In the morning we repeat the same route through the National Gardens, but this time with a specific purpose – our first stop on the tour of Athens is the Acropolis Museum. During the day, the Gardens look and feel like an Amazon jungle movie set – parrots fly between the towering palms and chirp, the screeching of cicadas almost drowns out the noise of traffic, only monkeys and tropical snakes are missing.
In the guidebook of Rick Steves “Greece: Athens & The Peloponnese”, which I highly recommend, he mentioned that tourists can buy a combo ticket, which includes the Acropolis, the Acropolis museum and 5-6 more attractions around. Unfortunately, the museum staff assures us that their museum and the Acropolis are two separate locations and do not have such a common ticket. We part with 10 EUR per person for the Museum and a few hours later with another 20 EUR to enter the Acropolis. In my opinion, however, it’s totally worth it!
The Acropolis Museum is actually THE ACROPOLIS without the huge colonnades of the Parthenon and the main building of the Erechtheion. Almost all the original statues are gathered here (including 5 of the 6 caryatids of Erechtheion), reliefs, metopes, and even door frames from the original Acropolis. Many of these elements, which can be seen up on the hill, are reconstructions. The originals are here!
On the ground floor there are several scale models of the Acropolis, which represent the evolution of the original buildings over the centuries and you can also find a rich collection of pottery from different eras.
On the first floor to the left of the staircase are exhibited predominantely statues, stone stelae with inscriptions, scale models of the original buildings, elements of friezes, ancient coins and more pottery.
So far the photo shooting is OK. Then we enter a section (southeast according to the description of the museum’s website), dedicated to the archaic period of the Acropolis, in which photography is strictly prohibited and this rule is sternly guarded by the circulating gorgons, sorry, the museum staff.
Make sure that your COVID-3 mask covers not only your mouth but also your nose. All Western and Asian tourists, including children 3-4 years old are super compliant in this regard (how these children do not grumble, but obediently wander for 1-2 hours in museums, for me is a total enigma).
In this section of the museum are collected those samples of Greek art that are invariably present in every encyclopedia and book dedicated to the history of art. There is abundance of statues of kora (including preserved original colors) and kuros, of horses and horsemen, Athens gigantomachy (Athens defeats the giants) and what not.
However, the museum management is not so cruel to photographers and allows panoramic photos to this hall of the museum, but only when taken from the terraces on the second floor. Of course, if a person has a 500 mm lens, he can probably get more detailed photos from above, but I don’t have one, so I take several general shots, which look surprisingly good by the way as you can see below.
On the second floor there is a hall dedicated entirely to the 5 caryatids of Erechtheion (The 6th is lost), as well as access to a panoramic terrace overlooking the Acropolis and presenting the opportunity to eat, for a not very modest amount.
The third floor is the Parthenon Gallery and here are all the preserved sculptures from the hill, which are arranged in such a way as to restore the original location of the friezes, metopes and statues of the two pediments. Here you can take pictures again, but if you are not a specialist in ancient history or art, especially after the tour of the lower 2 floors, you can not keep your attention for more than 10-15 minutes on the endless series of seemingly recurring images of warriors, horses and duels with centaurs.
Fortunately, the museum is extremely adequately air-conditioned and has plenty of seating, video screens and a lecture hall, so everyone can enjoy it at their own pace and look at the details.
Particularly impressive is the fact that the museum was built OVER the ruins of the ancient city, which was discovered by the archeologists in the base of the Acropolis. The excavations, of course, preceded this modern building, the construction of which began in 2001 and ended in 2007, and during the construction all the ancient remains were covered with gravel (with the aim to keep them from damage), after which 43 huge supporting columns were erected, on which the new facility was placed, which is composed entirely of concrete, steel and glass with a total area of 23 sq.m. After the completion of the construction and the opening of the museum in 2009, the ruins under it were again excavated from gravel and are now available for visits with the ticket which you buy at the museum.
We go through the excavations relatively quickly because we are a little overwhelmed. For me the most interesting structure here is the water pipes system, the channels and cisterns for water supply, given how long ago they emerged as a concept. In the hills surrounding the Acropolis, there is also a water supply system, through which the citadel was supplied with water from natural springs in the area
We take our lunch in a randomly selected tavern – Opos Palia, which is located away from the tourist traps clustered around the museum, and the choice turns out to be surprisingly good.
At the whim of my companion we have to visit a specific supermarket, about 4 km from the museum, but I do not resist the idea too much, because it gives me the opportunity to see the less touristy part of Athens. We go around Philopapu Hill and pass through the areas of Tiseyo, Gazi and Kerameikos. Gazi is famous for its restaurants and art environment, so I have the opportunity to photograph quite a bunch of graffiti-strewn buildings.
On the way back we pass the Church of “St. George ”, which is not the typical Byzantine church. The church was built between the years 1899-1901, based on plans by the architect Ernst Ziller. The architectural style is the so called neo-Romanesque style.
We continue to Monastiraki Square, then we pass the Adrian Library (inadvertently missing the insultingly nearby Agora and the Temple of Hephaestus), then take a quick look at the Tower of the Winds and the Roman Forum and head to the hotel to change the camera battery, before the evening visit to the Acropolis, which I planned to happen at the end of business hours, with the idea to catch the golden hour for photos up the hill.
Well, I’m right on time for the Golden hour! The latest possible time to enter the Acropolis is at 19:30, so we enter at 19:15 and stay until 20:05, when all Acropolis employees begin to drive the undisciplined tourist herd to the exits, because the doors have to close at exactly 20:15 pm. Of course, the most disobedient are the tourists from the former communist Eastern countries – Russians, Serbs and us, Bulgarians. They stay and shoot photos to the last possible second!
The precise timing and the nervous rush to the exit are worth it. Now is the best time to take pictures – both of the Parthenon and the Erechtheion, as well as the panorama of the city. From the lowlands below, chants, music, and the beating of drums can be heard, but we cannot tell whether it is a football match or protests against compulsory COVID-19 vaccination. It seems to be a protest, a lot of military helicopters are flying over.
The Parthenon is overwhelming in size, but it’s hard to comprehend this, given that you look at it from a relative far away and you can’t stand right under the giant columns to grasp the true scale. According to a curious article on the construction techniques of the Parthenon, published on the website of Smithsonian Magazine, 100 tons of marble were used for the large-scale construction. Nowhere did I find a calculation of the weight of the roof, but given that it was made entirely of marble, along with gables, friezes and metopes, I think you can safely bet on 30 000 – 40 000 tons at dimensions of 30.5 m x 69.5 m. I wonder in case it was preserved and its weight was announced on a sign in front of the building, whether visitors would walk below and feel completely sfae. For comparison, the dome of “St. Peter ”in Rome weighs only 14 000 tons and measures 150 x 200 m, taking in consideration it was built 19 centuries later!!
I cannot help but mention briefly the story behind the destruction of much of the Parthenon. In 1687, the Venetian fleet, led by Francesco Morosini, fired a projectile that landed in Turkish gunpowder warehouses located right in the Parthenon. According to historical sources, Morosini claimed that it was simply a “lucky shot”, but there are theories that a Turkish deserter revealed the presence of gunpowder warehouses, hoping that the Venetians would not fire at a target of such historical significance. In any case, the hit was exactly in the target, which resulted in the central part of the building being destroyed, the interiors demolished, the roof – totally destroyed. 6 columns fell from the south side, 8 from the north side, as well as all columns from the east gate, except for 1 column. ⅗ from the frieze sculptures fell to the ground and were destroyed, as well as the huge marble architraves, triglyphs and metopes. Morosini further destroyed some of the sculptures, trying to tear them off the facade and take them away as booty.
Many of the fragments were used to build a mosque, which was located on the Acropolis during the Ottoman Empire, or were stolen by treasure hunters. Let us not forget the contribution of the Englishman Thomas Bruce, who in the period 1801-1803 transported a significant part of the sculptures from the pediment to Great Britain, which are now situated in the British Museum. To this day, the British refuse to return them to the Greek.
A platoon of soldiers armed with Kalashnikovs enter the Acropolis to ceremoniously remove the Greek flag. This is a clear signal that we REALLY need to leave now, as the staff kindly reminds us with school bells in their hands.
We leave the side exit in crowds, together with the other late tourists and of course we visit the obligatory hill Aeropagus. From here you also get quite good panoramic photos of the Acropolis and Athens, and it is important to note that visiting it is not safe at all. The rocks are polished like a mirror, I suspect as a result of centuries rubbing of ancient and modern sandals and buttocks, because everyone wants to sit even for a few minutes and enjoy a sip of water / beer or whatever he or she carries, in the rays of the sunset and in front of the panorama of the city spread out below.
A lot of people go to great lengths to take the right angle for a single or double selfie worthy of Instagram, and it’s a miracle that at least half of them don’t fall to their death while trying to fit themselves and their partner into the landscape. Even with sneakers, I manage to scratch my calf while balancing with a camera in one hand and a tripod in the other (which never came into use during the whole trip), on the slippery road down.
We descend again to Monastiraki, this time taking our time, because we have found a shortcut – Theorias Street, which allows you to reach quickly the Tower of the Winds, the Roman Forum and Monastiraki Square descending from the Acropolis. We walk around a bit more and have an inglorious dinner on foot, consisting of gyros in a rather unrepresentative street near the hotel.
The Peloponnese is waiting for us tomorrow!
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