The day began hot and sunny and somewhat late, so we grabbed a cab up to the Acropolis. It's about a half-hour walk from the hotel, but I've been having issues with arthritis in my hips, and knowing that we'd be climbing around the rest of the day, we decided to play it safe. We checked with the staff at the front desk about distances and routes and finally got to meet George, with whom K had been corresponding regularly about the finer points of our stay. He pointed out sights on the map, carefully marking the location of the hotel and noting that in certain areas, we should be careful of pick-pockets. Duly warned, we set off.
Our Monday morning cab driver, as has each driver we have encountered in Athens, generously offered to provide us a tour of the city, rather than merely delivering us to our desired destination. Not only that, but for a very reasonable sum of something like 200 Euros apiece, we could have a half-day trip to the Temple of Poseidon, on the coast, and watch the sunset from there. He was concerned when we declined that we would regret it, and he let us out of the cab still shaking his head: were we sure? we would love it, he was certain. He pressed his card into K's hand before speeding off. It was our first introduction to the delightfully entrepreneurial, enterprising, and hospitable nature of the Greek people.
The Acropolis sits on top of a limestone plateau, with a sheer stone cliff sides of around 100 feet. Because it also has natural springs, it has been a fortress and place of worship since the beginning of recorded history. Before the Greeks, it was occupied by the Mycenaeans, who built a fortress here around 1400 BC. Athena, the patron goddess of Athens has been worshipped here since about 800 BC. In 480 BC the Persians invaded and took over the area, burning the existing structures to the ground. When the Greeks retook the area and later rebuilt, they used the burned rubble as fill - which ultimately preserved those earlier remnants. The existing structures were built as a cohesive project between 450-400 BC. When the Romans later occupied Athens, they made a few expansions, added some ego-boosting statutes (I'm talking to you, Agrippa!), and generally made use of the temples for their own pantheon of gods.
Interestingly, the buildings were constructed using paid labor, not slave labor. The architects and sculptors, laborers and surveyors were free men. (It is possible that slave labor was used in the quarries where the marble was obtained.)
|Odeon of Herodes Atticus|
|Odeon Of Herodes Atticus from above|
As we rounded the hill and began the climb, we first encountered the Odeon of Herodes Atticus - an ancient theater that has been updated and currently hosts events. It was originally built by the Romans in 161 AD, so it's relatively new compared to the rest of the Acropolis! The marble seats/steps were added in the 1950's.
As we entered the terrace where we could purchase tickets, a crowd of registered tour guides began to hail us. In Greece, only registered/certified tour guides are authorized to give tours at the historic sites. We chatted with an elderly woman guide who told us her entire life story before deciding to proceed unguided. (We have not yet met an introverted Greek. I'm sure they must exist, somewhere.)
The sheer scale of the Acropolis complex is astonishing. Walking on the original marble steps, slippery with age, is humbling. It is also disturbing to consider how Britain (and France, to a lesser degree) plundered this site.
The Acropolis includes a number of structures: the Beule Gate (Roman construction), the Propylaea, which is the entranceway, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Pantheon, the Erecthium, and others.
|The Beule Gate|
|Temple of Athena Nike from the Propylaea steps|
|Temple of Athena Nike- front view|
As you climb through the Propylaea, you emerge onto the "top" of the Acropolis proper. What you would have seen, in its heyday, was a 30 foot tall statue of Athena the Warrior (Athena Promachos), whose gold-tipped spear was supposedly visible to sailors coming into the nearest harbor. The statue has long since disappeared and no one knows what happened to it.
|Site of Athena Promachos|
Ahead lies the Parthenon - the largest and finest temple of its kind. The architects used tricks to deceive the eye into seeing it straight and level on the approach, even though it is slightly tilted inward. The sculptures that once adorned it were breathtaking. It is hard to imagine the skill and craftsmanship that created this temple which still exists more than 2500 years later. Ham-handed attempts at restoration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries caused damage, and now restoration efforts are trying to remediate that damage as well as further preserve the remaining structure.
|The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion|
|The "Room" Where it Happened! The Olive Tree from Athena|
|The stones in front of the Erechtheion are the remains of the older Mycenaean fortress.|