Our ship pulled into Piraeus, the main port for Athens, early on Tuesday, May 27th. Athens is the capital of (and the largest city) in Greece. Accordingly, Athens is congested. Our guide told us there are almost 5 million people living in a space planned for about 3 million. Luckily, most of the historical (tourist) sites are close to one another. So, the traffic and congestion were not huge issues for us.
I had arranged for a private driver and a guided walking tour with PK Travel a couple of months before the cruise. The driver met us at the port and dropped us off at the bottom of the Acropolis, where we met our guide for the morning. The guide purchased our tickets and we walked up the hill to the entrance.
On the way up, we got a nice view of the Temple of Athena Nike. The Temple was built in the 5th century B.C. to celebrate the Athenian victory over the Persians and to help ensure future victories over Athens’ enemies.
Almost at the top of the hill, we walked past the Monument of Agrippa (the big stone pedestal in the left hand portion of the picture). Over time, the pedestal has held statues of the winner of the 178 B.C. Olympic chariot race, Marc Antony and Cleopatra, and the Roman General Agrippa.
At the top, we walked up the steps and through the Propylaea, the gigantic entrance gate/building for the Acropolis. I couldn’t really get a good shot because we were being herded up the steps with all of the other tourists.
As soon as we walked through the Propylaea, the Parthenon came into view. (It’s hard to miss.) The Parthenon was built in the 5th century B.C.; and, as amazing as it is now, must have been breathtaking in its prime. During construction of the Parthenon, the architects used several methods and optical illusions to ensure that it looked symmetrical. The base of the building is higher in the middle than on the edges, each column is tilted slightly inward, and the corner columns are thicker and spaced more closely than the rest. As a result, the base looks straight, the columns look straight, and the corner columns look the same size as the rest. It is an absolutely beautiful building.
As you can see, it is currently being restored.
View from the other end.
Located across from the Parthenon is the Erechtheion, also built in the 5th century B.C. According to myth, the city held a competition between Poseidon and Athena with Athens as the prize. The winner was to be picked based on which deity presented the city with the best gift. Poseidon and Athena met at the top of the Acropolis to present their gifts to the city. Poseidon went first. He struck the ground with his trident and water burst from the rock. However, it was salty, as Poseidon was the god of the sea. When it was Athena’s turn, presented the city with an olive tree. This was much more useful for the people as they could use the olives for food, olive oil for their lamps and cooking, and the wood for building. Athena was picked as the winner and became protector of the city. The Erechtheion is said to have been built on the site where the contest was held. (You can see an olive tree in the picture below.)
Integrated into the Erechtheion is the Porch of the Caryatids. The Porch has six statues of maidens acting as columns. The columns at the Acropolis are actually copies. Four of the originals are on display at the Acropolis Museum. One statue was shipped to London. And, the last is in France.
From the far end of the Acropolis, there is a great place to get a view of Athens and the sites around the Acropolis.
View of the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
The city and Lykavittos Hill, the highest point in Athens.
Other sites visible from the Acropolis are the Theater of Dionysus, the Odeon (Theater) of Herodes Atticus, and the Hephaisteion.
The Theater is said to be the birthplace of Greek tragedy and hosted plays by Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes.
The Odeon was built in the 2nd century A.D. by Herodes Atticus, in memory of his wife. Originally, it was covered with a wood roof; and, the wall behind the stage contained statues of the nine Muses. It seats ~5,000 people and is still used for performances today.
The Hephaisteion is one of the most well preserved temples in Athens. It is in the Ancient Agora. Unfortunately, we did not get to visit the Agora when we were there. But, maybe next time.
After leaving the Acropolis, we walked back down the hill and headed for the Acropolis Museum. The Acropolis Museum is about a 5 minute walk from the Acropolis, down the Dionysiou Areopagitou, a nice, pedestrian only road lined with trees and benches.
The original Acropolis Museum was located on top of the Acropolis, close to the Parthenon; but, the need for a new location and a bigger building quickly became apparent. Construction of the new Museum was completed in 2007 and it was opened to the public in 2009. The Museum houses artifacts from the Acropolis and Greece. Additionally, it was built as a way to get some of the original artifacts back from the British Museum in London. For years, the British Museum has refused to return artifacts to Greece with the argument that Greece didn’t have a suitable place to put them. And, even after the new Acropolis Museum was built, the British Museum has not returned the items.
This is a model of what the pediment of the Parthenon looked like originally.
The following are pictures of the frieze that once went all the way around the top of the Parthenon. Out of the original 525 feet, the Acropolis Museum only has 32 feet. The yellowish sections are the originals. The white sections are copies (because the originals are located elsewhere..mainly, the British Museum).
Four of the original Caryatids (mentioned earlier) are located in the Acropolis Museum. They are in the process of being cleaned by laser. The Museum has an interesting video of how the cleaning is performed.
After that point, no more pictures were allowed in the Museum. But, there is a lot more to see. I would recommend that, if you go to the Acropolis, you should follow up your visit with the Acropolis Museum.
From the Museum, we stopped to get a quick snack and then walked to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Located next to the Temple is Hadrian’s Arch (or, Hadrian’s Gate).
The Temple of the Olympian Zeus was the largest temple in ancient Greece. The Temple, in all of its glory, was ~315 feet long and ~130 feet wide. However, only 15 of the original 104 columns remain.
At that point, our walking tour was over. But, we had some extra time before we were supposed to meet our driver for the return trip back to the ship. So, we decided to walk around and do a little shopping. And, we had some gelato. Yummy!
As I mentioned previously, with my Mykonos post, out of all of the stops on the cruise we enjoyed our stops in Greece the most. The weather is great. The people are friendly and welcoming. The history and mythology are fascinating. And, the ancient sites are amazing. We look forward to going back again (soon).