Athens, Greece by Byron

The most striking object in Athens is the Acropolis, or Citadel—a rock which rises abruptly from the plain, and is crowned with the Parthenon. This was a temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva, and was built of the hard white marble of Pentelicus. It suffered from the ravages of war between the Turks and Venetians, and also more recently in our own time. The remnant of the sculptures which decorated the pediments, with a large part of the frieze, and other interesting remains, are now in what is called the Elgin collection of the British Museum. During the embassy of Lord Elgin at Constantinople, he obtained permission from the Turkish government to proceed to Athens for the purpose of procuring casts from the most celebrated remains of sculpture and architecture which still existed at Athens. Besides models and drawings which he made, his Lordship collected numerous pieces of Athenian sculpture in statues, capitals, cornices, &c., and these he very generously presented to the English Government, thus forming a school of Grecian art in London, to which there does not at present exist a parallel. In making this collection he was stimulated by seeing the destruction into which these remains were sinking, through the influence of Turkish barbarism. Some fine statues in the Parthenon had been pounded down for mortar, on account of their affording the whitest marble within reach, and this mortar was employed in the construction of miserable huts. At one period the Parthenon was converted into a powder magazine by the Turks, and in consequence suffered severely from an explosion in 1656, which carried away the roof of the right wing.


At the close of the late Greek war Athens was in a dreadful state, being little more than a heap of ruins. It was declared by a Royal ordinance of 1834 to be the capital of the new kingdom of Greece, and in the March of that year the King laid the foundation-stone of his palace there. In the hill of Areopagus, where sat that famous tribunal, we may still discover the steps cut in the rock by which it was ascended, the seats of the judges, and opposite to them those of the accuser and accused. This hill was converted into a burial-place for the Turks, and is covered with their tombs.

Ancient of days! august Athena! where,

Where are thy men of might—thy grand in soul?

Gone, glimmering through the dream of things that were—

First in the race that led to Glory's goal;

They won, and passed away. Is this the whole?

A schoolboy's tale, the wonder of an hour!

The warrior's weapon and the sophist's stole

Are sought in vain, and o'er each mouldering tower,

Dim with the mist of years, gray flits the shade of power.

Here let me sit, upon this massy stone,

The marble column's yet unshaken base;

Here, son of Saturn, was thy fav'rite throne—

Mightiest of many such! Hence let me trace

The latent grandeur of thy dwelling-place.

It may not be—nor ev'n can Fancy's eye

Restore what time hath labour'd to deface:

Yet these proud pillars, claiming sigh,

Unmoved the Moslem sits—the light Greek carols by.


The Pnyx at Athens.