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What's So Special About the Acropolis?
Photos by John Roberts
Shuffling along, we had to carefully watch every step. The stone surface underfoot, so polished and shiny from centuries of visitors and inhabitants treading on the peak of this hill, makes it precarious. We had ascended to the top of the Acropolis just after noon under a blazing hot sun.
"This is fun, right?" I wondered aloud as we snaked our way amid the growing crowd of tourists.
Arriving in Athens the day before, I told my wife, Colleen, that I wanted to hit all the ancient hot spots in the Greek capital. Or at least as many as we could while we were in the city. The Acropolis and the Parthenon, of course. We can do both in one day, right?
She laughed at my ignorance. I was quickly forced to admit that I hadn't known the Acropolis and Parthenon were at the same site. In a nutshell, the Parthenon is one of several ancient structures sitting atop the Acropolis — a citadel on the flat surface of a rocky outcropping of a hill overlooking the city.
OK? Cool. So, what is at the Acropolis that draws so much interest? The Parthenon, a large rectangular temple with distinct columns, is the most famous building at the complex, which sits 490 feet above sea level.
The Acropolis also features the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion temple and the impressive entryway called the Propylaea. Construction of the buildings of the Acropolis took place during the fifth century and represent magnificent feats of engineering, with perfectly lined Doric and Ionic columns the highlights of the limestone and marble structures. The Acropolis served as a citadel, a fortress for citizens during times when the city was under attack, as well as a place honoring the Greek gods, with the temples, ceremonies and shrines. Many of the best artifacts have been taken away over the centuries, plundered by invading forces or stolen and sold off to museums, like the British Museum in London.
Other pieces have been removed and are on display at the Acropolis Museum, which is at the foot of the hill in the surrounding neighborhood and worth a visit.
It is amazing to go up to the top of this hill and consider all the work that went into constructing these temples. The best part of being there, however, is the views you can get of almost the entire expanse of Athens. Wander the edges of the complex, at the walls, to see the full panorama. Go stand at the viewing area by the flag pole to look across at the highest hill in Athens, Mount Lycabettus, pictured below, upon which sits St. George Church. (You can take a cable cab up to view this site).
What you should know before you go:
Tickets: 20 euros. We bought our tickets at the window just outside the entrance to the site. You can also find Acropolis tickets online or those as part of city tours. You also can pay 30 euros for a package that includes six additional sites around the city. We arrived around noon on a Saturday, and the queue wait to get in was about 25 minutes.
Hours: The Acropolis is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
What to wear: Make sure you have a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. It is hot and exposed on that hill, especially in summer months. Also, wear comfortable shoes with good traction and watch where you walk. The steps and surface all around the complex are extremely slippery from centuries of wear. We saw people slipping and nearly falling all over the place on the highly polished rocks during our visit.
What else? Bring water, your camera, of course, and expect to need no more than an hour exploring the site. Don't charge right up to the top, either. As you make your way up the winding paths around the perimeter of the site, take time to look at the Theater of Dionysus and out over the sprawling Ancient Agora, a gathering place and center of city life for Athenians in ancient times.
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