Apparently, you’re supposed to visit the Acropolis at the same time you visit the sites around the base. The guy who took our tickets for yesterday’s sites, took our Acropolis tickets, too. We didn’t notice until today.
So we paid 10 euros twice to see the Acropolis. Gringo tax, which is part of traveling. Let it go.
Or think of it like this: We’re supporting preservation of ruins we care about in a depressed country. Yay, us!
Perspective, and the ability to change it, is a wonderful thing.
So . . . what’s the big deal about the Acropolis? Well, as the highest point in the city, it’s been in continuous use since Neolithic times, as a place for refuge, religion, and royalty. Since Neolithic times. That’s mind-boggling history!
The site opened at 8 a.m. We were out the door by 7:50 a.m., which gave us plenty of time to walk there by 8. We took a new route, too, avoiding Georgio and his competing restaurateur friend.
This is a picture of the Acropolis entrance (aka the Propylaia) taken yesterday from the Areopagus. See all the people on the stairs? That’s why we wanted to be there at 8 a.m.
As expected, few people were as eager as we were to see the Acropolis so early this morning, and we had the place largely to ourselves for most of the time we were there. Delightful!
Those are the same stairs of the Propylaia (or entrance), where the crowd is in the previous picture. This is the grand entrance through which all visitors in that lengthy history have passed. We’re walking where people walked thousands of years ago.
Now, things have changed a little. For instance, a ramp once split the stairs and ran up the center. People led oxen and other sacrificial animals up the ramp to the temples. Cows don’t do stairs. And having an animal stumble meant disaster. Really. Or so the ancients thought.
I think we can still see bits of the ramp between stairs, but it’s all stairs now.
Temple of Athena Nike
From the Propylaia, we see the Temple of Athena Nike, the goddess of Victory. There has been a temple to a goddess of victory here since prehistoric times. This is the most vulnerable corner of the site—obviously, it’s how everyone gets in!
The temple was originally built between 426 and 421 BC, to commemorate Athens’ victories over Persia. It was destroyed by the Turks in 1686, rebuilt between 1834 and 1838, and then reconstructed again in 1935.
Since some of the Pentelic marble is yellowed and some is bright white, I think we can assume some of the rock is older and some is newer. Just how old, exactly, is the old stuff? Beats me. Are there any pieces from the original? No idea.
On one hand, I like the patchwork look. On the other hand, it strikes me as modern, and that kind of ruins the historical feeling.
I like that it’s a relatively tiny little temple, kind of hanging ten on the dangerous end—on the front line. I also especially like the view of the Acropolis from the Areopagus, and this is the temple we see from there.
As we emerged from the Proplylaia, we heard what sounded like frat boys hollering out some sort of chant that didn’t fit our mood. It turned out to be the military flag raisers. No idea what the noise was about. We watched them march out, brandishing their rifles in unison.
There’s a story that goes with the flag up here. Actually, there are probably lots of stories, but here’s one:
During WWII, Germany occupied Athens. A Greek guard at the Acropolis was ordered to lower the Greek flag and raise the German flag. Well, the rebel lowered the Greek flag all right, but then he wrapped it around himself and lept off the steep north end of the rock.
Take that, invader.
Understand, however, that while this story was publicized and boosted the morale of the country during a dark time, no one has ever found evidence this story is actually true.
This is the Most Sacred site on the Acropolis . . . according to someone. It’s where Athena and Poseidon battled over possession of the city. In this battle, Poseidon drew a spring for the city with his trident, but it contained salt water. Athena, on the other hand, gave the city an olive tree. Athena for the win! See her olive tree? It’s in the center of the picture.
Caryatids are some of my favorite architectural details. Barb and I have posed as caryatids once, twice, or a dozen time at these sites. I wonder if my ashes can be incorporated into a caryatid when I’m dead. But what building do I want that caryatid to support? Suggestions? I’ll need to think about this.
As with all the buildings on the Acropolis, the Erechtheion has been used for many things in its long history, including a harem for the wives of a Turkish commander in the middle ages.
And then there is the Parthenon, the star of the Acropolis show. Begun in 447 BC, during the “Age of Pericles,” it took nine years to complete. Famous for its perfect symmetry, it employs a number of tricks to achieve this, which, of course, we learned about in our courses.
- Columns bow out in the middle to make them appear straight.
- The base also bows in the middle to make it appear straight.
- Each column leans inward slightly, but honestly, I couldn’t detect this.
Back in the day, the Parthenon housed a gigantic gold-and-ivory statue of Athena, by famed sculptor, Pheidias. None of the statue remains; although, written accounts and replicas exist. We saw a smaller, less gold Roman version at the National Archaeological Museum.
Every year, women of Athens wove a new purple and saffron garment for the statue and presented it during an elaborate cross-city procession and festival. The garment was a “peplos,” which is a body-length, sleeveless outer garment constructed as a tube. Take a look at the caryatids to see how this garment was draped, pinned, and cinched around the body. Images of stories and myths wove through the fabric.
A Birds-eye View
As we always do with birds-eye views, we lingered and studied the ruins and cityscape below, along with the distant view.
The Areopagos may be my favorite site: It offers some birds-eye views of its own, but it also looks up at the Acropolis. And it’s wonderfully accessible.
Check out the straight road that leads from the Monument of Lysikrates at the bottom of the picture to Hadrian’s Arch. The name of that road is “Lysikratou.” I imagine it was there and well used before the arch was built.
Can you make out the Filopappos Monument? It’s on the left side of the photo on the distant hill.
I loved seeing the theaters from above.
Our Work Here is Done
As we made our way out, more and more people arrived; tours started. The line at the ticket booth was looooooooong.