The Acropolis Workout

After spending the morning at the Acropolis Museum, we stopped at one of the many restaurants surrounding the museum for lunch, then met up with our guide. Elena. With Elena leading the way, we then the long climb up to the top of the sacred rock. It is an interesting climb, with many things to see along the way–like the Roman theater that was built into the side of the outcropping, shown in the photo above. It is still being used for performances during the summer months.

The climb to the top of the Acropolis is a workout. According to the health app on my phone, it is equivalent to climbing 19 flights of stairs and involves taking thousands of steps. There is no avoiding the workout, because the only way to get to the top is through leg power. There are no elevators or trams or tour buses that can whisk you to your destination far above. We aren’t talking shallow steps, either, as the photo above suggests.

If you are planning a visit to the Acropolis, there are some essential items you’ll want to bring. First, pack some comfortable shoes with thick soles that have a bit of grip to them, because you will be pounding the stone pavement on the way up, at the top, and on the way down. The grip aspect is crucial, because the stones have been worn smooth by the feet of millions of visitors, and are slippery even in dry conditions, like yesterday. The ancient Greeks may have trudged to the top in sandals, but I would recommend a good set of sneakers for the modern visitor. Second, bring a hat to protect against the bright sunshine, although you’ll need to be quick to hold on to it in the occasional gusts of wind that can be found at the top. Our guide specifically cautioned us not to be chasing after any windblown headwear, which apparently is a common cause of injuries at the top of the Acropolis. And third, bring water. With the bright sunshine, the vertical climb, and the breeze, you’ll want some refreshment.

The first thing you see as you reach the top is a small temple dedicated to the goddesses Athena and Nike. It is a beautiful example of Greek architecture and, like all of the structures on the Acropolis, has been significantly restored. The second thing you see is an extraordinary view of the surrounding countryside. It’s not hard to see why the Acropolis was a sacred space; it provides a commanding view in every direction of the compass. Your Acropolis workout and your stair climbing accomplishment is already paying dividends.

After you round the temple of Athena and Nike, you pass through the remains of the entranceway to the Acropolis, seen in the photo above. The top of the Acropolis is largely flat, with a few small outcroppings, and the ground in some areas is littered with stones that once were pedestals or part of the buildings. The archaeologists are still trying to figure out where all of the stone go, and what they were used for. Regrettably, it’s like trying to complete a puzzle with most of the pieces missing. .

As pass beyond the entrance gate, you see to your left the Erechtheion, a temple dedicated to Poseidon and Athena. The Erechtheion is shown in the photos above and below and is separated from the Parthenon by a field of stones and the central walkway of the Acropolis. The Erechtheion is the home of the famous Caryatids–the maidens holding up the antechamber seen in the photo above. The Caryatids are replicas, with the originals being housed in the Acropolis Museum. Obviously, the structure has been significantly damaged and has been restored to the point that you can get a sense of what must have once been a graceful temple for the faithful.

The back story for why there is a temple to both Poseidon and Athena is that the two gods competed for the favor of the province of Attica, where Athens is located. Poseidon supposedly struck his trident on a rock and brought forth gushing salt water. Athena, on the other hand, gave the people the first olive tree. The people decided they liked the olive tree better than the salt water, and Athena prevailed in the contest, leading the citizens to name their town after her.

Across the walking path from the Erechtheion is the mighty Parthenon, shown below. This huge and majestic building once housed a towering image of Athena, as well as a treasury of gifts left for the goddess and items used in ceremonies. Now it is literally a shell of its former self, but it remains an awesome, awe-inspiring sight. This is a building that makes a lasting impression, having been built 2,500 years ago and surviving wars, invasions, fires, bombings, and intentional destruction and removal of its art and treasures. The Parthenon established a form of classical architecture that became a model adopted by the Romans and other civilizations, down to the modern day. How many federal buildings in the United States owe a debt to the Parthenon, with its soaring columns, pedestals, and pediments?

The Parthenon is undergoing constant care and renovation. Parts of it are surrounded by scaffolding and supports, in other parts–like the white areas in the columns shown in the photo above–missing pieces have been filled in by reconstructed areas. As with so many of the ancient buildings, we can only get a glimpse of what once was, but that glimpse is satisfying and edifying nevertheless. As you walk around the Parthenon, it’s impossible not to think of the philosophers and travelers who have trod the rocky surface before you, and the countless generations of visitors who similarly have stared slack-jawed at this colossal work of art and architecture.

There are other things to see from the top of the Acropolis, too. The photo below shows the remains of a Greek theater that once graced the hillside on the south side of the Acropolis. It is believed to be the oldest surviving Greek theater in the world.

On the south side of the Acropolis you also can see the remains of the Temple of Zeus, located a short distance to the east of the Greek theater. The photo below shows, in the left hand corner, the arch that was the entranceway to the temple, as well as a few of the surviving columns of what must have once been a huge tribute to the Kind of the Gods.

Looking to the south also gives you a view of one of the many hills found in Athens–in this case, a hill topped with a monument to a philosopher, according to our guide–and the Saronic Sea and some of the Saronic Islands beyond. Since Athens often was attacked by sea, it’s not hard to see how the Acropolis served a defensive purpose as well as a sacred one.

On the north side of the Acropolis is a huge outcropping that was used as a political gathering spot in ancient Athens, and now is a popular place for people to sit and stare up at the temples. The north side also offers a bird’s-eye view of the temple of Hephaestus, the Greek god of ,the forge who gave the gift of fire to humans. It is show along the left edge of the photo below. To the right of the temple are the grounds of the old Athens agora, the commercial area that was the heart of activity in the city. The photo below also gives you a sense of how the Acropolis and its surrounding are an oasis in a huge, sprawling city.

With the tour of the top of the Acropolis and its breathtaking views completed, it is time to bring the Acropolis workout to an end. That means passing back through the entrance gate and walking by the temple of Athena and Nike and then moving down those steps you climbed on your way up. It is important to be careful of your footing, because the smooth stones can be treacherous. On the downward trek, gravity is our friend, but care must be exercised. According to our guide, many a visitor, still idly thinking of what they have seen, has taken a tumble on the way down.

The Acropolis Museum

Yesterday morning we visited the Acropolis Museum. Located at the foot of the Acropolis, and affording a view of the sacred rock and its buildings as shown in the photo above, the Acropolis Museum houses an extensive collection of sculptures and artwork from the Acropolis and the homes at its base—like the portrait of a priest shown above.

The amount of sculpture associated with the Acropolis that is part of the museum’s collection is staggering. You can rent an audio guide, take a guided tour as part of a group, or go it alone. We chose the latter option. Fortunately, there are excellent and informative placards at every item in the collection, with information in Greek and English—so the visitor know that the sculpture above on the right is of Dionysos, holding a theatrical mask, perched on the shoulder of Popposilenos, his tutor. The collection is roughly grouped by era, with larger placards providing information about Athens’ history during that particular era. There also is an excellent short film that tells the story of the unique architecture of the famous Parthenon, the primary surviving building atop the Acropolis, and the depredations it suffered over the years at the hands of Romans, Christians, the Venetians, the Ottoman Turks, and the British. It is a sad story of how a magnificent structure was not treated with the respect and care it deserved. Thanks to the mistreatment, we must make do with appreciation of only fragments, and be left to imagine what the scene must have looked like when the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and the related statuary and sculpture were at their height.

Of all of the statuary and sculpture at the Acropolis Museum, my favorite was the exhibit of the Caryatids, seen in the photo below—the female figures who once held up part of the Erechtheion, a temple to Poseidon and Athena on the Acropolis. An accompanying video shows how they were painstakingly cleaned using a laser and other modern technology. They give a glimpse of what a wonderful place the Acropolis must have been in its heyday. I would recommend the Acropolis Museum as a good way to prepare for the visit to the Acropolis itself.

History Below, History Above

We arrived yesterday in Athens. We were sad to leave Istanbul behind—it was a great place, and a real revelation. I would recommend Istanbul to anyone, and hope to come back again one day.

Athens is a pretty place, with a more diverse, urban feel. You also need to watch your step, because there is history below and above. The history below is found in the many excavations, most of which are below ground. The history above is the Acropolis, which towers over the city. You can turn a random corner in the central city and see a view like the one below. it’s amazing.

Athens On The Cumberland

IMG_3578Our travels through Nashville yesterday took us past Centennial Park, and as we looked over we saw . . . the Parthenon.

Yes, in the middle of Centennial Park there is a full-scale replica of the Parthenon, the crown jewel of the Acropolis in ancient Athens.  The Nashville replica is supposed to be complete and accurate in every detail, including the statue of Athena inside.  The Nashville Parthenon also houses an art museum.

I didn’t go inside to see Athena — the presence of groups of schoolkids seemed to promise a less than pleasant experience for a hefty $6 price tag — but I did walk around the structure, which is being refurbished.  It’s a pretty cool thing to find in the middle of an American city.