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Ancient Greece Odyssey: The Acropolis of Athens

Updated on January 14, 2015

The Acropolis of Athens

Part Two of Ancient Greece Odyssey

Welcome back! Today I'll be visiting the the Acropolis and the Parthenonthe 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 Athens

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Entering the Acropolis through the Propylaia, the huge gates, one finds the west end of the Parthenon on the right......and the Erechtheion, an oddly-shaped temple built to enclose several sacred objects on the Acropolis, on the left.The southeast corner of the Parthenon shines in the sun.Another view from the southeast.The southeast corner of the Erectheion shows how it's a bunch of different parts stuck together. The Parthenon is just out of sight to the left.
Entering the Acropolis through the Propylaia, the huge gates, one finds the west end of the Parthenon on the right...
Entering the Acropolis through the Propylaia, the huge gates, one finds the west end of the Parthenon on the right...
...and the Erechtheion, an oddly-shaped temple built to enclose several sacred objects on the Acropolis, on the left.
...and the Erechtheion, an oddly-shaped temple built to enclose several sacred objects on the Acropolis, on the left.
The southeast corner of the Parthenon shines in the sun.
The southeast corner of the Parthenon shines in the sun.
Another view from the southeast.
Another view from the southeast.
The southeast corner of the Erectheion shows how it's a bunch of different parts stuck together. The Parthenon is just out of sight to the left.
The southeast corner of the Erectheion shows how it's a bunch of different parts stuck together. The Parthenon is just out of sight to the left.

Recommended Links on the Acropolis of Athens


Here are several good websites on the Acropolis of Athens.

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 Dionysos

Click thumbnail to view full-size
South side of the Erechtheion, "Porch of the Maidens," facing the Parthenon. The karyatids (human-shaped-columns) are replicas; the originals are in museums to protect them.Another view of the Karyatids through Athena's olive tree.The west side of the Erechtheion. Lovely poppies.The north porch of the Erechtheion faces out over the city below.And on the opposite side of the Acropolis, if you look waaaaay down over the wall... it's the Theater of Dionysos, where all the famous plays of ancient Greece were staged!
South side of the Erechtheion, "Porch of the Maidens," facing the Parthenon. The karyatids (human-shaped-columns) are replicas; the originals are in museums to protect them.
South side of the Erechtheion, "Porch of the Maidens," facing the Parthenon. The karyatids (human-shaped-columns) are replicas; the originals are in museums to protect them.
Another view of the Karyatids through Athena's olive tree.
Another view of the Karyatids through Athena's olive tree.
The west side of the Erechtheion. Lovely poppies.
The west side of the Erechtheion. Lovely poppies.
The north porch of the Erechtheion faces out over the city below.
The north porch of the Erechtheion faces out over the city below.
And on the opposite side of the Acropolis, if you look waaaaay down over the wall... it's the Theater of Dionysos, where all the famous plays of ancient Greece were staged!
And on the opposite side of the Acropolis, if you look waaaaay down over the wall... it's the Theater of Dionysos, where all the famous plays of ancient Greece were staged!

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

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

Guestbook for Fellow Travelers

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  • profile image

    anonymous 4 years ago

    nice! visit unec @ university of nigeria

  • Didijudy profile image

    Didijudy 6 years ago from Canada

    Thank you for sharing your trip with us. What a great place to visit. The pictures are amazing.

  • phuketbooknow profile image

    phuketbooknow 6 years ago

    Great lens! Thanks for the info.

  • JeremiahStanghini profile image

    JeremiahStanghini 6 years ago

    Something about those big pillars at the Parthenon are exciting to me.

    With Love and Gratitude,

    Jeremiah

  • michelgf lm profile image

    michelgf lm 6 years ago

    @myraggededge: is very good

  • profile image

    myraggededge 7 years ago

    What a shame you were so rushed... love the writing and looking forward to the next instalment. :-)

  • profile image

    50thisyearaghh 7 years ago

    Wow, what agreat lens! and I love the way you write. I was right back there in Athens as I was reading this. I've been to Athens too, your writeing and pictures brought back memories. I was staying a few miles u the road in Glafada. I also visited Corinth and other fabulose places. Thank you for a nice trip down memory lane. God bless you.

  • profile image

    J_Edwards 7 years ago

    I'll never get tired of looking at these Greek structures. They are simply wonderful.

  • justholidays profile image

    justholidays 8 years ago

    What a marvelous lens! Indeed, you're a Greek Geek and did a wonderful job in building this collection!

    Dom.

  • Holley Web profile image

    Holley Web 8 years ago

    I could feel you running trying to to get the Theater of Dionysos. Ancient Greek lovers will certainly feel the rush too! ~ Blessed by Squid Angel ~

  • profile image

    anonymous 8 years ago

    can we get more info

  • Janusz LM profile image

    Janusz LM 8 years ago

    Another great example of how to build a Masterpiece. Blessed by a Squid Angel :)

  • profile image

    totalhealth 9 years ago

    5 starts for nice lens about fascinating greece.

  • profile image

    anonymous 9 years ago

    This website is cool...

  • profile image

    thomasz 9 years ago

    Cool lens. Interesting info.

  • Karendelac profile image

    Karendelac 10 years ago

    5 stars for such a complete and well organiPlease visit me soon.

    All the Best, Karen at Karen's Kinkade Art Store

    zed lens.

  • profile image

    DiscountHolidayResorts 10 years ago

    Another great site - just like the first:)

  • profile image

    August 10 years ago

    Great prose writing and story telling. Like you, my

    first night in Greece was spent listening to guns, machine guns going off. Except it wasn't Easter; it

    was a coupe e'tat. I think it was November, 1973,

    around November or December. I was staying only a few

    blocks from the National Palace.