Athens Stories and Tips

The Acropolis - Western Civilisations greatest treasure

Eastern facade of the Parthenon Photo, Athens, Greece

The 'high city' of the Acropolis resembles the surface of an alien planet.

When I was there, the ages old monument was being whipped by winds. Those same winds whipped the white gravel into swirling clouds that covered the camera wielding tourists. Doric columns lie around along with flagstones over 3500 years old, tripping up the tourists who are coming to grips with finally coming face to face with a world wonder. There's almost too much to take in - a spectacular setting, an unbelievable history, fantastic views of Athens and architecture which is copied around the world. I sometimes think the Acropolis is planet earth's year zero.

According to Greek mythology Poseidon and Athena battled over the site that was to become Athens. Both offered the populace gifts if they would deem to worship them. Poseidon, god of the ocean, struck his trident into the earth and water gushed forth. While Athena offered them the humble olive - the food of life. And from then on she was worshipped on the Acropolis and the greatest temple was dedicated to her. But that is legend, in reality the Acropolis on its craggy rock has been occupied since neolithic times. The great walls come from Mycenean times about 1500 BC including the royal palaces and the start of the cult of Athena. It took the famous Pericles to build what we see today. It seemed to survive unscathed until the Turkish occupation when the Ottomans stored gunpowder in the sacred environment of the Parthenon (they even turned it into a mosque). It was inevitable that a spare spark would ignite it sooner or later. To add insult to injury some of the most precious pieces were spirited off to London by Lord Elgin to spend time in his garden. Under the guise of "protection" you understand.

Lets face it, this is everyone's first stop in Athens. Even the most dedicated sun worshipper hits here before heading for the islands. The thing about the Acropolis is that it dominates everywhere in Athens. Wherever you turn, south of Omonia, you will see the mount looming above the buildings so there is no real hardship in finding it. It is, however, a tough monument to walk around so you might want to conserve your energy by getting to it the easiest way. I believe that is from Acropolis METRO station which deposits you southeast of the monument is a quiet neighbourhood. Head west and the beginnings of a park start to appear and the great crag starts to reach into the sky. The Acropolis' original intention as a fortress is obvious from below with its stone buttresses holding up the walls as they have done for millennia. The whole thing looks like it was built by giants from below - no wonder it never fell to an invader.

The path up to the Acropolis has made concessions to those who are walking impaired with paths being smoothed down but there are a couple of sheer drops as you ascend. The tour group crush increases as you reach the Propylaia. Gigantic Doric columns lead you through a gate and up a steep path. The Propylaia itself is the only time on the Acropolis that you enter an ancient building. You pass through a forest of Doric columns before catching your first sight of the Parthenon.

It is 'catch your breath' moment. The surface of the Acropolis near the Parthenon is immensely rocky and this and the crowds generally prevent you from getting too close. But the giant Doric facade of battered white marble is pretty impressive. Supporting columns stretch for seventy feet holding up a roof which once housed a pediment frieze which was the most famous in the classical world. Running around the roof were friezes of centaurs, amazons and giants. But its the size of the Parthenon which impresses and the fact that you are viewing a building that exemplifies Western civilisation.

With far less people is the Erechtheion - the remains of the Athena temple. Its caryatids - statues of beautiful Greek maidens - are its prime attraction and they are in place of columns so appear to hold up the temple. The Erechtheion was a temple to both Poseidon and Athena and contained a trough of seawater in its precincts. It also held the sacred olive tree of Athens. The whole building was a lovely sight - bright white marble contrasting with the bright blue Athens sky.

But one of the best things about visiting the Acropolis are the views across Athens. Perhaps those from the north and east are the best. It spreads for tens of miles, broken only by the green rocks of Lycabettus hill, poking out like an island from the white concrete that stretches away to the mountains. The view from the southwest is just as impressive. The mountains surrounding Athens are striking but way, way away is the Aegean and the port of Piraeus.

The Acropolis is the heart and soul of Greece. And although crowded, hot and touristy it is still very impressive.

You would have to have a heart of marble not to be moved by it all.

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