Sir Francis Ronalds' Travel Journal: Athens
[21 June 1820]
"we passed Skyros & prepared our arms for Pirates. What degree of danger there was I cannot determine for the people in these parts allways use great magnifying powers in looking at such things"
"nothing could exceed the superb effect of the first rays of the Sun upon the beautiful & picturesque remains of the Temple of Minerva... It is in such a manner that I would always view fine ruins, I don't want to know their dimensions"
View of Athens from Piraeus
We had landed at Lesbos merely to say that we had visited the harbour & town rendered so renowned by the grecian fleet and sailed again at about 1 o clock. We lost sight of the Troyad only when the Sun no longer permitted us to see it. On the 22nd we came in sight of Skyros with Mytilene on our left and observed a remarkable Halo round the Sun something like what one more frequently sees round the moon but brighter, it was about 20 degrees in Diameter I think. On the 23rd we passed Skyros & prepared our arms for Pirates. What degree of danger there was I cannot determine for the people in these parts allways use great magnifying powers in looking at such things. Towards Sun set we entered the Straits of Silota where we could comprehend in one Panorama the islands of Andros, part of Tino (behind it), Syra, Thermia, Zea & Macronisi, the continent of Attica & the Negropont & we fancied we could see Paros. At Sun rise we found ourselves off Cape Colonna, where nothing could exceed the superb effect of the first rays of the Sun upon the beautiful & picturesque remains of the Temple of Minerva we saw there in greater perfection than if we had landed certainly. It is in such a manner that I would always view fine ruins, I don't want to know their dimensions. The islands and coasts were barren & uninteresting. After doubling the Cape we sailed gently up the gulph passing the island of Aegina & getting a spy with our glasses at the temple of Jupiter Panhellenius upon it, arrived (after a little difficulty in finding it out for our Captain had never traded to Athens) in the Piraeus or harbour of Athens with the Parthenon & Acropolis full in View.
- Now again I want a dash of the sublime dreadfully. Majestic, Superb, Imposing, Grand, all my terms are exhausted & my pencil quite unavailing to give you the slightest idea of Athens as viewed from the spot where we anchored in the Piraeus, in my idea the most favourable spot because the prominent features only are seen and the others are not only not worth seeing but spoil the picture. Lost in admiration --- pugh --- all affectation. ---
We found several Englishmen here just going away in a brig lying near us, they were Mr Rennie (the son of the architect), Mr Green, Mr Beaumont, Mr Foley, Mr Hanbury, & Mr Waddington. I had met Mr Waddington in Sicily with Sir Fredk Henniker and received with great pleasure his congratulations on having compleated the same tour nearly which he was then beginning & which I sincerely wished him better fortune than I enjoyed myself in prosecuting, but I must own I did not envy him for the season was now at about the worst. I hope he will not suffer much.
"The first thing we did was to call of Sigr Lusieri... We found him a very obliging old intelligent gentleman and in due time I got him to shew us his celebrated drawings"
"We preserved a profound silence on the subject of the Elgin marbles"
Early the next morning (25th) we deposited our luggage at the Convent & rode up to Athens by the left hand road. The first thing we did was to call of Sigr Lusieri to whom Mr Davidson had a letter from Mr Lee of Smyrna. We found him a very obliging old intelligent gentleman and in due time I got him to shew us his celebrated drawings. They are certainly quite equal or superior to the representations which have been given of them by all who have seen them. I think that although he is very great in every branch of his art his chief excellence consists in sketching & that this is the real cause of his not finishing as others do, indeed his outlines when inked appear to me quite as well calculated to convey a just idea of objects or even more so than finished drawings, so great is the delicacy & neatness of them and so wonderfully is the keeping preserved. He promised to go with us to the Parthenon but we could not restrain our impatience to see it the same day & he had an engagement. I think his general view of the Acropolis is his best performance. We preserved a profound silence on the subject of the Elgin marbles. Finding we could not gain admission to the Acropolis that day without the Consul we went to the Temple of Theseus first.
- The Temple of Theseus struck me at first as being a pretty little model of a Temple which would not have been the case if I had not previously seen those of Paestum near Naples I suppose. The colour of the marble which it has received from age & the high preservation are most admirable but its simplicity & its exact conformity to the theory of the origin of architecture is what render it so valuable a remain I suppose. Its singularity consists in the pieces of stone resembling beams resting upon the architrave and the wall of the Cellar but I observed that these did not coincide exactly with the Triglyphs (they could not do so). In the interior we saw the Tomb of Tweddell & the cylinder mentioned by Le Roy. One of the chief excellences belonging to it too is its position, from wherever part of Athens or the neighbourhood it is seen it is very picturesque. 2 or 3 of the columns of the [blank] colonnade near the SW end have been a little distorted by an earthquake, I don't know when.
"Can you conceive of anything so disgusting as to see such a building so barbarously used as that you cannot even get a fair view of what has been spared from their ravages for the heaps of rubbish arising in great measure from the spoliation itself"
"If Lord Elgin had possessed real taste in lieu of a covetous spirit he would have done just the reverse of what he has, he would have removed the rubbish and left the antiquities"
The Acropolis took up our afternoon. The first sensation before making out the plan of the Temple of Minerva was that of regret that there should be any difficulty in doing so and this was converted into great resentment towards the spoilers and neglecters of the first thing of the kind in the world built by the first people of the world. Can you conceive of anything so disgusting as to see such a building so barbarously used as that you cannot even get a fair view of what has been spared from their ravages for the heaps of rubbish arising in great measure from the spoliation itself. Amongst the number of subscriptions which are so fashionable now-a-days at home I am surprized that one has not been instituted for redeeming from the present disgrace the antiquities of Athens, if but a few members of the antiquarian Society would lay down but a few guineas cost the object might be obtained with the greatest ease & the Acropolis still shine forth in as great splendour as the Colosseum at Rome. The Turks would be pleased as much or more than the Antiquarians, they take a pride even in being in possession of such treasures (they think them so because they are thought so by other people) & exhibited according to Clarke no small displeasure at Lord Elgin's abominable proceedings. How much easier it is to lament & wail over these proceedings than even to spare a guinea! How would Mrs M long to have a thorough rout here! Down with all the nasty little modern ruins, away with every thing that one can remove except the antiques themselves. If Lord Elgin had possessed real taste in lieu of a covetous spirit he would have done just the reverse of what he has, he would have removed the rubbish and left the antiquities. In the present condition of the Acropolis it is fit only to be viewed close by a professional man who seizes beauties in the minute detail I think; for my part I cannot get any view of anything in the Parthenon which pleases me half so well as the different views from more distant points. Then only can I enjoy its splendour, then only can I appreciate the genius of a Pericles. The excuse set up by some people for the "Goth" viz that the marbles will be longer preserved in English galleries than here in the open air would not be urged by himself I suppose for he must know how very little they would be acted upon by the dry atmosphere of the climate; even he might protect them from it with a tenth part of the expense required for their removal & he has had an example before his eyes of the Temple of Theseus of metopes &c lasting more than 2,000 years in an almost perfect state in the open air.
Of the other remains in the Acropolis I have but little to say for little as I know of the science of architecture all that I could say almost would relate to it & I don't suppose you care much about the matter or at least[?] that you would be inclined to give me credit for more sense than I claim for myself. I think Le Roy's the best and pleasantest account of the ruins of Athens that I have seen. I was disappointed in the Temple of Erechtheus, the Pandroseion &c. The Ionic columns are beautiful but not half so grand as those I saw at Yeronda & I thought the Caryatids rather rude. You may see one of them amongst the "Goth's" marbles. He has in this instance rather relaxed in his usual mode of spoliation having placed a square support of mortar and pebbles in its stead to sustain the Entablature, but it will not serve this purpose long for it has already begun to shew symptoms of crumbling into dust. When I clearly understood the Propylon I recollected some droll scene of a theatre where it is represented in its original or restored state & I think it was either at Covent garden or Drury lane. This gives a far better idea of the thing than drawings I think.
We dined this day with the Consul of the Morea & met Captains Mangles & Irby.
The next morning (26th) we made a circuit without the town with Lusieri visiting Pnyx. The (so called) prison of Socrates, a mere cave containing an inner room very much like the sepulchres. The monument erected to Caius Philopappos near which the Panorama was taken. The seven sources or cascades of [blank]. The outside of the Theatre. The beautiful Temple of Jupiter. The Stadium. The channel of the river [blank] now dry & the Arch of Adrian or Theseus (a very ill looking thing I think), and returned to the Inn in the town after examining the Lantern of Demosthenes. The Tower of the Winds. The Temple of Augustus near which in the wall we saw the ancient Tariff of the pious of provisions &c. The Temple of Jupiter Olympus near which we saw the ancient measures for Coin &c still used for the same purpose.
On the third day (27th) we rode out to the gardens to see the site of the Academy &c &c & I got a few moments to sketch the acropolis & town but not enough time to so make even an outline. The shady groves were very agreeable and one may easily understand the ancient Athenians' attatchment to their Country houses; their escaping from the feverish town must have been one of their greatest indulgences or luxuries. We dined this day with the English consul & met a Mr Williams an artist and a Mr Scott.
"we went to see a dance of Dervishes... a circle of about 50 Turks... were locked together... & were advancing & retreating one step... Then a young man... spreading out his arms whirled round at a rapid rate... several others... began to jump & stamp & kick about in a perfectly frantic manner and rolled their eyes about as if mad whilst singing, howling & screaming"
Instrument used by Whirling Dervishes to "stab" themselves
"It was curious to observe grave old bearded Turks spinning round like tee-to-tums"
On the Fourth day (28th) I rose with feverish symptoms & could not accompany the party to the plain of Marathon so was confined to my Books. The disagreement of authors as to the identity of places &c &c destroys much of the pleasure of viewing them. Chandler says the Parthenon was struck by a bomb in 1687 by the venetians under Königsmarck (p53 V2). Le Roy says it happened in 1677 in the siege by Morosini, Spon & Wheler saw it entire in 1676 (p10). Chandler calls the Temple of Jupiter Olympus that which Le Roy calls the Pantheon & the Odeon that which he calls a Theatre & he places the Odeon where Chandler places Pnyx. Clarke says in a note (p204 V6) that the sun dial near the Chor[blank] Pillars had been pulled down since he saw it. He has been misinformed I believe for in my walk round the Acropolis this evening I saw an ancient sun dial such as he describes & such as I have sketched it [not found] on the right hand of the Pillars & of the Monument of Thrasyllus "a little turned out of its proper position". Where was the temple of Ceres? I could not see Corinth from the Parthenon.
On the fifth day (29th) my fever had increased, a little. The party returned from Marathon & we took an early dinner with the good Lusieri who afterwards went with us to the Acropolis. He certainly cannot approve of the "Goth's" spoliation altho' employed in the work for he said he hoped that some day the Parthenon at least might be restored. The Temple of Jupiter at Girgenti seems to me to have been intended for as grand a building as this.
At night we went to see a dance of Dervishes in the Temple of the Winds. On our arrival a circle of about 50 Turks (only about 3 or 4 with the Dervish cap) were locked together by each putting his arms round the Back of his Neighbour & were advancing & retreating one step with a sort of swinging motion to the sound of a Tambour. Then they walked for a few minutes solemnly round the room & bowing (well enough) to a little recess in one side of it. Then a young man advanced suddenly into the centre of the room and spreading out his arms whirled round at a rapid rate for about 5 minutes. After him several others sometimes singly sometimes 2 or 3 together began to jump & stamp & kick about in a perfectly frantic manner and rolled their eyes about as if mad whilst singing, howling & screaming accompanied the whole of the ceremonies. But now a young fellow stripped himself except of his shirt which he tied round his waist and took two such instruments of iron as I have sketched with which he feigned very well to stick himself in the stomach & neck, but took special care to hide the supposed wounds in the former with his shirt and in the latter with his long hair. Ever and anon he struck the ground with the chains attatched to the ball and kept up a kind of waltzing dance all the time, sometimes he feigned to drive one of them into his neck with the ball of the other. I leave you to judge about the probability of the people giving credence to the imposture. It was curious to observe grave old bearded Turks spinning round like tee-to-tums and joining in all these ridiculous ceremonies.
On the morning of the 6th day (30th) we took our departure from Athens by the other road passing the Tombs and the Tumulus mentioned by Clarke and after examining a little the tomb of Themistocles as it is called & the site of Munchia, perfect rubbish & nothing for a Common observer to see, went on board a little vessell which we had hired for Corinth and bade adieu to the great Athens. I felt glad for the heat was excessive & I should soon have had a regular attack of the Fever.
You will be surprised at the barrenness of my account of Athens perhaps. The fact is that altho' I began my letter on the 18th I have been so lazy that a message has been sent us that we are to be released from douane ville in the Lazaretto before I have (upon the 31st) time to copy even my raw Memo's or to recollect any more to say, & I must hurry over the rest of the journal in the same rapid manner. I may possibly put down some Recollections at a future time.