If you’ve ever wanted to visit the Acropolis (and who hasn’t since that Yanni guy made it “magical” in 1993 for HBO!) See below... :) , know that it is definitely worth the visit. However, and for many of us, it is confusing as to what parts are the Acropolis and what is actually the Parthenon, but seeing it in person quickly sorts it all out. The Acropolis is the entire grounds and base-structure built high-up on a large rocky plateau above Athens, while the Parthenon is the great hall built on the Acropolis in honor of the patron Greek Goddess, Athena. Acropolis is the combination of "highest" and "city" in Greek, while Partheos means "virginal" and "pure", hence the Parthenon was dedicated as a house of worship to the pure maiden, Athena.
And speaking of Gods and Goddesses, for anyone who has studied the (heavenly) world of Greek mythology, it is no wonder in the modern world we like our soap operas, prime-time dramas, Oprah and the Kardashians. From the beginning of antiquity, people have loved to hear about other family's dramas, conflicts, battles and awkward relationships - especially when they aren't ours. And the twisted family drama’s in the heavens above Greece were pretty spectacular.
Athens in named after Athena, the daughter of Zeus, who was created when she popped out of his head fully formed! She is revered for her beauty, intelligence and pureness. It is written that she and her cousin Poseidon contested for the city and she won out, and hence also won naming rights.
Our hotel in Athens was at the foot of the Acropolis and it was beautiful to look up and see it in the day, and even more spectacular at night with amazing lighting. Suzanne downloaded a walking-tour app and we all had a great day of playing tourist up on the hill.
The corresponding Acropolis museum at the foothills area was really first-rate and a must-see if you visit the actual site as there are only a few placards on premise, so you have to visit the indoor hall in order to get all of the facts. Plus, many original artifacts were brought indoors for protection from acid-rain erosion.
My favorite take-aways from our day there:
- Many of the great buildings on the Acropolis were built, rebuilt and changed several times over several hundred years, including the main hall, the Parthenon itself. The site evolved many times over a thousand year period. And here I always thought it was built once and just slowly crumbled away over time!
- The great mathematicians, architects and builders of the day were able to employ very sophisticated techniques to enhance the sight-lines, beauty and the strength of the structures in ways that were far ahead of their time (including some visual trickeries with the column alignments and thicknesses, etc.)
- Many parts of the marble structures, especially the friezes, pediments and statues that we now see as subtle and original marble hues in coloration, were actually painted with dyes when installed - and quite gaudy (we saw a few recreated as examples)
- Through the various wars, invasions, take-overs and occupations between 200 BC and 1945 AD, and the main Parthenon hall itself was a place of worship for many different belief systems over the course of 2,000 years; the original Greek gods, Islam, Greek Orthodoxy and even Roman Christianity, so it was a temple, a mosque and two types of churches over time
- The pediments, the long triangle areas above the short-side doors, contained "line-up" dramas with a whole cast of Greek God characters - one side depicting the birth of Athena, and the other the contest with Poseidon (see re-creations in the pictures below)
- Two large statues of Athena (one inside and one outside the Parthenon) were both stolen over the years and never seen again
- The Acropolis is actually set pretty far back from the sea itself (I think I heard 17 km), so not really much use as a fort or sea look-out, although it was used to house armies and munitions (see below)
- The main damage that we see today on the Parthenon itself (no roofs, little walls remaining) didn't occur slowly over the years as I thought, but happened mainly all in 1687 when the Venetians attacked the Ottoman's encampment and large explosions and fires in their munitions storage damaged most of the structure. Up until that time, the then 2,000 year old structure was still operating!
- Lastly, one of the final insults to this hallowed structure came when the British occupying Commander, the Earl of Elgin, removed many statues which currently reside in the National British Museum, and are under dispute to this day from Greece
Currently, Greece together with the European Union, is restoring many areas of the Acropolis and the Parthenon, including grafting on marble replacement pieces quarried from the exact same original rock. While the colors don't match, the pieces fit perfectly and it is much like a dinosaur bone recreation with filled-in missing pieces wired in place.
There is a 2,500 year history to read about, and the above just barely scratches the surface. To learn more, start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acropolis_of_Athens
Or watch the video below and you'll know all you ever need to about the Acropolis.
Mike has pretty much covered most of it above. I too was interested in learning what the Greek god thing was all about. I had heard the terms "Acropolis" and "Parthenon" but thought they were two separate things. I also never had any understanding of the Greek God system. I saw a description of it and it went something along the lines of ...if we have something we can't explain we will create a god for it. As an example there is a god in charge of wines.
Nearly every city has an acropolis. Like the Acropolis of Cleveland. The one here in Athens is the only one in the world that doesn't need a qualifier. It is a large eruption of stone on which the Greeks built temples to honor their gods. One of the structures is the Parthenon. As part of the Acropolis there are two theaters The one where Yanni played once had a roof but now is an open air theater, See the pic below.
The engineering of the structures is amazing considering that they were designed and built a few thousand years ago. Like the pyramids you wonder "how did they do that?" The drums, sections of the columns, were carved with crude tools, some of which we saw in the museum. We think they were made from bronze. When you look at the detail and the precision you can't help but be amazed. They were carved miles from the site and then rolled to the top of the hill and set into place. All the flutes line up perfectly. With today's machinery and technology it would be a pretty straight forward task to build a place like this, but in those days, it's amazing.
One other very important discovery for me was that this was the birthplace of democracy. Before this the people were ruled by kings, queens, etc. The Greeks began to think that individual rights and order could co-exist. Before that it was believed that you could not allow the people to determine their own governing structure. Not all people could vote but enough could to allow the development of what is today democracy.
As with all these trips we take I get all charged to learn more about the history of what we have seen. Greece is no exception. I now have some understanding of its place in history and want to know more. Overall the city is so interesting, considering its history. In America we tear down structures that are 20,30, 50, etc years old. In Europe, they still stand after hundreds, if not thousands, of years. In the case of Athens, even with Greece's current financial troubles it continues to thrive and grow as an interesting place to spend time exploring.
Linda and I are having a tremendous time enjoying the Grandkids' company. The fun of exploring and talking to them makes this whole trip so worthwhile.
- Bruce "Grandpa" Kamp - Guest Contributor