There is a lot of pressure when you are the sole trip planner. Sure, it’s nice to get that pat on the back if you bring your travel companions to the perfect view at sunset, or the best kept secret restaurant in the city, or if you just have THE BEST time ever. But what happens if things don’t go according to plan, if your sources turn out to be full of shit, or perhaps you failed to notice that the site was last updated in 2012? Well either way, I felt a lot of pressure on this trip. I felt like we couldn’t truly ‘wing it’ to see the sights effectively, nor did I want to overfill our itinerary, and I definitely wanted to see what we could do to avoid getting caught up in a sea of cruise ship tours. (get it ‘sea of cruise ships tours’ – HA).
I tried to ask Nathan’s opinion on a few things: do we go to the Acropolis first thing in the morning when it opens at 8AM or at the end of the day when the heat is dying down and the cruise ships are gone…. Little response. Private tour or bus tour? what’s the price difference. Ferry ride or flight to the islands? What’s our timeline again? I tried to show Nathan photos a couple of nights before we left, and he said ‘NO – I don’t want to see anything. I want to be surprised.’
So there you have it. The fate of our trip rests on my shoulders.
And so, after our 3 hour nap and a cup of mango and lemon gelato, we are off to The Acropolis. At the end of the day. It was still really hot. But the light for photographs was what won me over. First decision made.
The Acropolis is Greece’s most emblematic monument, the sacred rock, an ancient citadel on a flat-topped rock that rises 490 feet above sea level from the heart of the city. It is a compass that you look to to orient yourself in the city, and it may involve you walking round and round and round trying to figure out where you started and which way to go now. But, regardless of user error – you can see it from pretty much anywhere.
After hours spent looking at the names of the different ancient sites and monuments on the computer before our trip, it all seemed a little overwhelming. I was worried that there was a certain order to view the sites and a best view point for photos. But once we started the trek up the dusty path, I began to realize that it really doesn’t matter. Every ancient structure is impressive and it is mind boggling that people have been ascending this sacred rock for over 6000 years, and it just gets better and better the further you climb.
We entered at the South Slope of the Acropolis, and so our first big site was The Ancient Theatre of Dionysos. It is the most ancient theatre in the world and saw the premiere performances of the plays from ancient Greek poets: Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, and Sophocles in 5th century BC.
Ancient Theatre of Dionysos
There is something to be said for sitting in seats at the world’s most ancient theatre.
The Odeion on Herodes Atticus was built in 161 AD by Herodes Tiberius Claudius Atticus, a teacher and philosopher who inherited a fortune from his father. To this day, this theatre is used as a venue for concerts during the Athens Festival – which would be a pretty cool experience.
The Propylaia is the monumental gateway, and grand entrance to The Acropolis.
Built in 437 – 432 BC, it is made almost entirely of Pentelic marble. Now, Pentelic marble is flawless white with a uniform, faint yellow tint that makes it shine golden in the sunlight (which makes it just lovely at sunset), and comes from Mount Penteli, which according to google maps is almost 15 miles away from the Acropolis. Considering that the monuments, including the Parthenon, are all made of Pentelic marble, can you imagine what it would have taken to harvest all of the marble and move it that distance?! Crazy!
Temple of Athena Nike
The Temple of Athena Nike showed its golden hue as the sun started to set during our visit. Built in 421 BC, it commemorated the victory of the Athenians against the Persians.
As we passed through the Propylaia gateway, I could see the Parthenon up ahead to my left, but I felt like we had to delay the anticipation and leave the Grand Finale to the end, so we went ahead to the right.
The Erechtheion was built between 421 and 406 BC at the most holy site of The Acropolis. Athena and Poseidon both wanted to be the patron of Athens and it was decided that whoever gave the city the best gift would preside over the city and surrounding lands. Poseidon struck the earth with his trident and a spring of salt water poured out of the ground. Although impressed, the people were not that impressed when they tasted the salt water. Athena’s gift was the Olive Tree, which ultimately won her the prize, and naming rights, since the people found value in the food (olives), oil and wood provided by her gift.
The site of The Erechtheion is said to be build where Poseidon struck the rock with his trident and Athena planted her olive tree. The Western section dedicated to Poseidon, and the Eastern section, with its southern balcony featuring the 6 Caryatids, is dedicated to Athena. And the olive tree growing on its left, although not the original olive tree, is said to have sprouted miraculously after the original olive tree was destroyed by the Persians at this very same spot.
We wandered around looking at the view. And I was also that person that was hovering around the water fountain, taking my turn guzzling straight from the source, rather than filling up a water bottle. I don’t know why I even questioned bringing my water bottle, much less didn’t even buy one when we were at the bottom! But just in case that happens to you too – there is a water fountain at the top.
We could see the flag waving to us from our hotel rooftop terrace.
And oh look – there’s our roof top terrace!
And finally….The Parthenon!
The Parthenon was a temple dedicated to Athena, built in 447-438 BC, and the most important surviving building of Classical Greece. It is built from an estimated 13,400 blocks of Pentelic marble that was transported from the quarries on Mount Penteli.
During the last 2,500 years, The Parthenon has endured many different transformations. During the Roman Period, after acquiring many new votive offerings and statues, The Parthenon became a Christian cathedral and many statues and friezes were destroyed. It was then turned into a Mosque during the Ottoman Period. For the majority of its life, the building remained intact – a Doric peripteral temple with 8 columns on the front and 17 columns on each side, with no straight lines in its design, so the columns appear to bulge, as if straining from the weight. It wasn’t until 1687, when the Venetians bombarded the Acropolis, causing an explosion that created the gap in the south side of The Parthenon, that the structure began to falter. And in 1801-1812, Britain’s Lord Elgin, removed much of the sculptural decoration of the Parthenon, Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion, including 1 Caryatid, which is presently displayed in the British Museum and the Greek government has been trying to bring back to Greece to be displayed with the other 5 original Caryatids at the Acropolis Museum (which is amazing by the way).
So there you have it. Our tour of The Acropolis. From 5:30PM – 7:30PM, we sweated under the setting sun, stirring up little clouds of dust under our feet. But we didn’t have to deal with hoards of tour groups!