"" Writer's Wanderings: Athens, Greece - The Acropolis

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Athens, Greece - The Acropolis

Athens. What would this day in this ancient city hold for us? We were up early, ate breakfast one more time on the Lido deck, and then waited for our disembarkation group to be called. The night before we had gone through the ritual of packing suitcases and setting them out in the hall for the crew to collect. They would magically appear again somewhere in the cruise terminal as we exited.

Our flight to Santorini where we were to spend four days was scheduled to leave at 7:30 p.m. so we had a whole day in Athens and had made plans with a tour agency who had a tour specially designed for cruisers coming into port with a late flight out of the airport. A note of explanation: the Athens airport is almost an hour drive out of the city so there is no quick trip to the airport to check bags and then into the city to explore. The tour, by Athens Tour Greece, allowed us a private car (actually it was a very nice Mercedes taxi) and a driver who not only was our guide but stayed with our luggage stowed in the trunk which meant I didn't have to lug my laptop in my backpack the whole day.

John, our driver/guide, met us at the appointed time just outside the exit from the cruise terminal. We loaded luggage quickly as he was eager to get ahead of the tour buses at the Acropolis. Like Istanbul, you don't get anywhere too quickly in Athens due to the traffic. In a sense that was good because John was a wealth of information about the history of Athens and began to set the scene for what we were to see.

Looking back through the Propylaea after entering.
We arrived at the Acropolis just a minute ahead of the tour groups which allowed us to scramble to the ticket booth, buy our entry pass (12 Euros that gets you into all the historical sites in the area) and start the climb to the top while the tour guides were still organizing their groups. I can't say I enjoyed the climb and once we stopped at the top, it was hard to catch my breath mainly because I stood in awe of the sight before me.

Through the entrance, the Propylaea (the monumental gateway), we could see the Parthenon standing before us. The Propylaea was constructed in the 5th century BC. There were rooms to the left and right. It was said that those entering there needed to be ritually clean before going on to the temples and this I guess was a place of inspection to weed out the miscreants and runaway slaves who, if allowed to enter, could claim protection of the gods. The treasury was also here so that made another reason to bolster security.

The walls of the north wing had been decorated with with frescoes and was known as the Pinakotheke or Art Gallery. To the south of the main gate, had been erected a temple for Athena Nike and dated back to about 420 BC.

Upon passing through the gate, we left our guide map in our pocket. The Parthenon was just so breathtaking that we could not look at anything else until we got our fill of it. We circled around to the other side of it that is more fully restored and away from the scaffolding where work was being done. John had told us that the marble used in the building of the temple to Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin) takes on various shades of color throughout the day as the rays of the sun pass over it.

This was one of those pinch-me moments. How many times had I seen pictures of this and now I was standing here taking my own. Once we got past our feelings of awe, we began to look at our guide map and try to pick out other parts of the Acropolis but not before reading that the Parthenon was built and dedicated to the goddess Athena in thanks for the protection of the city during the Persian Wars. The construction was done between 447-432 BC.

Odeum of Herodes Atticus
We had walked past another building in our eagerness to take in all we could of the Parthenon, the Erechtheion which was built around 420 BC on the north side of the flat topped summit. It housed earlier cults. On the south side of the building is a porch supported by six figures of maidens called the Caryatids. The temple served for the worship of both Athena and Poseidon. At this point, I was wishing I had studied my Greek mythology a little more before coming. John's explanations were good but I kind of got lost in it. Too much information--not enough brain cells.

As we wandered, we tried to match what we saw with the map we'd been given. Were I to go again, I would do a little more research and learn more about what I was seeing. To one side of the Acropolis, you can look down and see two theaters. One, the Odeum of Herodes Atticus, is still being used and we could see modern equipment set up for a production. The other, the Theater of Dionysus, though larger didn't appear to be of use for our modern day purposes. For some reason, I only got a photo of the Odeum. Ah well, we have to go back.

The temperature was rising and our allotted time was almost up so we began our way to the exit. As we came through the gate and down the steps, it was obvious why John had wanted to get us there as quickly as possible. This last picture is what the brochures don't show you. The tour buses had arrived.

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