PAGE 3 OF 10

Athens, Greece

Waiting for a tour at the Acropolis

Hadrian's Arch as a part of wall separating the old and new cities of Athens.


The word "Acropolis" means city by the edge, and there are many acropolises all over Greece. They were always situated on a high spot, and were often used as a place for shelter and defence against various enemies. The one in Athens is the best known of them all, and is therefore often referred to as "The Acropolis". Towering over the capital, its is a very impressive sight, and walking around on its grounds, it gives the visitor a feeling of awe and a true sense of the greatness of the ancient Greeks.

Mythology :The founder of Athens and Greek civilizations was king Cecrops, according to mythology. He had been born out of the earth and was half man half snake. He taught the people many crafts, as well as the burial customs, and decided which god would protect the city. 

There were two candidates: the goddess Athena and the god Poseidon. In order to prove their worth, and perhaps bribe the people, they each presented the city with a gift. Poseidon struck his trident into the rock of the Acropolis, and out sprang a well. The people ran to the well to drink its water, but had to spit it out since the water was salt, Poseidon being a sea god. Then Athena touched the ground, and an olive tree grew out. This proved to be a much more useful present, so Cecrops decided that Athena would be the patron of the city - thus giving it her name as well. The wooden statue of Athena which originally stood on the Acro-polis was believed to have fallen out of the sky.

History: The Acropolis is believed to have been inhabited since at least the 7th Millennium BC. During the Mycenaean civilization walls were built around it and there is evidence that there was a Mycenaean palace here as well. The tomb of Cecrops also lie here, and the Athenians might have kept a snake here - symbolizing their first king. There were also other tombs and temples here, all connected to kings, heroes and gods that had to do with Athens.
In the 6th century BC the Acropolis had changed quite significantly. It was no longer a place for palaces, but had turned more into a sanctuary that anything else. Every year a huge procession to the Acropolis took place, and the wooden statue of Athena was dressed and sacrificed to. The Panathenean games were also very important. The games included both athletic and musical competitions and the winner would receive an amphora filled with olive oil - the olive tree being the sacred tree of Athena.

During the Persian wars in the 5th century the Athenians started building the Parthenon, but the Persians burnt the Acropolis and all focus was put on the battles. It was during Pericles era, the so called Golden Age, when the Acropolis got the structure we see today. Starting in the middle of the 5th century, the Parthenon, the Propylaea and a huge bronze statue of Athena was made. It is said that Pericles used unemployed Athenians for workers, and that it was thanks to this initiative, every Athenian had food on his table. The Parthenon was made by the architects Ictinus and Callicrates, and the statue by Phidias.Towards the end of the 5th century the Erechteion was built, as well as the temple of Athena Nike.

When the Romans conquered Greece in the 2nd century BC, many of the sanctuaries were looted. Statues and other works of art were taken back to Rome from Olympia and Delphi for example, but the Acropolis was pretty much left alone. Some of the emperors did make a few additions, though. In the 2nd century AD Herodes Atticus had his great theatre built, and to this day, Athenians are enjoying concerts and ballets here.
During the Middle Ages several of the temples on the Acropolis were converted into Christian churches. Quite characteristic is the fact that the Parthenon, which had been a temple to the virgin goddess Athena, now became a church to the virgin saint Mary. 

When the Turks came towards the end of the 16th century, they turned the Parthenon into a mosque. Until the 17th century the temple was relatively unharmed, but in 1687 the Venetians bombarded the Acropolis, and a projectile hit the Parthenon, which the Turks used as a storage room for gunpowder. The temple exploded and this is why the temple does not have a roof today.
In the beginning of the 19th century the Englishman lord Elgin was allowed by the sultan to take with him various objects from the Acropolis. It was now he took the famous Parthenon marbles, which until today is a matter of controversy since they are housed in the British Museum despite the Greeks plea to get them back.

Despite all that the Acropolis has been through, it is really the pollution in modern Athens that is its worst enemy. The problem has been known for many decades now, but still no real solution has been found.

The Propylaia (The main entrance of the Acropolis)

The Propylaia -- Then and now

The Pantheon being renovated after several wars

At night from our hotel room

Then and now

FRONT ROW (left to right): Rad Arner (Texas), Rachel Rose (Interpreter from Washington, D.C.),
Camille Ellerhorst (Michigan), Josephine Arner (Texas) and Margie Coggins-Peckham (Texas)
BACK ROW (left to right): Pete Richey (Maryland), Jane Bolduc (New York), Lynn White (Georgia),
Ricky Drake (Washington, D.C.), Sara Harris (Texas), Mack Harris (Texas),
John Coggins-Peckham (Texas) and Alex Richey (Virginia)..  Not pictured -- Lucille Suire (Texas)

The Erechtheion (then and now)

Acropolis Museum

Ancient underground water system

The Old Olympic Stadium

The old Olympic stadium is very close to the centre of Athens and a few minutes away from the presidential buildings. It is right next to a major road, so we could easily find it.

The ruins of ancient Olympia (a site with temples) were excavated by the German archaeologist Ernst Curtius from 1875-1881.

Among the remains uncovered was the ancient stadium where the original Olympic Games were celebrated from 776 B.C. to 393 A.D., when Roman emperor Theodosius I banned all pagan festivals.

The Monument of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Parliament building

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier commemorates all those Greek soldiers who died in service of their country over its long history. Among its inscriptions are quotes from Pericles Funeral Oration as written by Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War : 'and one bed is carried empty / made for the unknown ones.' During major holidays, politicians and officials lay wreaths at the tomb.

The tomb is guarded 24 hours a day by the Presidential Guard (the Evzones). These are the hand-picked strongest men of the army - also the most handsome! Their traditional uniform features a skirt, stockings and pom-poms on their shoes, all of which makes the hourly Changing of the Guard ceremony even more worth seeing.