I have been trying for years, YEARS, to get someone to name a child after me. With seven nieces you’d think one of them would have become my namesake, and therefore heir to my fortune, but alas, it hasn’t happened. Then I come to Athens and find out the whole place is named for the goddess Athena.
Here’s how she did it… Poseidon had wanted the city for himself, so he had a well spring up from top of Acropolis Hill; unfortunately, being the god of the sea, the water was salty. Along comes Athena who plants an olive tree, which give the people food, and oil, and wood. Boom a city named for her! (The tree picture below is from 1920, but it is planted in the spot that the original one was planted.)
This morning I met my group at about 8:10 and we headed up to Acropolis Hill. According to our guide, “acro” means high and “polis” means city. So basically, it’s the tall place in the city. (There is a taller hill in the town, but it didn’t have enough room at the top to build everything this expansive.)
The first thing we came upon was the amphitheater. It is still currently being used to put on shows, which is pretty amazing if you think about. Of course, it isn’t as old as the temples on the top of the hill, as it was built during the Roman rule. You also get a great view of the city beyond. Interestingly, this theater was used specifically for music and not for plays.
The first temple you see is a small one built to Nike. No, they didn’t have killer athletic wear back in the day; Nike is the goddess of victory. They built the temple in hopes that she would help them win the war against Sparta.
Next we made our way to the Propylaea. There were pretty much just gates to the Acropolis. The architects wanted you to realize as you walk through that you’re entering a sacred place. Because of that, they are huge! Well played, architects, well played.
As you pass through the gates you see the Parthenon, which is the largest temple on the hill. It is built in honor of Athena, because they do everything in Athena’s honor around here. During the time it was built the architects were very precise. But for this building there is no straight horizontal line; everything has a bit of a curve or slant to it. Apparently, it created an optical illusion for the people of the time, making the building look alive. You can’t see it now, what this it being a ruin and all.
There is also the Erechtheum, which is a temple to both Poseidon and Athena. I think its pretty funny that the Ancient Greeks wanted to make sure that they still showed respect to Poseidon, to ensure that their sailors wouldn’t be caught in bad storms provided by the begrudged god. However, since Poseidon and Athena had fought over the city they didn’t want to give him too much honor, so they split it between the two. It’s like they said, “We like him and all, but you’re still our favorite!”
What makes this particularly cool, is that they replaced some of the columns with lady statues. “The Sister” pictured here are actually replicas, with five of the six Sisters being housed in the Acropolis Museum.
They are working on restoring the Acropolis. I liked the fact that they used a different color marble so that you are able to see what is original and what was replaced. Also, here are a couple panoramic shots from the top of the hill.
Our next stop was the Acropolis Museum, which is back at the base of the hill. This building was built in 2009 and had a bunch of Archeologists involved. They knew that because of the area that they would hit some antiquities when they dug to put in a foundation. Instead of putting in a solid foundation they put the building concrete pylons, so that you can see what they dug up. They also have glass panels in the floors of the building to see below as well.
The building contains the artifacts they’ve recovered from the Acropolis that need to be protected. This included five of the six Sisters. The sixth Sister is in the British Museum in London. It was taken during the time that Greece was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Greece keeps asking for it back, but England is all like, “Naw.”
After the museum we had free time to grab a quick lunch. I got a real-life Greek gyro! And guess what, they don’t make them with lamb, but instead its pork or chicken. Sorry I didn’t get a picture of it; I was really hungry, and it was really good, so I ate it really quick like! Then I wandered up and down the street, got flirted with by a guy who wanted me to eat at his restaurant, got some cash, and finally found a place to sit down for a while.
I met back up with the group for a walking tour of the Plaka, which is the old part of the town. The streets are narrow, and covered in graffiti, and yet somehow so quaint!
We saw several small churches, they are built like this one. Apparently, they were all built around the same time. It is interesting that none of the Orthodox churches have statues in them. Because ancient Greeks worshiped the gods, and had a ton of statues to them, they went with paintings instead so as to not confuse the new Greek Christians. There they are painted on canvas attached to wood and are called Icons
There are monuments around town from ancient acting competitions. Every four years they’d have a competition where theater troupes would put on shows, and people would vote for the best one. The patron of whichever team won would have a monument erected in his honor.
We checked out the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Athens, which has a beautiful mosaic on the front.
Then we went to a little coffee shop that gave us baklava, and Greek coffee. I do not like coffee, but I tried a sip of the Greek coffee. It tastes like what I imagine chewing on straight grounds tastes like.
We had a quick look at the Wind Tower; there are carvings around the side depicting the different winds. Once upon a time there was a weather vane on top so people would know which of the winds they were dealing with. There might have also been a mechanism inside that showed that time by raising and lowering water, but the mechanism and any real proof of it have completely disappeared. Draw your own conclusion on that one.
From there, we walked through the shopping district, complete with American Eagle and H&M on our way to the parliament building.
Here we went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to watch the changing of the guards. The pom-poms on their shoes used to conceal a knife, making them totally useful, as well as stylish.
From there we headed back to the hotel, and I grabbed a sandwich to take to my room for dinner later. We had walked about 7 miles today, and climbed the equivalent of 15 floors of stairs. So, my ankle is shot!
I’m actually looking forward to spending most of the day tomorrow sitting on the bus as we head onto Olympia!
One more thing! There are stray dogs in Athens that wear collars because the city gives them shots and stuff. Anyway, we first saw this dog at the Acropolis, and then when we were walking through the shopping district we realized that he was still with us! He was with our group all the way to the changing of the guard (where he met a few of his dog friends). In case you think I’m crazy, there was a point we were waiting to cross a big street. The light turned green to walk, but our guide had us wait because she was talking about the history of McDonalds in Greece. The dog started to cross the street, then realized that we weren’t moving and came back into the middle of our group. Crazy!