We are here in Athens, city of Athena, birthplace of democracy, and home to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. After arriving in the port city of Piraeus in the morning, we travel by bus (always a bus!) through modern Athens to the Acropolis, one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world. It’s a beautiful day which we need for the walking and climbing up 80 steps to the top of the Acropolis (meaning high city) to see the Parthenon. It’s not an easy climb; sometimes we use marble steps and sometimes it’s gravel. The climb is made a little hazardous by the huge number of tourists, the most we’ve seen since Rome.
But we prevail, finally reaching the Propylaea, the monumental marble gateway to the incredible ruins.
The marble from which all the structures were built came from a mountain twelve miles away, which we can see in the distance. How the ancient Greeks quarried and hauled the huge pieces of marble twelve miles and then up the steep hill to the Acropolis boggles the mind and is an engineering marvel. Today, marble used to restore the Parthenon is laser-cut to fit perfectly where missing pieces have not been recovered. The almost three-thousand-year-old marble is a pale, dusty yellow, but the new marble is pristine white, allowing you to imagine what the Parthenon might have looked like in the blazing sunlight.
We can see the Ancient Agora, which means “a place of gathering” – the center of Athenian life and the center of ancient Greek democracy; it once served as a marketplace, civic center, and seat of justice.
We can see below a massive rock where Peter preached. Our guide (again, so good) explains how the Parthenon was built and describes the 40-foot gold statue of Athena that once stood inside the Parthenon. In the early 1460’s the Parthenon became a mosque. He tells about the explosion of stored Ottoman gunpowder that was detonated by the Venetian bombardment in 1687, destroying many of the columns and statues. Inside the Parthenon today is a corrugated building housing restoration equipment and cranes used to reconstruct the massive columns. Like Pompeii and Ephesus, we are amazed by the construction of temples, columns, streets and houses of the ancient world. Hopefully, in ten years, the Parthenon will look as it did in ancient Athens. The views of Athens and the surrounding area are spectacular.
Leaving (by walking back down the 80 steps) the Acropolis,we travel through Athens, passing other buildings of note. The most interesting is the Old Olympic Stadium, built on the foundation of a 4th century arena. It was here that the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896 and was one of the sites used in the 2004 Olympics.
We reach the Plaka, the oldest shopping district with cobblestone lanes at the foot of the Acropolis; today it is home to wonderful boutiques, cafes and local tavernas. We find a welcoming spot at Hermion, a cafe with an outdoor vine-covered courtyard, a cool (as in weather) place for lunch. We have Halloumi, a Greek cheese we’ve had before. It’s a wonderful cheese to grill. It’s served on tomato slices with some pesto; it’s delicious. We order meatballs with tomato sauce and rice. The size of mini-meatloaf, they are so flavorful and a bit spicy. A glass of local white wine completes our wonderful lunch.
We’ve had a wonderful day in Athens, seen one of the wonders of the ancient world and had a delightful lunch, all while enjoying a beautiful day. Another place to hopefully return to one day. Tomorrow, after our last day at sea, we arrive in Venice, one of the most romantic, intriguing cities in the world. By the way, if you can’t get to Athens to see the Acropolis, you can travel to Nashville, Tennessee. A full-scale replica of the Parthenon was erected there in 1897 for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition.