This is it, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Well, we have anyway. We’d saved this until last, largely on account of the fact we didn’t want to visit at the weekend, but also you kind of want to build up to the main event don’t you? The Acropolis, you can see if from everywhere in Athens. You’ll pay more for your meal if you can see the Acropolis whilst you’re wolfing it down. Your hotel will charge you a premium for those sweet, sweet Acropolis views.
We got up early, we wanted to get there before it opened at 8am, partially because we wanted to beat the heat and partially to avoid the crowds. You cannot avoid the crowds here. Nor, it seems, can you beat the heat. You just have to accept that you’re going to fucking melt whilst you shuffle slowly behind hoards of other humans.
We were hoping to get on a guided tour, we do so love being told what we’re looking at, but we’d heard from another tourist that a private tour was €140 and if you wanted to get on a group tour you’d have to wait around for enough people. We’d bought a guide book from the museum, just in case, but as we got to the gate a guide was hustling for business. She told us she’d be conducting a one hour tour in English from 8am and if we wanted in it would be €30 each. Yes please, Maria! Sign us up!
Guys, I’m not going to lie, I’m just going to bombard you with facts that we learned today and at the museum the other day because this whole thing is so fucking cool! The first thing Maria told us was that the Acropolis is the hill. “Acro” means high and “Polis” means town, so “Acropolis” just means up town. The temples on top of the hill are the third and final iteration and they were built in 15 years after the Persians ransacked the second iteration in 480 BC.
You walk in through the gate which has five doors, our guide called it the lobby. There’s a small temple to Athena Nike who used to fly around distributing victory to every fucker but the Athenians wanted victory all to themselves. They clipped her wings and put her in a cage-like temple so anyone entering the temple would know she was on their side. Bit of a dick move there, Athens.
There’s another small temple albeit bigger than the Nike temple called the Erechtheion and this housed a wooden statue which was given new robes every four years during the Panathenaia festival. That’s the bad boy that started at the gate in Kerameikos, made its way diagonally through the Ancient Agora although back then, obviously, it was just the agora, then up the hill, up an absolute shit tonne of steps to this very temple right here. Shit me, religion sounds exhausting.
One thing we learned about Athena at the museum is that she was an utter badass, and her general badassery, amongst other things, was depicted in statues and freizes around the Parthenon. That’s the big bastard, the one you can see from everywhere. The thing that people pay the big bucks for so they can put it in their eyeholes from the comfort of their hotel room or dining table. It’s dedicated to Athena Parthenos, the virgin.
It’s fucking massive! I knew it was big but it’s just epic, and that’s in its destroyed state. They’re currently restoring it, they’ve identified where a lot of the stones belong and they’re putting them back. They’ve still got a pile of unknown stones which I guess will just sit there until they find where they’re meant to go in this huge, ancient jigsaw puzzle. None of the statues you seen on the site are real, by the way. The originals are in the museum at the bottom of the hill for their protection. Or the British Museum. No surprise there then.
There’s not much left of the east pediment which depicted the birth of Athena. Zeus impregnated then swallowed her mother so when it was time to pop out of the womb she did do by bursting, in full armour, through his head after Hephaistos hit it with an axe. I mean, I’ve never had kids but if I had to choose 20 stitches in my vag after shitting myself in front of a room full of medical professionals, or an axe to the head from a Greek god, I’m not gonna lie, I’d probably go with the latter.
There’s a bit more of the west pediment left though some of it has ended up in the British Museum. The bits they have are displayed at the Acropolis Museum in the position they would have been originally with plaster replicas in place of what Lord Elgin nicked in 1801. It’s time to return the statues in my opinion. It’s like me taking your X-Box after I found it in your house when you weren’t in then telling you you’re allowed to use it at my place which is a four hour flight away.
Anyway. The west pediment shows the battle between Athena and Poseiden for control of the city. Athena won because she offered the citizens an olive tree, the first in the world. All Poseiden brought to the table was a salt water well which is no fucking use to anyone unless you’re a fish.
As well as a 160 metre frieze running all the way around the Parthenon depicting the Panathenaia festival there are metopes. Yeah I had to Google that too. They’re specifically the rectangular blocks on a Doric style temple in between the three vertical lines which are, I’m reliably informed, called triglyphs. Righto then. Each side of the Parntheon had metopes telling a different story; The time the Centaurs tried to make off with human woman. When the Amazons attacked. The sacking of Troy.
The fourth side tells of the Gigantomachy which is when the giants kicked off and Athena herself fought one of them. I forget his name but he was the personification of earthquakes. Anyway, she kicked his arse, threw him into the sea and chucked the island of Sicily on top of him for good measure. See? Badass! The giant isn’t dead though, he still stirs every now and then and causes tremors.
All this would have been made from stunning white marble which is really quite glarey when you try and look at it in the sun. Everything we see now is this off-white colour but actually it would have been painted. They’ve found pigments of colour in the marble, it would have been beautiful. Sadly, after it had been torn apart by Christians who turned it into a church, hacked away most of the metopes and melted down the huge, gold statue of Athena to fund the crusades, after if was surrendered to the Turks who used it to store gunpowder, the Venetians launched a cannonball into it in 1687 and blew it up. That was that. The death of the Parntheon.
There are a million other things we’ve learned over the last few days but honestly, you need to come and put Athens in your very own eyeholes. It’s brilliant. I like it a lot more than I thought I would. I knew I’d love the history but even just the city, it’s a wonderful place to be although everything is indiscriminately made of marble, even the fucking pavements, and they’re a bloody death trap if they get so much as a little bit damp.
Athens, Attica, Greece / Αθήνα, Αττική, Ελλάδα
Stayed at: Chameleon Youth Hostel, Athens
Useful shit to know…
- The Acropolis is €20 to get in or it’s included in the Special Package ticket.
- The closest Metro station is, probably quite obviously, Akropoli.
- We bought the €30 package ticket which gets you entry to six sites plus the Acropolis. You can buy it at any of the sites it’s valid at and it lasts five days. Once November rolls around entry prices reduce so the €30 ticket might not be worth it but in the summer, if you’re visiting the Acropolis and two other sites it’s definitely a good investment.
- The included sites are: The Acropolis (not the museum, that’s a separate ticket and currently costs €10), Kerameikos Archaeological Site & Museum, Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Library, the Roman Agora, Aristotles Lyceum, and The Temple of Olympian Zeus.