For about an hour, the airport shuttle took us to the Athens’ metro station, Syntagma. From there, after a short taxi ride, we arrived in our hotel, Airotel Parthenon. The streets around the hotel were very lively at 10pm, so we decided to have a walk and get something to eat. We chose the hotel within the walking distance to Acropolis, but we didn’t know it’s this close – just walking one block from the hotel and looking up, the bright and magnificent temple on top of the mountain is there. It is the famous Acropolis. Many people were on the street having coffee or ice cream. We picked one restaurant that seemed having a party with people singing and shouting loudly. We ordered a chicken soup and a kebab. It turned out to be one of the most mediocre dinners we had of the whole trip.
We had only one day in Athens and we planned to spend the day just around the Acropolis area. The second day, Saturday, was the free entrance day, so we’d better get there as early as possible before the crowd. We had the breakfast buffet at the hotel, then after about 20-minute walk, we got to the entrance of the Acropolis. On the right was The Odeon of Herodes Atticus. At the southern slope of the Acropolis, this is a 5000-seat theater that provides the superb setting for annual Summer Festival as well as internationally acclaimed performances.
The remains of the Acropolis can be divided into three main areas. From Odeon of Herodes Atticus, we ascended to the entrance of the temple, The Propylaea. Before it was a flight of steps, a good place to admire this monumental gateway and take pictures. On the right, as we entered the Acropolis, was a small but graceful temple called Temple of Wingless Victory or Temple of Athena Nike overlooking the city.
Passing through the gateway, on the left is a temple called Erechtheum. The most famous feature is its south portion, The Porch of the Caryatids. It is a porch whose supporting columns are built as six draped female figures (caryatid). All these caryatids in place are in fact replacements. The original pieces were moved to Acropolis Museum for restoration and display.
The main temple of the Acropolis is Parthenon. This grandiose temple has transcended its architectural greatness and become the symbol of classic and perfection. It’s almost unimaginable that the temple maintained its shape until 1687 when a bomb was thrown into the temple as Turks used it as the ammunition and rendered the temple into the ruins as it is today. Parthenon was undergoing the second round of restoration project. Huge machineries were visible from any angle. It’s quite disturbing and impossible to take a shot of the whole temple.
Sitting on a flat-topped rock 490ft (150m) above the sea level, the Acropolis provides a fantastic view of its surrounding city. Compared with the temples and monuments that we had just visited in Egypt, the Acropolis didn’t impress us very much. It is not as old as the Great Pyramids, not as majestic as the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak and not as well-decorated as those tombs in Valley of the Kings. However, what makes it stand out is its symbolic meaning. The Acropolis is much more than a historical ruin, but a symbol of aesthetics, philosophy and value of Classical Greek culture, which is widely considered to be the foundation of modern western civilization. It is really amazing to imagine that Greek civilization at its Golden Age has reached such a pinnacle that people were doing and thinking things that no one tried to be doing and thinking for the next 1500 years.
Exited the Acropolis from its north gate, paid a small entrance fee, we entered the Agora (marketplace). It’s the political and cultural center of ancient Athens. Speeches were delivered here, law court, schools, and theaters were built here. It even had a mint and state prison. Hephaisteion is the best-preserved temple in the area and looking the Parthenon into the distance. Stoa of Attalos is a building with a long colonnaded walkway. It was reconstructed in the mid-20th and used as a museum now.
The area surrounded the Acropolis and the Agora is called Plaka. It is a nice neighborhood but quite commercialized area mixed with small shops, cafes, churches and a few ancient ruins. It’s an easy and lazy afternoon as the sun was warm and many people sitting outside of the cafes on the street. The alleys are never straight, it is easy to get lost, but you can always look up and see the Acropolis then know where you are going.
We had a snap at the hotel then took the subway to Syntagma. We thought we could find high-end shopping district in this area, however, it’s indeed more like a city hub. The street we walked on were crowded but the shops were not very attractive. There was only one subway stop between Syntagma and where we live, so we decided to walk back and eventually we reached Plaka area. Again, we found the restaurants here were just typical tourist places, we enjoyed the environments rather than the quality of food.
Before going back to the hotel, we took a sidewalk to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It is the largest temple in Greece, exceeding even Parthenon in size, however now only 15 columns remain standing, another one collapsed in 1852 and broke into pieces. The detail of the columns and the view of the Acropolis through the columns were very impressive, so I decided to pick up my tripod left in the hotel. As I went back to the temple, it started dribbling but soon stopped. A rainbow appeared in the eastern sky – a nice reward for my effort to take the tripod.
The park closed at 7pm. When we passed Hadrian’s Arch, I noticed the arch was painted with the bright golden color by the sunset. My wife went back to the hotel by herself and I was almost running to the entrance of the Acropolis. I should have asked her to join me because she missed a once in a lifetime sunset scene. The last ray of the sun rendered the Acropolis and the surrounding city into the glorious colors, morphing from golden to red to purple. Glory, that’s feeling filled my heart.
This was the last day of the trip. We left Athens the next day morning and arrived home at night. As I finally complete my travelogue, I feel there are still a lot of more to be digested. It was such an unforgettable trip that we will be proud of for many years.