I’ve been avoiding writing about the most iconic and impressive churches I’ve ever visited in my Masterpieces of Light and Space series because I don’t know where to start. I’m pretty sure La Sagrada Familia is going to require some serious work because holy cow that’s an amazing church, and St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican? That’s going to require multiple parts. That said, I also think there’s some degree of trepidation with which I approach those pieces because I’ve built it up internally.
For this series I’m starting out by going for the throat, going for the one most iconic and wonderful ancient ruin that anyone could write about. The one on textbook covers, coins, refrigerator magnets, and a plot of land at Vanderbilt University. You know, THE PARTHENON.
High, high, HIGH above Athens (which is a rather low-lying city that sprawls and sprawls) on the top of a hill reinforced by the most epic stone walls you’ve ever seen sits, among other ruins, the Parthenon. Originally, the Parthenon was a temple to Athena Parthenos, who you probably know more simply as Athena – the patron goddess of Athens. Blah blah blah, the Greek empire fell, blah blah blah, Rome, blah blah blah, the Turks invaded, BOOM, the temple was destroyed. And it’s remained that way for the better part of a millennium.
At the top of the acropolis, above the heat of the city below, there’s not much to hear but the wind, and when the wind blows through the columns of the Parthenon and other buildings that have been perched up there for thousands of years it’s kind of hard not to imagine that it probably sounded pretty similar when there weren’t cars and busses down on the surface or airplanes flying overhead. The city’s white buildings probably gleamed in the sun about the same. They say Rome is the Eternal City, but Athens was here first and from the Acropolis you can get a little glimpse back into what it must have been like so long ago.
Unlike the temple of Hephaestus just down the hill, most of the relief carvings on the Parthenon are no longer in place, but rather now are located in the British Museum. Talk about history stripped down to the bone, right? The good news is that means the carvings are at the very least preserved in a safe place.
From a practical standpoint, I should probably point out that when you buy your Acropolis tickets they include admission to many different sites, and that the Parthenon is one of the ones that closes the latest, so you may consider making it one of the final stops of your tour through Athens. Also it’s a heck of a walk up to the top, and likewise a heck of a walk back down. And it’s hot. And the marble is slippery, so good shoes are probably a better plan than the flip flops I wore.
As I write this, I feel like I don’t have quite the right words or maybe the capacity to capture my love for Greece without sounding like a 20-something traveling for the first time having all sorts of self-realizations about how amazing life is and you should travel alone and blah blah blah. I loved every minute of it. I want to go back. The end.