When walking in Plaka, the historic district of Athens, just below the Acropolis, look up and you will see the Erechtheum. Right in front of it, built into the wall, you will notice huge round blocks of marble, while a little further to the west, next to the lift, something that looks like a temple’s frieze. What are those elements and what are they doing in a fortification wall?
After the first of the Greco-Persian wars, the Athenians decided to build a new temple, dedicated to their city godess, Athena, as a defender. They had already begun building a large temple, which archaeologists now call the Pre-Parthenon I. However, they decided that the new temple (Pre-Parthenon II) they would build would be better, built entirely of expensive white marble, to properly commemorate the magnitude of their victory( battle of Marathon, 490 BCE).
The work on the new temple was interrupted by the second Persian invasion. The Athenians abandoned the city and the temple which stood half-finished with some of the column drums already in place. A few yards to the north stood what Athenians called the Old Temple, not because of its antiquity, but because it held the most ancient and revered relics of the city. The Persians burnt everything to the ground before being defeated again and departing for good (naval battle of Salamis, 480 BCE).
When the citizens returned, they rebuilt their city, taking care to insert into the wall of the Acropolis some of the parts that could not be used to rebuild the temple. They didn’t do so in a haphazard way, but instead arranged the parts in a semblance of a collonade and a frieze. These were meant to remind their fellow citizens of what had happened and urge them into fighting to make sure no such thing would ever take place again.
25 centuries later, the message of the Ancient Athenians is still visible above the city of their descendants. If you ever find yourselves in Plaka, take a second to gaze at that particular wall and contemplate its meaning.