I first knew about the ACROPOLIS OF ATHENS when I was in 6th grade. Printed in black and white on low quality paper, the picture of the Parthenon has since then captivated my imagination so as the Caryatid Columns that adorn the Erechtheion seemingly gazing endlessly into the horizon of what was once the Golden Age of Greece. As young as I was, this moment in my life sparked my obsession with everything ancient and the beauty of classical architecture and culture – starting from as simple as Disney’s Hercules, to eventually buying books about the Iliad, the Odyssey and more about Greek Mythology, to countless documentaries, to actually dreaming to set foot on this famed land of the first democracy. As a kid, I never knew that all it took was some years before that dream was to be reality; and that I would actually get the chance to travel Greece and to see in person, in full human optical resolution that is, the place that once was just in a crumpled page of an old re-used textbook the government loaned to students like us in a simple public school.
We arrived at 1am in the morning at Delphi Art Hotel, our hotel in Athens, from a long but fun ferry trip from Santorini (blogged here). Exhausted and all, my wife and I still made sure that we woke up at 6am to make the most out of our stay in Athens (we barely had 2 Days left to explore Greece’s capital)! Sometimes we wonder where we get all our energy when we travel ha-ha! Up at almost the same time as the sun said hello to Athens, we prepped ourselves for our morning tour of the Arcropolis of Athens – something we’ve been looking forward to ever since we arrived in the country and something no one should ever miss in a travel to Greece!
Our hotel was located in Omonoia, a relatively old district of modern Athens. At first we were concerned & cautious about the safety at Omonoia as we heard that it was a somewhat seedy place to be in Athens – like drug addicts going around and stuff.
To our surprise, it was a safe and well-lit area near Omonoia Square (though we saw some syringes stuck in some of the plant boxes in the side walks). I guess the best way to stay safe is to venture along the main busy roads and keep off dark narrow alleys as everywhere else in the world.
Luckily, our hotel was only a stone throw’s away from the Omonoia Subway Station – where we got our day pass ticket for a reasonable amount of Euros from an automatic vending machine. Omonoia is like a central station where different subway lines meet so we made sure that we got to the line that leads directly to the Acropolis station. The train stations are small and simple than what we’re used to but are safe (thanks to the courteous and helpful police personnel in the area) and easy to navigate thru the direction boards found inside. The trains themselves are old and full of graffiti but comfortable enough for traveling around Athens.
The Acropolis Station can be regarded as a mini-museum thru the artifacts and information displayed that belong to the Classical Age of Greece. After finding ourselves up to ground level, we made our way along Makrigianni Street to Dionysiou Areopagitou Street (which is a pedestrianized street by the way), to the entrance of the Acropolis Archaeological Site. It was still early morning and we were luckily welcomed by only a short queue at the ticketing office. In no time, we were on our way to see the sites at the Acropolis of Athens.
Theatre of Dionysus
Theatre, tragedy & comedy, were all introduced to Human Civilization by the Greeks – and the Theatre of Dionysus is the very first ever theatre built of stone in the entire world! And this theatre is the first one you’ll come upon of all the places to see in the Acropolis of Athens while you make your way up.
Able to sit 17000 spectators, the Theatre of Dionysus was dedicated to the Greek God of Plays and Wine and is the place where the biggest ancient theatrical celebration in Ancient Athens called the Dionysia was celebrated.
The theatre is badly weathered as you can see in the photos, the upper seating area are hardly recognizable! Good thing is that restoration is ongoing. Can’t wait to see the Theatre brought back to its former glory.
Other Ruins Along the Way
As we continued along our way up Acropolis Hill, we chanced upon other ruins such as the Aclepium, etc.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Odeons were structures used much like a theatre but were mostly used by Greeks for musical and poetry presentations. Nearing the top of the Acropolis of Athens, we passed by the upper area of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus which was a smaller theatre as compared with the Theatre of Dionysus with a capacity of only 5000 people.
Though smaller in size, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus is much well-preserved than its brother some hundreds of meter away at the slope of the Acropolis. Because of the level of preservation, the Odeon of Atticus is still being used by the Greeks nowadays for theatre plays and musical concerts. Now watching a Greek Play in the Odeon is part of our bucket list and would be one of the reasons why we’d love to go back and tour Athens more in the future!
Propylaea – Acropolis of Athens
A few more meters uphill and we were there, face to face with the massive gateway to the Acropolis of Athens, its famed Propylaea!
Facing west towards the port of Piraeus (Athen’s major port since antiquity and remains so today), the Propylaea is the sole entry way that gave access to the top of the Acropolis rock.
The Propylaea was huggggeeee!!! And what we see now is still incomplete, restoration, the same for most of the structures in the acropolis is under way! But man, it was ginormous! Something you only see in epic movies – and to think that all of these was made by hand and manual labor!
But aside from its size, the Propylaea is beautiful. If stones could dance, the Propylaea could be described as graceful! With all those gleaming white Pentellic marble, Jill and I just stayed infront of it for some minutes just to bask in its beauty.
With treasure such as these buildings, it is good to know that the Greek Government has put in place many steps to preserve their integrity, even going to the point that the Acropolis area is a no-fly zone to minimize damage done by pollution etc.
And if you’re ever thinking of picking up stones as souvenirs in the area, you better think twice as this is considered illegal as a small fragment of stone might mean so much in reconstructing and learning more about the Acropolis.
Being within the confines of the Propylaea and gazing outwards to the modern city of Athens is an experience by itself. Yes, the surrounding city and scenery have changed, but the grand view the acropolis provides at this point in the rock remains the same thousands of years after this edifice was built.
The massive Propylaea, as monumental as it seems, is but a fraction of what awaits you behinds its massive entrance way. Surely, you don’t expect and want your gate to be more beautiful than your house right? Especially if you’re an Ancient Athenian, a citizen of the most powerful city-state in the Greek World!
The Acropolis of Athens was the city’s citadel, the final means of the city when all most of the city has fallen. And within its fortified hilltop are the most important buildings of the city!
There are numerous buildings of great significance within the hilltop fortification of the Acropolis, starting from the immediate right of the Propylaea, the structure known as the…
Temple of Athena Nike
This small temple at the cliff edge of the the Acropolis of Athens was dedicated to the Victorious Athenian patron Goddess, Athena in the hope of winning the long bitter Peloponnesian Wars (wars between the Greek City states in antiquity, with Athens and Sparta being the main players). Surprisingly, this is the only temple at the Acropolis that is not surrounded by scaffoldings, affording us a somewhat unobstructed view of the temple.
What actually greeted us like any visitor on the Acropolis after entering the Propylaea was the infamous Parthenon – however, let’s leave the best for last and lets take a tour around the other structures in the Acropolis. So let’s proceed to the building second in fame to the Parthenon which is the…
The Erechtheion can be found at the leftside vicinity of the Acropolis after entering the Propylaea. It was the main place of worship for the Ancient Athenians within the Acropolis, in contrary to popular belief, not the Parthenon.
Said to have been built in honor of Athen’s King Erechteus, who is believed to be buried nearby, the Erechtheion was used to worship the Goddess Athena and the Greek God of the Sea, Poseidon.
One of the most enduring structures from when I was back in gradeschool, the sight of the Erechtheion sent shivers of excitement down my spine! At last, after years and years, I was there standing infront of it! One of the beauties of travel is seeing places that you once only saw on books and pictures!
Approaching the Erechtheion from its western side, we came upon an unsuspecting olive tree. Not all visitors may be aware of it, but this tree is known as the Tree of Athena which sprouted miraculously from the spot that the goddess struck in the ground in her ensuing fight with Poseidon over the city of Athens.
The Erechtheion today, as it was before, is an Acropolis must see attraction. Today it may be for Greece tourism purposes, but before it was more of religious obligation.
Back in the days when it was made, the Erechtheion housed the oldest and most important religious relics in Athens, namely:
The Palladion, a wooden effigy (fallen from heaven – not man-made) of Athena Polias (City Protector)
The marks of Poseidon’s Trident and the Salt Water Well that resulted from Poseidon’s strike
The supposed burial places of the kings Kekrops and Erechtheus
The sacred precincts of Kekrops’ Three Daughters
The sacred precints of the tribal heroes Pandion and Boutes
The Erechtheion, with it’s religious significance aside, is not much aesthetically for many, if not for the famous Caryatids Columns found in the Porch of the Maidens.
The Temple of the Maidens or Caryatids is one of the most enduring details of the Erechtheion and the Acropolis. Instead of placing the usual doric and ionic types of columns common in the era, the architect of the Erectheion placed columns carved in the shape of beautiful maidens.
They all look the same from afar, but the Caryatids at the Acropolis were carved differently, from facial features drape and all. Some are standing on their right leg while some on their legs.
It is said that during the Peloponnesian War, the town of Karyai allied with Athen’s rivals. Alas, when the Athenians came out victorious, they built the Caryatid Columns to represent the town of Karyai punished eternally to forever gaze and give their submission to Athens represented by the Caryatids looking towards the Parthenon.
Unfortunately, the Caryatids that are found in the Erechtheion at the Athens Acropolis are just copies. One of the originals are kept in the British Museum, while the 5 remaining ones are kept within the nearby Acropolis Museum.
Viewing Platform – Acropolis of Athens
Found at the easternmost edge of the Acropolis is the viewing platform with the modern-day Greek Flag flying proudly above it. Offering an almost 360 degree view of Athens, this viewing platform is very popular with travelers so you’ll need to wait for a while for your turn to have a photo taken with the amazing modern Athenian cityscape.
Of all the buildings in the world, nothing has influenced the history of architecture as much as the Parthenon. Its influence is vast and far ranging, from the design of the US Capitol in Washington DC, to St Paul’s Cathedral in London, to Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome and many more! When you see something that looks like the Parthenon, rest assured, it was the Parthenon itself that was the inspiration for it. And I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw it face to face!
Just like that, after more than 13 years of waiting, of dreaming of seeing it, there it was, the Parthenon right in front of me and it is glorious beyond words! If God gave blueprints of a building to man, this was it – the most perfect edifice in the world! This resulting wonder was due to the talent and expertise of the greatest Athenian architects, sculptors, painters, builders, chiselers, and craftsmen at the time, working under the supervision of Phidias, a close friend of Athens’ then ruler, Pericles.
The Parthenon was the first building of its kind, built to glorify the city of Athens by meticulous mastery of geometry and mathematics. The Ancient Athenians built each details of it following the Golden Section, the theorized divine ratio (if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities). Achieving this ratio is believed to result in an appearance most pleasing to the eye (it is the same ratio found in nature – in leaves, trees, etc.). It is said and it is a fact that there are no straight lines in the Parthenon. Every straight line you see is an optical illusion, a trick to your eye to see straight was is actually not: “All follow the rule of being built into a delicate curve”.
Contrary to popular knowledge, the Parthenon is not a religious temple. Indeed, it held a 12 meter/approximately 36 foot high statue of Athena, but the Parthenon was mainly used as a treasury of the city where all the state riches and gold were kept especially when Athens became the leader of the Delian League (a conglomerate of Greek City states), an Athenian Empire in all aspects but name.
In a travelers view point, to fully appreciate the Parthenon takes luck and perfect timing! This is due to the reality that the Parthenon is still undergoing continuous restoration. When we arrived there, most of the western facade was clad in scaffolding and iron bars – the building is so fragile that entry to it is forbidden (this stays true to all the structures in the Acropolis) and all visitors can do is appreciate its beauty from behind the protective ropes that encircle it.
Luckily, the eastern facade of the Parthenon is free from any of these restorative works and offers you an unobstructed view of the Parthenon.
You can also appreciate from the eastern facade of the Parthenon the sculptures at its pediments. All of the surviving sculptural decorations aside from these once are exhibited in the Acropolis Museum nearby, so fret not!
My wife decided to rest for a while and just absorb everything about it under the shade of a tree in the visitor’s center of the Acropolis while refreshing ourselves with cold water that we got from a nearby drinking fountain. It might still be far from complete, but the ruins of the Parthenon never failed to evoke in me the feeling of its unprecedented regal grandeur, grace and beauty!
We wanted to stay longer, but I said, it was almost noon and we still had much to accomplish in our Athens Itinerary. So we decided that it was time to leave. We chose to exit by passing by the southern part of the Parthenon being the only side of the edifice that we haven’t seen yet.
We exited the Acropolis Archaelogical Site by passing through the backside (or rather it’s the front side of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus).
We tried our luck with the New Acropolis Museum which was on the way to our next Athens travel destination but the queue was so long we knew then that we had to choose – the museum or other sites. We decided to visit other sites and put off the visit to this museum the next time we visit Athens.
Our trip to Athens, especially to the Acropolis, is a dream come true – a dream that I never knew would come into fruition with Greece being thousands of miles away from my home country where I first read about it. But what makes me more thankful to God is that I got to reach this dream together with my wife – and that makes it the more special!
Next on the blog: The Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch, Roman Athens
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