Ancient Greece Odyssey: The Acropolis of Athens
The Acropolis of Athens
Part Two of Ancient Greece Odyssey
Welcome back! Today I'll be visiting the the Acropolis and the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and the Theater of Dionysos. Along the way I'll share my photographs and some useful resources about these fascinating ancient monuments.
If you've just surfed in, you may wish to start at the beginning: Ancient Greece Odyssey: A Traveler's Journal, a travel blog by a student of classics and comparative mythology. Or read on to take a photo tour of Athens' famous ancient monuments and art!
(All photographs, text and artwork © Ellen Brundige 2005-2008. All rights reserved.)
Acropolis and the Parthenon - Travel Diary, Monday, May 2nd 2005
Our first day with the rest of the tour group!
After the usual hotel breakfast buffet consisting mostly of crackers and several kinds of feta cheese, a bus whisked us to the foot of the Acropolis at 9:30, saving another long hike. We had our exercise, however, making a rapid forced march up the winding Greek path and Roman steps to the Acropolis.
From there the city stretched out below, with another fine view of the Temple of Hephaistos and Agora and the modern city beyond. Drawing near the top of the slope, we hurried past an empty cage of white scaffolding high above us on our right, carefully painted to match the local marble. It marked the ghost of the Nike Temple, then removed for restoration. On our left (see photo) loomed the columns of the north wing of the Propylaia that housed an art gallery in antiquity. Then we passed through the great Propylaia gateway and caught our first glimpse of the Parthenon.
The bedrock of the Acropolis was slick underfoot, streaked limestone smoothed by centuries of pedestrian police. Ahead was the west end of the Parthenon; at left the Erechtheion with its famous karyatid porch. Scaffolding was everywhere, as were gleaming blocks of fresh marble being cut to fill gaps in the latest round of repair.
The Parthenon was massive, powerful, yet as familiar as my hand. There it stood high over Athens in the blue sky, sun, and open air. The wind was gentle, yet its soft breath added a sense of timeless presence and the natural world. Birds added a lively presence to silent stone: pigeons, doves, magpies, sparrows and swallows.
The old marble is faint gold. How many have walked there? I nearly shed my shoes again, but we had to keep moving. Our guide, Anna, provided a quick orientation to the Acropolis: the sack by the Persians, the Periclean building program (Parthenon's dates: 448-447 BCE), the Parthenon's use and the damage it suffered in recent millennia. She described its gold and ivory statue of Athena facing east towards sunrise, the back room serving as treasury, the famous carved pediments depicting the birth of Athena and the contest between her and Poseidon, and the modern reconstruction program using the same quarry. The fresh blocks are white, but in a few decades will oxidize to a pale pinkish-gold.
We then moved to the Acropolis Museum, whose art and artifacts I will share on a separate page. But first...
Photo Gallery: The Parthenon and Erechtheion - Temples of the Acropolis of AthensClick thumbnail to view full-size
Recommended Links on the Acropolis of Athens
Here are several good websites on the Acropolis of Athens.
- Kenneth Hall's Acropolis Lens
Easy-to-read overview of the Acropolis, Parthenon, and Erechtheion.
- Wikipedia entry: Acropolis
Non-scholarly but good simple guide to the Acropolis, with 3-D reconstructions.
- Parthenon Page on Ancient-Greece.com
Good description and history of the Parthenon.
- Hellenic Ministry of Culture: Parthenon
Official website for the Parthenon, including photo gallery, description, and visitors' information.
- Perseus Architectural Library: Parthenon
Detailed info, plans, and photo gallery of the Parthenon. Click on the links for the Friezes, Metopes, and Pediments for descriptions and photo galleries of all surviving sculpture. Resource for student/scholar.
- Acropolis360 Panorama Tour
Audio commentary warning!. It's hard to find the actual panoramas, but worth hunting for them. The site's being reorganized; hopefully soon the navigation will be easier.
The Erechtheion Temple and Sacred Olive
Travel Diary, 2nd May, Acropolis, Athens
We had just fifteen minutes to explore the Acropolis on our own. I took another pass through the Acropolis Museum, then made a quick circult of the Erechtheion. At the west end I found Athena's sacred olive, said to be sprung from the original tree.
The Greeks prized Athena's gift of the olive dearly, for olives were the source of lamp oil and a major staple of their diet.
Olive saplings grow for decades before they bear fruit, so losing one is quite costly. One of the dramatic moments of the Peloponnesian Wars between Athens and Sparta was when the Spartans burned the olive groves around the city in sight of farmers taking refuge within Athens' walls at the command of its leader, Pericles. It was an early test of siege warfare and a testament to his charisma that he dissuaded them from rushing out to their deaths.
I also recall a lengthy court speech by the orator Lysias defending a man accused of digging up an olive stump, which was a capital crime! Apparently olives have been known to sprout from old roots.
So much for history. I savored a final sight of the Parthenon peeking through olive branches and dark leaves.
Looking back, I'm amazed I wasn't frustrated by the fleeting time we had to spend in that sacred space.
Twenty years ago, a school group's bad planning meant that my first visit to the British Museum was curtailed to 27 minutes. For years I suffered a sort of tourism interruptus from that tantalizing glimpse -- just enough time to pay homage to the Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles, and mummy gallery. Yet my visit to the Acropolis was different. I knew the site so well that it felt like a brief stop at an old friend's house.
I raced back through the Acropolis Museum, snapped a few beauty shots of the Parthenon and what lay on the slopes below it (see Photo Gallery), and circled the Erechtheion in just twelve minutes, despite pausing to kick off my shoes and stand on true bedrock for a moment! As I hurried down the hill, I barely had time to note the sights we'd passed on the switchback Roman road up to the Propylaia. Here and there under bushes and trees next to the curbs were stray dogs dozing, not forlorn or bony, but well-fed and treated as communal pets by the locals. There were also a few Greek soldiers in colorful traditional garb with kilts and tassels.
My legs were aching by the time I reached the bus, but I wasn't the last one down. At last the herd was gathered, and we rumbled down the Pnyx hill on a hill on a cobblestone street for a quick bus tour of the city and an hour in the Athens National Museum. I have so much to share from both museums -- the Acropolis Museum and Athens National Museum -- that I've moved them to a separate page. Hang on, though; I'm not quite finished with the Acropolis!
More Photos of the Acropolis of Athens - Erechtheion and Theater of DionysosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Recommended Links on the Erechtheion
- Dr. A. Lesk: Erechtheion Study
Readable summary of her dissertation on the Erechtheion, with a few good photos and a 3-D reconstruction. Link to full dissertation as well!
- Wikipedia: Erechtheion Precinct
Fairly sound information on the Erechtheion and environs.
- Perseus Architectural Library: Erechtheion
Detailed architectural information, plans, and photos of the Erechtheion. Resource for scholars/students.
Theater of Dionysos, Lower Slopes of Acropolis
Travel Diary, 2nd May 2005, Athens
Heads full of famous art, we were bussed back to the hotel for a late lunch. But food could wait -- Athens' archaelogical sites and museums closed at 2:30! I had seen something tucked against the lower slopes of the Acropolis that I did not want to miss.
I raced through Athens' narrow streets to the Acropolis on foot, bidding the Agora a promise to come back someday and explore. I reached the Theater of Dionysos ten minutes before closing!
Climbing the theater's steps, I sat down on ancient bleachers to catch my breath. The Acropolis loomed behind.
Swallows danced above. Poppies and yellow flowers sprouted through cracks in stone. I gazed out at the remains of the stage and backdrop, and imagined the ancient dramas played out in the space before me.
In my mind I recited names of famous plays that had been performed here: Agammemnon, Eumenides, Oedipus, Antigone, Prometheus Bound, The Clouds. Each had been written to be performed just once for Athens' annual festival and drama competition in Dionysos' honor. The flowering of Greek drama was short-lived, just a handful of decades in the 5th century BCE. We are lucky that a few of the most famous scripts were preserved.
I scurried out with the last visitors and retraced my steps, passing the Roman Odeion, the Agora, and the Temple of Hephaistos one more time. I cut through the beautiful flowering groves on the Hill of Mars and landed back in the modern century. Wandering the streets and alleys, I indulged in a little shopping, enjoying the bad and better copies of Greek art that canny shopkeepers have been peddling since ancient times. I selected a small Attic red-figure vase with a good Athena inside and a miniature of the Versailles Artemis. Finally, I ate a late lunch in an open square where the Native American musicians from Taos were performing again.
I stumbled back to the hotel in time for Chris' 5 o' clock lecture on Demeter and Persephone.
Backstage wall of music hall,
Odeion of Herodes Atticus,
funded in memory of his wife Regilla 162 CE
Recommended Links on Theater of Dionysos
- The Theater of Dionysos by Bruce MacLennan
Brief overview of the Theater of Dionysos, part of a college course website on Western civilization.
- Dr. J's Illustrated Guide to the South Slope of the Acropolis
A more in-depth guide to the Theater of Dionysos and its evolution.
The Journey Continues...
Wait-- what about those museums? Fear not; I'll take you on a guided tour of the Acropolis Museum and Athens National Museum in Part Two B: Museums of Athens.
© 2007 Ellen Brundige