We are in Athens, Greece! It’s another place I thought I’d never get to see. And apparently my iPhone never thought I’d get there either because every time I put in a search for “Restaurants in Athens” I get barbecue places in Georgia.
The place I HAD, HAD, HAD to go was the Acropolis and the Parthenon. So as soon as we dropped the bags in the hotel room we put on our walking shoes and headed south.
The Acropolis is up on the very top of the highest hill in the center of Athens. You can see it from just about everywhere in the city.
People either use the words “Acropolis” and “Parthenon” interchangeably or they think of them as two completely different sites. The Acropolis is collection of buildings up on top of the hill. The Parthenon is that main huge building in the center where the Elgin Marbles came from.
A word on Lord Elgin.
The Greeks hate him. Between the years 1803 and 1812 he bribed the Ottomans into letting him take half of the Parthenon friezes, fifteen metopes, seventeen pedestal fragments, and a caryatid and a column from the Erechtheion. Some of them even dropped into the bottom of the sea after the boat sank and they had to spend some major cash to find them. He is so reviled here that they take every opportunity to let you know that every single one of the entire country’s already really awesome monuments and museums would be even better if Lord Elgin hadn’t stolen them. He’s not exactly shown with a Snidely Whiplash-esque mustache and hat, but the implication is there.
The whole of the Acropolis is really impressive and is the #1 “To See” spot in all of Athens. So, word to the wise, be prepared for lines. However, because we went on a Monday morning before the real season started we managed to avoid the crowds and only had to compete with some school groups. (Although I sat next to this really nice couple from Finland who went on a Saturday and had to wait 3 hours to buy their tickets and go up the path to the top.)
Now this is the Parthenon. This is what everyone comes to see, what they talk about in the bar, and the pictures they flip through on their iPhones. It is unbelievably massive and awe inspiring. It was built in 438BC at the height of classical Greek architecture and is still considered The Parthenon.
If you visit this summer you will see that part of it is covered in scaffolding as they are doing some restoration work. That doesn’t take away from its beauty however. The other buildings are free of scaffolding. My particular favorite was the Erechtheion with the famous women pillars known as the Caryatids. Gorgeous.
In case you are a Percy Jackson fan, this is where the Athena Parthenos was located and went missing. The Romans supposedly carted this ivory and gold 14 meter tall statue off when they sacked Athens. It was possibly last seen in Constantinople in the 10th century, but where it might be is a mystery worthy of Indiana Jones. (Are you listening, George Lucas??)
There is even a theater up there. In fact, it’s one of the first things you see as you walk up the path. It’s called The Theatre of Dionysus.
I was surprised to see a theater up there, but a guide told me that it’s common to have theaters in sacred areas. In ancient Greek culture, she explained, watching theater was a spiritual event where you could make yourself a better and emotionally richer person by vicariously experiencing the triumphs and tragedies of the characters on stage. Almost all the theaters from the classical Greek period were called Theatre of Dionysus because Dionysus is not only the god of wine, but also of theater and acting.
I love that view of acting and the theater. Like so many others I was a drama geek and I owe a great portion of who I am today to Ms. Linda Brant, my drama teacher. More people should make an effort to see a live theater performance once in their lives.
But I digress….
The Acropolis is just too big to mentally process in under 2 hours. It was wonderful.
So why is it important? It’s shows what we can do as human beings when we have a vision that we can communicate in such a way that others begin to believe in that vision, too. When we work together we can move rocks the size of small vehicles and change them into something grand that resonates with and inspires people thousands of years into the future.
This answer was not satisfactory.
At the foot of the Acropolis there is this a very modern and out-of-place building called the Acropolis Museum. It’s like a glass box in the middle stone and stucco buildings. They have taken a lot of the statues that need protection from the elements, plus some repatriated artifacts (Hello, Elgin Marbles! They are waiting for you!) and curated them together into an historical story.
It’s actually built over some ruins from around the same time as the Acropolis. The floor is see-through so you can look at them throughout the museum.
You are NOT allowed to take photos inside. NOT ALLOWED!! And they police the area vigilantly. I saw several people get yelled at because tourists do not listen nor do they read. However, it seems photos are permitted in the area where the Elgin Marbles will go once they get them back. This is the only picture I took, because didn’t want to take too many chances. However, it shows what should have been sitting in the northern peak of the Parthenon. This is reproduced from sketches done in the 1880s.
Now, Elgin isn’t to blame for these being destroyed. The Parthenon made a really great church back in the day! However, statues from a polytheistic society weren’t really the best decor for a church so they chiseled them off and threw them down the hill.
And there were lots of different cultures and societies that came in and made changes to the area of the Acropolis. Those changes might be considered in the “destroying of history” category, but while they were destroying some parts they were restoring and reinforcing other parts. That restoration helped to keep the Parthenon and the other buildings standing for all these years.
But back to the museum, this is only a small example of what they have. The statuary is beyond compare. It was the height of the Greek civilization, after all. And they have done some wonderful videos about how the restorers learn carving techniques by making copies and show experiments with how the ancient Greeks may have painted marble.
And then they have this….
In the theater, is Elton John performing. And there are tons of little Easter Eggs all over for adults and the kids. The boys made detailed plans at dinner and are preparing their own version.
So come! Come and see the Acropolis! It’s beautiful! Bring the kids! We did and we survived!
There are tons more posts coming: the Agora, the Market, Delphi, Mycenae, and the Greek Islands. Stay tuned this week. There are going to be tons of pictures.