A Spring Morning at the Acropolis & Anafiotika in Athens, Greece
I landed back in England yesterday morning, and preceded to “nap” for the next six hours. After a month of working and traveling through Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Greece, and Germany, it is fair to say I needed some time to just zZz. I
probably definitely could have slept all day today as well; but, the overwhelming amount of content I want to get through before I leave again and the fact that my family arrives tomorrow for a celebratory weekend in Liverpool, managed to wake me up after just a couple of presses of the snooze button.
I seem to have gone a little out of order with my travel journals, writing about Romania, then skipping over Moldova and Ukraine, and going straight to Greece. Don’t worry, I will get around to all of them, and I promise to keep them in chronological order within the countries! I just get so excited about what I have been up to that I want to share it with you guys right away!
As I mentioned in this post, I flew to Athens from Ukraine to spend 5 days with Tristan who is studying there. The first time I went to Athens was in 2011 as part of the “Europe-trip” I did during my gap-year. I then went back a couple of years later with my sister while we were doing a Europe-trip; but, it was so unbearably hot (it was the end of July) that we couldn’t bear to stay more than a couple of days. So, this time I was excited to be re-introduced to the city. Enough time had passed between trips that I had no qualms about revisiting sites and museums I had previously seen, although I also came to realize there was a lot I had missed out on the first two times around!
But before all that, we needed some breakfast. Now, an archaeological museum might seem like an unlikely breakfast spot, but the menu at the Acropolis Museum is mouthwateringly good and at a rather reasonable price, especially considering the views. The restaurant is located on the second floor and provides a spectacular panorama of the legendary Acropolis itself, a stunning testament to the glories of the ancient Greek civilization. I loved all the details in the restaurant, especially the fact that the design on the front of the Acropolis Museum’s menu is the layout of the Parthenon!
We arrived early enough to grab a table by the window, allowing us to observe the Acropolis and the Parthenon while sipping our cappuccinos.
The food was delicious, I went with the two fried eggs with prosciutto from Thrace. (Side Note: Menus in Greece always tell you where the ingredients come from! Interesting cultural tidbit!) We sat there for about an hour, taking in the view and making our plan of action for the rest of the weekend.
We decided to come back to the actual museum of the Acropolis Museum the following day (visitors to the restaurant don’t have to buy an entrance ticket to just go to the restaurant) because, after sitting and looking at it for so long, I was just too excited about climbing up to the real thing.
So, we set off along the Archaeological Promenade, a 2.5-mile long, pedestrian-only, tree-lined walkway skirting the foot of the Acropolis and linking all the city’s major archaeological sites. Opened in 2004, the Promenade has made the city center infinitely more walkable and reduced the notorious traffic congestion and exhaust fumes that used to dominate traveler’s talks of Athens.
A couple of weekends before, Tristan had come across this small hill just off the entrance to the Acropolis. He had spent an afternoon there photographing a kite-festival (you can see some of his amazing photographs on his new Tumblr) and had told me about the incredible views of the city one could observe from there. So, we made a slight detour to see the expansive city from above. Flowers were beginning to bloom, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and I couldn’t have dreamed of a more beautiful Spring morning.
One of my budget travel tips — especially when traveling in Europe — is to always have your student I.D. on you! Now obviously I graduated from University last year (sshhh); but, I make sure to look after my student I.D. in the same way I do my bank cards because it saves me a lot of money. For the most part, Europeans are very charitable to students and with your student card you can get discounts for museums, galleries, transportation, tours, etc.
In Athens, I purchased a “Reduced Combo” pass for €15 which included entrance to the Acropolis of Athens, the Ancient Agora of Athens, the Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos, the Archaelogical Site of Lykeion, Hadrian’s Library, Kerameikos, Museum of the Ancient Agora, North Slope of the Acropolis, Olympieio, Roman Agora of Athens, and the South Slope of the Acropolis. A regular (non-student) ticket for just the Acropolis is €20, so this pass was definitely a bargain. The only major thing it didn’t include was the entrance fee to the Acropolis Museum, which is €3 for students and €5 for everyone else.
Athens was built around the Acropolis, which rises like a massive sentinel, white and beautiful, out of the center of the city. Acropolis means “high-city” in Greece and refers to the entire hill on which the Parthenon sits. Sometimes there is is confusion about the difference between the “Acropolis” and the “Parthenon”, so think of it this way — when you climb the Acropolis you are on your way to see Greece’s most famous temple, the Parthenon.
People lived in this area as early as 5,000 B.C and the Acropolis’s sheer size made it a superb natural defense. Many city-states in Ancient Greece had at their center a rocky mound or hill where they built their most important temples and where the people could retreat to if under attack.
The Acropolis is one of a handful of places in the world that is so well known, you might be a little anxious when your wanderings finally bring you here. Will it be as beautiful as the photographs? Will I see it and wonder “is that it”? Will it be a disappointment Mona-Lisa style? Rest assured, the Acropolis and the Parthenon are just as beautiful as the photographs, which also means they are pretty much always crowded. Tip: The best time to visit during the summer is after 5pm when the beautiful light of late-afternoon will only enhance your less-crowded experience.
You enter the Acropolis through Beulé Gate, built by the Romans and named for the French archaeologist who discovered it in 1852. You’ll then pass through the Propylaia, the monumental 5th-century-B.C. entrance. It’s characteristic of the Roman mania for building that they found it necessary to build an entrance to an entrance! Just above the Propylaia is the elegant little Temple of Athena Nike (Athena of Victory); this beautifully proportioned Ionic temple was built in 424 B.C. and heavily restored in the 1930s.
To the left of the Parthenon is the Erechtheion, which the Athenians honored as the tomb of Erechtheus, a legendary king of Athens. A hole in the ceiling and the floor of the northern porch indicates where Poseidon’s trident struck to make a spring gush forth during his contest with Athena to have the city named in his or her honor. Athena countered with an olive tree; the olive tree planted beside the Erechtheion reminds visitors of her victory — as, of course, does Athens’s name.
I especially loved the Erechtheion because of its delicate carvings and the beautiful Caryatids (sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head – thanks Wikipedia!) The Caryatids presently holding up the porch of the Erechtheion are the casts put there when the originals were moved to prevent further erosion by Athens’s acid smog, but you can (and must) see the original Caryatids in the Acropolis Museum.
The Parthenon itself is dedicated to Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin, patron goddess of Athens) and is the most important religious shrine here. Visitors are not allowed inside, both to protect the monument and to allow restoration work to proceed safely. But, if you are feeling disappointed about this, remember that in antiquity only priests and honored visitors were allowed in to see the monumental statue of Athena designed by the great Phidias!
Almost everything you see today was rebuilt following the Persian sacking of Athens in 480 BC and was completed in just 10 years! The monuments survived unaltered for close to a thousand years, until in the reign of Emperor Justinian the temples were converted to Christian worship. The Parthenon went from Greek to Roman temple, from Byzantine church to Frankish cathedral, and even spent several centuries in use as a Turkish mosque.
The Erechtheion, with its graceful female figures, saw service as a harem.
The Parthenon originally had sculptures on both of its pediments, as well as a frieze running around the entire temple. However, in 1687, the Venetians — in an attempt to capture the Acropolis from the Turks — blew the Parthenon’s entire roof (and much of its interior) to pieces. A shell fired from nearby struck the Parthenon — where the Turks were storing gunpowder and munitions — and caused appalling damage to the building and its sculptures.
Then, in the early 19th century when Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire, an Englishman, Lord Elgin, carted off most of the remaining sculptures to London — including one Caryatid — to decorate his mansion. He ultimately fell into bankruptcy and sold his collection (which has come to be known as the Elgin Marbles) to the British government. They have had them on display in the British Museum since 1816, causing ongoing pain to generations of Greeks, who continue to press for their return.
The views from the top of the Acropolis are absolutely fabulous, especially on such a beautiful day. It is genuinely hard to express what it feels like to be standing exactly where so much history and culture has transpired. This city was the birthplace of Western civilization, the cradle of democracy in the western world, a place whose achievements span the breadth of government, science, philosophy, and the arts — and still influence our lives today.
It is breathtaking (and I definitely appreciated it a lot more this time than I did when I was 18!)
If we are being honest, I was a little annoyed by this day’s outfit. When we are traveling and shooting photos, I like to dress in colours and styles that complement where we are going. It helps get my creative juices flowing and allows me to transform myself and be inspired by the styles of women from around the world. In this bright, red-and-white, long-sleeve sweater, I was not only sweltering; but, I also felt like I should be in Paris, rather than in Athens. Unable to find anything more suitable in my luggage, I decided to embrace it and swiped on some red lipstick and some big, black sunglasses.
Next trip I shall be in more appropriate Athens-garb!
Anyways, we wandered down from the Acropolis through the Anafiotika neighbourhood which I also wrote about in this post when we went back there to shoot my new dress and crown combo!
To recap, Anafiotika is a tiny settlement in Pláka that exists right under the dominant holy rock of the Acropolis. Established in the 19th century by masons from Anafi island who came to work on the reconstruction of Athens, Anafiotika looks like a small Aegean island in the heart of the city. The builders chose to build their houses under the Acropolis abiding by the Cycladic architecture, which reminded them of their homeland. Small white houses, blooming colourful flowers, and lush scenery make this area absolutely magical and unlike any other area in Athens.
In classical times, this district was abandoned because the Delphic Oracle claimed it as sacred ground. The Anafi builders would hastily erect their homes overnight to take advantage of an Ottoman law that decreed that if you could put up a structure between sunset and sunrise, the property was yours!
Our stroll took us further into Pláka, with all of its beautiful cafés, boutiques, and old tavernas. Because it is still “off-season” in Greece, there was still enough room to move around and not too long of a wait for a good table at a lovely restaurant. However, in the summer these places will be overflowing with visitors. (I highly recommend visiting Greece in March/April!)
After a solid morning of walking and history, we decided we deserved a quick pick-me-up before we continued on. At this point we had made our way into Monastiráki and luckily Da Vinci Gelato was right there! The shop was a sweet lovers dream, with all sorts of toppings and sauces for a variety of flavours ofgelato. Somehow, I don’t really like gelato, so I opted for a serving of their home-made lemonade, while Tristan went for a chocolate-on-chocolate monstrosity.
Either way, we both got a sugar-rush great enough to keep us going through a few more sites. But I will save those for the next post!
H&M turtleneck sweater / Primark striped sweater & jeans /