A vignette from a visit to the Acropolis
We were in Athens earlier this year. While the wife and I had traveled individually last year to meet our families, this was our first vacation together after the pandemic.
Athens has a lot to offer and you can easily fill a week and not get bored. The biggest draw for most visitors is the ruins at the Acropolis. You can buy a combi-ticket for 30€ per person that gives you access to 7 key sites and in a way also gives you a ready-made itinerary to follow. You can beat the rush by buying it at one of the (relatively) less popular sites. We procured ours at the temple of the Olympian Zeus.
The temple of Olympian Zeus was the size of a large playground with a raised, rectangular patch in the center where heavily scaffolded Corinthian columns stood on one side and a single column without scaffolding stood next to them. I am a little embarrassed to admit that I realized only just then that Greek columns, especially the 17m+ (55ft+) variety are not monolithic but are usually made up of smaller cylindrical blocks stacked on top of each other.
Wikipedia informs me that:
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.
638 years in the making. Talk about construction delays.
Various fragments of columns and other bits of masonry were scattered about at the perimeter of the site and were cordoned off. Feral cats roamed amidst the ruins - nothing was off-limits to them in Athens.
Right next to the site was The Arch of Hadrian - a Roman triumphal arch. If you stood facing it with your back to the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, you’d see a busy road with unrelenting traffic but if you looked a little further, you’d spot the Acropolis on a hill - our next destination.
On the way to the Acropolis were souvenir shops that were yet to open for the day. This in itself would have been utterly unremarkable had the shutters of these shops not been painted with cartoonish graffiti of ancient Greek myths:
We took a little break at one of the small cafeterias that dot the hilly streets in that area.
I try to think of how the Acropolis entered my consciousness and I am taken back to Yanni’s concert there in 1993. Whether it was broadcast live on national television in India or they showed only clips of it in the news, I don’t remember. But I do remember this long haired mustachioed man dressed in a flowing white shirt and his large orchestra making pleasant (if at that time a tad boring) music at this spectacular location at night. For a middle-class teenager growing up in India of the early 90s, the Acropolis was a distant place that might as well have been on another planet.
The ruins of the Acropolis are imposing even in their dilapidation. One can’t help but wonder how many people (and no doubt animals) it must’ve taken to erect those columns and how long it must’ve taken them without modern machinery and fossil fuels to do it.
The Parthenon, one of the main structures at the Acropolis, had been visible to us from the streets around our hotel. We were delighted to finally see it up close.
The Parthenon was undergoing repairs/restoration - and apparently has been for many years. One side of its facade was covered in scaffolding. With relatively few tourists visiting (given the early time of the year and the assortment of Covid restrictions still in effect), it was quiet here. The shrill buzz of a metal saw cutting stone would occasionally puncture the hush and remind us of the ongoing construction.
Bits of real, reconstructed and restored masonry were again haphazardly strewn all around us. A rather ancient looking guard post opposite the Parthenon had an old dust-covered modem lying inside. I knew the civilizations back then were quite advanced but this looked like a rather significant omission from our history books!
Feral cats were common here too and one of them briefly stopped to sip water pooled in a shallow pit in one of the rocks next to us.
Perhaps the most striking structure at the Acropolis is the Erechtheion, especially the porch of the maidens attached to it. It was cordoned off by rope barriers so we could only look at it from a few meters away but that took nothing away from its grandeur.
A low wall formed a perimeter around the Acropolis. In one corner of the perimeter you could climb a small raised platform and peer over the wall. From here you could see Athen’s dense urban sprawl stretching for miles and hear the distant roar of the traffic. We were even able spot the Arch of Hadrian and the Temple of The Olympian Zeus to our west.
We roamed around a bit longer soaking in the pleasant winter sun and admired other minor structures, amphitheatres and pine trees.
We returned to our hotel exhausted (we had walked 25km - the longest in a single day since the 2020 pandemic started) but with memories that we’ll cherish for many years to come.
p.s. While our ticket allowed entry into Acropolis proper just once, we visited the area around Acropolis several times. A couple of days later we caught a beautiful sunset over the Acropolis from our hotel’s terrace.