Saturday, September 1: This morning I put on my same old clothes and head to the lobby, hoping to find some word of my bag. Sadly, there has been no word at the front desk, nor has Egypt Air called me directly. I eat breakfast, included in the price of my room, in the lobby cafe. They have quite a spread of hard-boiled eggs, toast, bread, cakes, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, and olives, among other things.
I wander out in the street to make my way to the Acropolis, considered the most important ancient site in the Western world. The weather is beautiful, so cheery that it’s difficult to dwell on my worries. As I’m walking down the street, I come across the bus stop for the Athens Open Tour,a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. I know some people may think it’s hokey, but I like to take these open-air tours for my first time in a city just to get the lay of the land.
I hop on for the price of 18 euros, which covers two days of hopping on and off the bus. The bus makes multiple stops through the city every half hour, so it’s an easy way to get around. I sit on the top open-air deck so I can get a good view of the sights.
Surprise, surprise, the first stop, just about 2 blocks from where I get on, is the stop for the Acropolis. I hop off and follow the path upwards, the Acropolis before me, beckoning.
The Acropolis’s first temples were built in honor of the goddess Athena during the Mycenaean era. People lived on the Acropolis until the 6th century BC, but in 510 BC the Delphic oracle determined it should be the province of the gods.
In the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC, the Persians reduced the buildings to ashes. Pericles then began to rebuild, transforming the Acropolis into a city of temples. The Acropolis has been ravaged over the centuries by foreign occupiers, foreign archeologists, visitors’ footsteps, earthquakes and, recently, pollution and acid rain. In 1687, the Venetians fired on the Turks, who had stored gunpowder in the Parthenon, and a destructive explosion occurred. Major restoration still continues to this day, with many original sculptures moved to the Acropolis Museum. In 1987, the Acropolis became a World Heritage-listed site.
Shortly after the main entrance, I veer to the right where I come upon the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, built in AD 161 by wealthy Roman Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife. Uncovered in the mid-19th century and completely restored between 1950-1961, it is now the venue for performances of drama, music and dance during the Athens Festival, part of the Hellenic Festival from late May to October.
I then head up the hill, up a slippery marble walkway, to the Propylaia, the grand entrance to the Acropolis. It was built by Mnesicles between 437 BC and 432 BC and consists of a central hall with two wings. Of the 5 ancient gates, the middle and largest gate opened on to the Panathenaic Way. The Propylaia is aligned with the Parthenon, the world’s first example of one building designed in relation to another.
I walk past hordes of people resting in the shade on the steps of the Propylaia and make my way up. It appears everything is under renovation, as there is scaffolding everywhere.
There, right before me is the Parthenon, which means “virgin’s apartment,” dedicated to Athena Parthenos. Its double purpose was to house the great statue of Athena commissioned by Pericles and to serve as a new treasury. It was the largest Doric temple ever completed in Greece and the only one built completely of white Pentelic marble (except for its wooden roof which was painted blue and gilded with stars). It has 8 columns on the ends and 17 on the sides. It took 15 years to complete, just in time for the Great Panathenaic Festival of 438 BC.
All the upper parts of the temple were decorated. Outside on the perimeter, the metopes were carved with the battle of the gods and Giants on the east side, of the Lapiths and Centaurs on the south, of the Athenians and Amazons on the west, and of the Trojan War on the north. The two pediments had scenes from myths surrounding Athena: the birth of the goddess in the presence of other gods on the east pediment, and her contest with Poseidon for Athens on the west. The statue of Athena Polias stood inside the temple and was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was gold-plated over an inner wooden frame; the face, hands and feet were made of ivory and the eyes were jewels. The statue was taken to Constantinople in AD 426 and disappeared.
Just to the north of the Parthenon is the Erechtheion, built where Poseidon struck the ground with his trident, and where Athena produced the olive tree. It was named for mythical king of Athens Erichthonius and housed the cults of Athena, Poseidon and Erichthonius. Built about 420 BC, it is an Ionic temple. On the east side is a porch with six Ionic columns. On the north is a monumental propylon.
On the south a is porch, the roof of which is supported by six figures of maidens, the famous Caryatids. The ones here are plaster copies; 5 of the originals are inside the Acropolis Museum.
I wander around here for quite some time, trying to imagine what life must have been like thousands of years ago. Though the Acropolis is in ruins, it still stands majestically over Athena’s city, a commanding presence and reminder of the great accomplishments of ancient Greece. This reminder possibly represents a kind of hope for the Greek people, who are on the verge of bankruptcy. Or possibly it reflects the impending doom that Greek citizens certainly feel right now as they teeter on the edge of financial insolvency.
For me personally, it feels like a mix of hope and sadness. On this, my second day in Greece, I have a lot of exploring to look forward to. I will be able to enjoy this country from the outside looking in, without the unease that the Greeks feel about their economy. But it also reminds me of ruin, how a simple thing like not having my suitcase could have the potential to ruin the vacation that I have saved up for and planned over the last six months. I determine that after I finish with the Acropolis, I will go shopping to get a couple of shirts, some pants and shorts, some pajamas and underwear. I will be prepared in case my things never show up. I guess that might be how the Greeks feel, they will do what they can to survive, taking one day at a time.