I guess you could say that the Acropolis in Athens (this isn't the only one, you know), and the temples that sit upon it (including the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion) is my Eiffel Tower. When I first saw this wonder 24 years ago, I simply could not believe that such an ancient beauty still existed and that we could still step on stones worn smooth by so many centuries of sandaled feet. Since my first visit there, Athens has long stood as one of my favorite cities in this wide world.
Seven years ago, when we returned with this same scientific conference we just attended, the bus taking us to dinner pulled up to the base of the Dionysiou Arepopagitou (a pedestrian street that runs along the base of the Acropolis) and when I caught my first glimpse of the majestic Parthenon, I burst into tears. And yes, I may have shed another again this year.
Cal has been studying ancient history in school this whole past year, and even though we knew we'd be heading to Italy after our time in Greece, we couldn't pass up the chance to spend an extra day in Athens (And honestly, given the jet lag and the five-hour drive to Olympia, coming in a day early was the smart choice.)
Our hotel was located along the Dionysiou Arepopagitou, so after we had a little nap, it was only a short walk before the Parthenon was sitting on our shoulders, and were ascending the slope. The best way to reach the entrance of the Acropolis is along the western side, u well-worn (read: slippery) marble steps along side the Theater of Dionysus. It's a moderate climb, but there are views of the theater and shady olive groves along the way. At the entrance are food and drink stands (of course exorbitantly priced, but delicious and often necessary on blistering days) as well as stands of guides selling tours. The entrance fee is only €12 (and covers loads of other sites), but for some reason the site was free the day we were there, a total bonus.
If you wan a history of the site and structures on it, you can check here and here. There are other people who write about this way better than I do. What I will say is this, it's often hot and crowded, although it was pretty quiet when we were there this year, and even so it feels strangely serene on top of the hill so high above the city. The sweeping views (all the way to the Peloponnese in the west) over the city really give you a sense of how secure the Athenians must have felt in their hold on their lands. The giant Greek flag that flies high above you, with stripes of crisp blue and white reminds you that these Greeks are still very proud of their heritage.
My favorite spot atop the Acropolis is actually not the Parthenon (although, what's not to love, right?), but instead the smaller temple Erechtheion with the six caryatids guarding the front porch. This temple was dedicated to both Athena and Posedion and is built of marble with intricately carved friezes and elaborate doorways and windows. The Porch of the Caryatids is a six-columned structured with the draped figures of women supporting the roof of the porch. I think it's simply stunning.
It feels that every time we go, there's a crane and some scaffolding, and I guess that's a good thing, right? Restoration began in 1975 and continues today with the goal to reduce the effects that decay and pollution and years of wars have had on these ancient wonders. They are also being supported and reinforced to continue to thrive in this earthquake-prone region. You can learn more about those efforts here. They talk about the Acropolis being a breathing thing, and it's true. History lives here.
If you have a day in Athens (or less, really, which was what we had) this is where you need to go. Are there other amazing sites? Well, yes of course, and next time I plan to place my feet on some of them. But it had been a long time, and as Neel said often of this visit, it would be a sin not to take advantage of being there. How could you not?