I hadn’t expected to like Athens, yet I’m having a great time. I’d read it was dirty, dangerous to walk at night and polluted. Yes, some of the pavements are broken and you have to watch your step, but it’s a great city to explore. There’s so much to see, and I haven’t felt unsafe.
I went to the Temple of Zeus on my first day. It took me about ten minutes’ walk from my hotel. To avoid the traffic fumes, I cut through the Botanical Gardens and to my delight I saw oranges and mandarins growing on trees again. I haven’t seen this for nearly a year.
The temple built in 6BC has only 12 columns standing. You can see the ornate decoration on the tops of the pillars and additional chunks of stone are strewn around the site. Visiting monuments in Athens is cheap, a combined ticket which gives you admittance to 7 sites and lasts for 5 days costs 30 Euro.
Visiting the Acropolis Museum is a must and it’s a good idea to go there before you head up to the Acropolis. Not surprisingly it’s the number one attraction on Trip Advisor. The museum was opened to the public in 2009, and it’s a light bright state of the art building over 3 floors. It was primarily built for the purpose to try and persuade the British to return the Elgin marbles. For years the British Museum and the British Government had refused because Athens didn’t have a suitable location where they could be displayed. Hence the new museum.
I must admit I didn’t actually know what the Elgin Marbles were until recently. The Marbles are a collection of sculptures and objects acquired by Lord Elgin from the Parthenon between 1801 and 1805. Lord Elgin was a Scottish nobleman and a diplomat who served as an ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Elgin used his influence with the Sultan to gain access to sketch ancient works of art. The Sultan granted a firman to Lord Elgin, which gave him the authorisation to take casts of the sculptures but also to remove pieces of them. Lord Elgin wasted no time and dismantled a large part of the frieze from the Parthenon. The collection was transported back to England and Elgin sold the Marbles in 1816 for 35,000 pounds to the British Museum. Since then controversy surrounds the Marbles, with many believing the Marbles should be returned to their place of origin. However, it doesn’t look as though the British have any intention of handing them back anytime soon.
Today I walked up to the top of the Acropolis and it nearly killed my back! The paths which take you to the summit are treacherous. Slabs of slippery marble, unstable grit and large stones hindered my progress as I gingerly walked upwards. Winter is a great time to visit, and avoid masses of tourists plus the heat in summer can be cruel. I encountered Russians who despite being warned by the guides not to hang backwards off a rock at the summit continued to do so. There’s good printed information in Greek and English but no audio guides.
I took a marble seat in the Theatre of Dionysus at the foot of the Acropolis and imagined myself sitting watching a play about a goddess in 6BC! Onto the Odeion of Herodes Atticus named after a wealthy citizen who gifted this huge theatre to Athens which could seat 6,000 people. It’s quite well preserved considering most of the other monuments on the Acropolis have fallen victim to the weather, man and wars.
Back onto the path and I finally reached the marble steps to take me up to the top of the Acropolis. The wind howled and it was bone chilling cold. Some of the temples remain but they are cordoned off. Some of the columns of the Parthenon still stand, and I could make out the features from one or two sculptures which Lord Elgin had left behind. The goddess Athena’s (who gave her name to the city) statue would have stood at 39 feet high and dominated the space. Yes, I have bought a reproduction statue to take home! Sculptures of six girls support a porch of another temple, and the temple of Nike stands, but for how long?
I bought a book which has overlays of what the buildings might have looked like in 6BC with an accompanying CD. I’d love to do some time traveling and visit Athens in her prime as I’m fascinated with the number of goddess the Greeks had.
On Saturday I leave for Singapore. The last stop on my journey homewards and I’m feeling ok about that.