Someone once said to me that archeological ruins are “just old rocks in the hot sun”, which in a way is true. However some archeological ruins are too impressive to be categorized as “just old rocks” and the Acropolis in Athens is one of them!
The Acropolis is a citadel that has upwards of twenty ancient sites on it and the surrounding slopes. The name Acropolis comes from the Greek words ἄκρον (akron, “highest point, extremity”) and πόλις (polis, “city”). If you visit Athens you will notice that there aren’t any skyscraper buildings. They are not permitted. The Acropolis is very special to the Athenians and it is law that no building can be taller than the Acropolis.
You must pay €20 to see the Acropolis during high season. There are several free admission days throughout the year and certain individuals are eligible for a discounted ticket price. If you are planning on visiting the Acropolis, check out the website first and see if you can plan to be there on one of the free days. Regardless, the site is well worth the cost of admission and is a must-see when in Athens.
Several of the buildings are undergoing extensive restoration that will be ongoing for the next several years. However, this doesn’t prevent walking around and getting a good look at them. Once you are on the Acropolis, you can stay for as long as you like. So a good idea would be to go mid-afternoon when it isn’t as hot and stay for the beginning of sunset.
Of the many buildings on the Acropolis you will find four of the greatest masterpieces of classical Greek architecture, all dating to the fifth century BC; the Propylaea, the Erechtheum, the Temple of Athena Nike and last but not least the Parthenon.
The Propylaea and the Temple of Athena Nike
According to Wikipedia the title Propylaea comes from the Greek word προπύλαιον propylaeon (prefix προ- pro- “before, in front of” and suffix in the plural of πύλη pyle “gate”) meaning literally “that which is before the gates,” but the word has come to mean simply “gate building.” It is impossible to not get goosebumps while walking up the stairs and past the towering white columns and onto the upper part of the citadel. The Temple of Athena Nike can be seen in the second photograph below in the upper right hand side and the third photograph below.
The Erechtheum is the temple on the north side dedicated to both Athena and Poseiden. My favorite part of this building is The Porch of the Caryatid (or Maidens) because of the six beautiful female sculptures that are actually columns supporting the roof.
The Parthenon is considered one of the world’s greatest monuments and has had an interesting religious history. Originally a temple to the goddess Athena (also referred to as the Temple of Minerva, which is the Roman name for Athena), at the end of the sixth century AD, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. During the Latin Occupation (1204 to 1261 AD) it became a Roman Catholic church and a bell tower was built beside it. Then after the Turkish invasion of the fifteenth century, it became a Muslim mosque with a dome being built beside it after 1715 AD and the Catholic bell tower being extended upwards to become a minaret. Finally starting in 1832, the Acropolis came under the control of an independent Greece and all unoriginal structures were removed.
Theatre of Dionysus and Odeon of Herodes Atticus
On the south slope of the Acropolis there are two ancient theater structures. Built during the sixth century BC, the Theatre of Dionysus could seat 17,000 people and had excellent acoustics. It is supposedly the birthplace of the Greek tragedy.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Originally built in 161 AD, it was used for music concerts and had a capacity for 5,000 spectators. Herodes Atticus was a distinguished and rich Greek aristocrat who also served as a Roman senator. He built the theater in memory of his wife. It was restored in the 1950’s and since then has been used for the annual Athens Festival. Many famous artists have performed there over the years; Maria Callas, Frank Sinatra, Nana Mouskouri, Luciano Pavarotti, Sting, Elton John, and others.
So as you can see, the Acropolis really is much more than “just old rocks in the hot sun” and I recommend that it be added to your bucket list if it isn’t already!