Our cruise ended in Athens on Friday morning, allowing us Friday afternoon and Saturday morning to explore Athens itself. Given the limited time available, and it being my first visit to Athens, we focused our attention on the Acropolis and its accompanying museum. Read on and check out the photo gallery.
We spent Friday afternoon at the museum, and Saturday morning at the Acropolis. This sequence turned out to be fantastic for three reasons. First, the museum provides an excellent introduction to the history of the Acropolis, which evolved significantly over twenty-five centuries of construction, destruction, and occupations. Second, the Acropolis can be extremely crowded, but not at 8am when it opens. Third, the sun rose about a half-hour before opening time, so we were able to photograph these exquisite monuments during the tail end of photographers’ “golden hour”.
The Acropolis Museum opened 10 years ago, and is truly beautiful. Despite the crowds, it was an enjoyable and informative visit. I was surprised to learn how many roles the Parthenon had filled over the centuries – originally a temple of Athena, it has also been converted into a Christian church and into an Islamic mosque as well as a Turkish gunpowder magazine, depending on the ruling civilization at the time.
Just two months ago, the museum opened a fascinating open-air exhibit underneath the museum, which is built on stilts so the excavated foundations of ancient Athenian homes can be seen. I was struck by one home in particular, which had been continuously occupied for over a thousand years, no doubt involving a few renovations now and then. :-)
On Saturday morning we arrived shortly after opening time, and strolled up the flat-topped hill on which the Acropolis rests. (After all, “acropolis” means “high city”.) We passed through the Propylaia entrance (432BC), beside the Temple of Athena Nike (420BC), and on past the Erechtheion (406BC) before circling the Parthenon (438BC). The Parthenon has some fascinating mathematical structure – and some impressive tricks to make it look perfectly straight, a clever optical illusion. See this article and this Nova video for a short explanation. Cool!
Each had been severely damaged over the centuries, and sometimes rebuilt; each is undergoing modern reconstruction to restore them to the extent possible with remaining original materials. We also had passed by the “new” theater (Odeon of Herodes Atticus, 161AD) and the “old” theater of Dionisys (4th c. BC), supposedly the birthplace of Greek tragedy [Wikipedia], on the slopes of the Acropolis.
I also had a chance to wander some of the narrow streets and pedestrian alleys between the hotel and the Acropolis area – always an opportunity for some interesting discoveries. On one path I found myself beside the remains of the Olympieion. “Construction began in the 6th century BC during the rule of the Athenian tyrants, who envisaged building the greatest temple in the ancient world, but it was not completed until the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD, some 638 years after the project had begun.” [Wikipedia]
So much to see! I’ll have to return sometime to visit the other monumental sites from Athens’ fascinating past. Meanwhile, check out the photo gallery.