tree trimming party.
Regular Members Tom Garvey and Sean Jensen.

I went back to the States for a much needed month-long vacation, although it turned out to be extremely busy and involved a lot of driving all over the East Coast.

My driving route.
I went to Atlanta for 10 days or so and was able to eat lots of banana pudding and watch tons of Battlestar Galactica with my mom. I also visited Beast Cat and was taught to crochet by my grandmother.
Note the fancy new hat and scarf my grandma made me.

I spent Christmas on a mountaintop in Tennessee and played lots of Wii. Then back to Atlanta.

Yes, I got a cowboy hat for Christmas. I’m thinking it might make a good excavation hat.

I spent a few days around New Years in DC, before heading to Columbus, then on to Philadelphia for the AIA Meetings. Made the 12 hour trip back to Atlanta before taking a 24 hour flight back to Athens on Wednesday. We had a truly lovely morning yesterday, visiting the inside of the Parthenon. The day was gorgeous and warm, and our tour of the Parthenon was interesting while being sufficiently laid back.

‘Chillaxing’ on the steps of the Parthenon.

Today I gave my first site report of the quarter at Eleusis. I presented the Telesterion, the main cult building in the sanctuary and supposedly the site of the mysterious Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone.

Note so mysterious in the daylight, missing the spooky torches and secret rites. Imagine us sitting on the steps, wet and bedraggled from the early rain storm, with wet handouts plastered to our clothing.

And now, as soon as I finish this Fellowship application, the weekend awaits! I plan on enjoying it via a good vegetation session on the couch.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Jet lag.