Greece :: Athens – Hadrian’s Gate & The Acropolis

“There is nothing permanent, except change.”
– Heraclitus

Athens, one of humanity’s many cradles. I had only two days there so obviously the Acropolis was at the top of my list. I added Hadrian’s Gate for good measure, because I’m weirdly fascinated by the myth of Hadrian and it’s right next to the Acropolis.

ATHENS

First off – enjoy these lovely SnapChat-pictures from my walk towards the Acroplis/Gate

 

HADRIAN’S GATE

To be honest, Hadrian’s Arch (or Hadrian’s Gate as it is mostly known in Greece, not to be confused with the one in Turkey) is “just an old, ruined archway”… Unless you, like I, like walking around old stuff, feeling the texture of it and pondering the lives of the people who lived when it was first built. I don’t have a better way of describing it other than “the feel of history”, which sounds way too zen for me, but… I don’t know… I just like imagining what it was like being a person at the time the ruins where not ruins, but new buildings or monuments.

Hadrian’s Gate is for me an extension of Hadrian’s Wall, the stories and myths surrounding this structure make the emperor himself, and this gate by proxy, fascinating for me – so I went to see it and feel a sense of history. In all fairness, Athens is full of places you can feel history, but this rather ruined arch looked pretty impressive today. One can only imagine what it looked like when it was first erected.

 

THE ACROPOLIS MUSEUM

The Acropolis Museum is situated right next to the entrance to the Acropolis site so stopping by before heading up to see the main site is easy – it even has its own metro station.

There is so much information in this museum it can seem pretty overwhelming, so my advice would be t make sure you’re rested and not “museumed out” before going. I was a little bit tired and not in the right “museum mood” when I went so I only got so much out of it, but I still have to admit it’s definitely a very good museum.

My favourite thing was the reconstruction of the west pediment of the Parthenon. A small scale model of what part of the top of the Parthenon looked like before being destroyed three times over. It depicts the goddess Athena‘s struggle with her uncle Poseidon for the position of  the patron god of Attica and its capital city. Needless to say, Athena won “the battle”.

“Both Athena and Poseidon would give a gift, the patron god would be chosen. Poseidon struck his trident, a three-pronged spear, on the rock of the Acropolis and created a hole from which poured salt water. This water symbolized his gift; a good navy for protection of the city, and prosperous trade through their port system. Athena struck the rock with her spear and an olive tree sprang up. The tree was an excellent gift: olives and olive oil were used for cooking; the oil was a prime fuel for lamps, a beauty liquid for body and hair, and was used in making soap and medicines. Athena’s gift was considered better and the city was named Athens in her honor.”

After wandering about absorbing as much intel as I could muster, I made a short stop in the overly expensive restaurant (with a view of the Acropolis of course) and had octopus or squid (I can never tell the difference and I don’t really care #SorryNotSorry) for lunch. It. Was. Amazing.

 

THE ACROPOLIS / PARTHENON

The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient citadel located on a rocky outcrop above the city of Athens and contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the most famous being the Parthenon. The word acropolis is from the Greek words akron (“highest point, extremity”) and polis (“city”).

This is probably what most people associate with Athens and Greece (at least with regards to monuments or buildings). This site had been on my bucket list for years and I was hella excited to finally see it.

Of course, some googling before going had to be done. Like so many other things, the myths and my own imagination had provided my interest for this place, so I didn’t even know about the Theatre of Dionysus before going. I’m glad I read up about it because even though it looked impressive when I sat down in the vast rocky ruins, it was incredible to imagine it filled with the 17.000 people it could seat in its day. The crowds, the noise and the atmosphere must have been fantastic. It was the first theatre ever built, cut into the southern cliff face of the Acropolis, and supposedly birthplace of Greek tragedy.

You walk right past it going up to the Acropolis, it’s impossible to miss.

The Acropolis itself was very impressive, due mostly of course to the Parthenon. The site includes other ancient temples and structures like The Old Temple of Athena, Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus, Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the aforementioned Theatre of Dionysus.

The Parthenon has gone through more than most:

  • Construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the peak of its power and the structure was dedicated to Athena.
  • The Parthenon itself replaced an older temple of Athena that was destroyed in the Persian invasion of 480 BC.
  • Like most Greek temples, the Parthenon served a practical purpose as the city treasury.
  • In the final decade of the sixth century AD, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
  • After the Ottoman conquest, it was turned into a mosque in the early 1460s.
  • In 1687 an Ottoman ammunition dump inside the building was ignited by Venetian bombardment. The resulting explosion severely damaged the Parthenon and its sculptures. Greek architect and archaeologist Kornilia Chatziaslani writes that “…three of the sanctuary’s four walls nearly collapsed and three-fifths of the sculptures from the frieze fell. Nothing of the roof apparently remained in place. Six columns from the south side fell, eight from the north, as well as whatever remained from eastern porch, except for one column. The columns brought down with them the enormous marble architraves, triglyphs and metopes.
  • The following year, the Venetians abandoned Athens and had considered blowing up what remained of the Parthenon along with the rest of the Acropolis to deny its further use as a fortification to the Turks, but that idea was not pursued.

In 1975, the Greek government began to restore the Parthenon and other Acropolis structures. A Committee for the “Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments” was established in 1983 and the project later attracted funding and technical assistance from the European Union. The efforts are still going on today and piece by piece the Acropolis is being restored to as much of its former glory as can be.

No matter how much of its former glory has been bombed away, the Acropolis of Athens and the Parthenon in particular is impressive. This was the one thing I had on my list for Athens, sort of “if everything else falls through, that’s ok, but I have to see the Acropolis” and after being there I feel I had my priorities straight.

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