Our first full day – at least together -in Athens, Scott and I were scheduled for a half day, private walking tour with Ari through <<<PKTravel>>>. Click <<<HERE>>> to visit their site, we were very happy with our tour. They were very accommodating, and understanding even though we had to reschedule this last minute when Scott was stuck in Moscow on a flight delay.
Before our tour, we went to the rooftop restaurant at the Athens Gate for the breakfast buffet, which had become habit each morning. With this view, how could we not?? But this morning, as we sat there enjoying our breakfast of expected and unexpected food items, I overheard a table of several couples near us discussing their previous day, which included a tour of the Acropolis. Since our tour was to include the Acropolis, I was curious to hear what they thought.
However, something about me… I’m fairly deaf. I wear 2 hearing aids, which supplement my hearing to the point that I function fairly well in society and many people don’t even realize I wear the aids even though my aides are actually bright red in color. This means… I don’t eavesdrop well. You don’t have to talk about me behind my back, you can do it right in the same room. If I’m not looking at you, I guarantee I have no idea what you are saying. At all. It’s hard to be subtle when I have to watch mouths for partial lip-reading. So, in general, I wind up just striking up conversation, much to my husband’s dismay.
What I learned from these breakfast neighbors was born out in our experience, so take note:
- There is NO shade, and the Acropolis consists of white stone buildings reflecting the sun, and rock/dirt ground leaving you dusty, hot, and squinting.
- Therefore – wear sunglasses, and a hat if you have one.
- When you come through the gates, lower on the hill, and buy your tickets, this is your last chance to buy water. There is nowhere to get food/water again until you come down off the Acropolis complex – see dusty & hot noted above. So, even if you think you are fine and don’t need anything – buy your water here if you haven’t brought some with you. You will want it later.
- The Acropolis opens at 8am, and by 10:30-11:00am, it is crazy crowded, pretty much every day. So it is best to get there early if you want to not be constantly bumping in to and weaving your way through a mob of people.
- If it is raining or wet at all, the stone steps and paths you walk on are incredibly slippery. They are slippery even when dry, so wet is particularly hazardous. Wear appropriate shoes. Cute is not your focus here.
Our experience absolutely bore this out, so I advise you to take note.
So, we met Ari in our lobby at 8am, and after consulting on our priorities for the day – Pk will customize the walk to what you want – we headed out to the Acropolis, to beat the crowds.
Odean Herodes Atticus
There are a number of structures that are part of the Acropolis complex. Even before cresting the hill and entering through the Propylaea to the buildings usually thought of, we came to the Odean of Herodes Atticus, a theatre of stone built in 161 AD. Apparently Herodes Atticus built the theatre in memory of his wife. Originally it had a roof made of cedar of Lebanon, but even without that, and being the ruins of what it once was, it is impressive. Better, it is still in use today, though only during certain times and there were not any performances there while we are in Athens.
Temple of Athena Nike
The Temple of Athena Nike is a neck-craning height above, perched on an outcropping of the wall, to the right as we approach the steps into the main complex. It was built approximately 420BC, and as Nike means ‘victory’ in Greek, the name itself expresses the supremacy of their goddess Athena. Restoration has been going on seemingly forever at the Acropolis, is apparent in the lighter colored stones in this temple. They show the restoration that has been done, and so the Temple of Athena Nike is much more reconstructed than many of the other building here.
Leading up to the Propylaea are fairly steep steps that show the wear of time. The steps are uneven, worn smooth and curved in spot by countless footsteps, and even crumbling in a spot or two. I actually found it moving to see the evidence of the time and use these steps have had over the centuries, but I did hear a person or two grumbling about the hazard. Realize what you are walking on, and don’t expect it to be modern or up to OSHA standards.
This rock outcropping is not on most maps and plans of the Acropolis buildings, but I was specifically looking for it. The name literally means “Ares Rock” and according to mythology was were Ares was tried by the gods for the murder of Poseidon’s son. It is believed to have been a place where courts were held and where people would come to speak to the crowds. This was the location that the Apostle Paul taught what is recorded in Acts 17, when he used the temple to the unknown god to proclaim “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” That teaching has a little more umph to it when you realize how close to the Acropolis he was speaking those words!
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.”
Propylaea literally means “before- or in front-gate,” and this one is the entrance into the Acropolis complex. The structure itself is pretty darn impressive for an entrance gate (especially imagining what it once was), yet it was constructed from 437 to 432BC, and then left unfinished. Some restoration has been done, so we stepped on some new, bright white stones, while also stepping on the smoothed, worn, ancient ones. Again, wear appropriate shoes… I can’t tell you the number of women holding on to someone beside them as they gingerly worked their way up the steps in their pretty sandals. Even in good shoes, I often kept one hand on Scott.
Well, this is the building that everyone thinks of when the Acropolis is mentioned. Construction on the Parthenon began in 447BC, and was effectively completed in 438BC though decoration continued until 432BC. As you can see from our pictures, there is still some heavy restoration happening, however there has been heavy restoration going on for decades, so pretty much everyone has pictures of the Parthenon and its scaffolding. The impressive thing is that the structure is being taken apart, stone by stone, and restored. So, one day, probably in the far distant future, we may really get to see what it actually looked like.
I think most people try to look at this and picture what it looked like in its prime. But it seems most of our imagination on this is way off, because in reality, the Parthenon was painted. Kind of blows the mind doesn’t it? Ari came prepared with artist rendering, and showed us an example of what it may have looked like based on paint fragments found…
Erechtheum, the Caryatids, and the Olive Tree
While everyone thinks of the Parthenon when they think of the Acropolis, and yes, seeing it is a must, and I enjoyed it – this next part was something I had been waiting for. The Erechtheum was built between 421BC and 406BC. The structure itself seems a bit awkward, but that could be because it was built so as to preserve the other buildings that were around it – though they are no longer standing. There are some interesting details in the design, as well as the evidence of damage over the years.
My favorite part though, is the Caryatid porch. The original Caryatid statues are in the New Acropolis museum, but it is still amazing to see these replicas in the original placement. They are elegant, beautiful, and proud. I could have taken a million pictures, and did my best to get as many as I could. Yet, unbelievably, this porch was actually added when the construction project was drastically reduced in size, it’s budget shrunk by the onset of war. The porch was placed to cover large beam needed to support that corner of the Kekropion. So, it was a beautiful cover-up job!
To one side of the Erechtheum, you will see an olive tree growing out the side of the building. This is no mistake, or insignificant happenstance, this is The Sacred Olive Tree. The legend is that this olive tree traces back to the original tree placed here by the goddess Athena. According to Pausanias, the second century AD historian, the day after the Persians burned the Acropolis in 480BC, the tree resprouted. While there has been destruction over the centuries, it is said that a new tree is always planted from a cutting of the original. The tree that is now on this site was planted by the American School of Archeaology in 1952, from a branch saved from the German destruction of WWII.
Just as you can look up and see the Acropolis from nearly every spot in Athens, from the Acropolis, you have a view of all of Athens. The best spot is at the base of the flagpole, on the eastern side of the complex.
The flagpole may seem out of place, and not nearly ancient enough to be part of this site. But it is also the site of a very meaningful piece of Greek history, albiet more recent history. At the beginning of the Nazi occupation of Greece, the Germans came to the top of the Acropolis and ordered an officer to surrender, lower the Greek flag, and raise the Nazi flag. Konstantinos Koukidis instead lowered the Greek flag, wrapped it around himself, and jumped to his death. This is considered the beginning of the Greek resistance to Nazi occupation. To be fully honest, there is much dispute about whether this event is true or not, and the original 1941 The Daily Mail article is available online for you to judge for yourself.
As we stood there, Ari also pointed out to us sites that we may want to visit on our own during our stay. Rows of red umbrellas lining a street in the distance which is one of her favorite areas for a reasonable, yummy lunch. She was very funny and kind and completely pleasant company for the morning.
Take some time…
My last piece of advice to you, is that if you come to just stand for a moment, look up at the Parthenon, or the Caryatids, snap a few pictures, and move on – you’re missing some really beautiful things. My favorite part of the visit – here and throughout any visit – is to look for the details. The little things that make you laugh, or see the craftsmanship and skill, or appreciate the true age of what you are looking at. In that vein, I give you a couple of my favorite photos from the visit…