As Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I recently jumped
at the opportunity to spend a night in Athens before a fabulous Eastern
Mediterranean cruise. From my hotel balcony, the Parthenon seemed to beckon to
me, and I couldn’t wait to explore the Acropolis in the morning.
An ancient citadel perched high on a rocky hill above
Athens, the Acropolis is the ultimate symbol of Greek heritage and one of the
most recognized monuments of Western culture. It is a bit of a hike to the top of
this rocky hill, but the panoramic views of Athens along the way are truly
stunning, and of course the final destination is well worth the effort.
There is evidence that this hilltop was inhabited as far
back as 4000 BC, but it was not until the 5th century BC that construction
began on the Acropolis. Masterpieces of ancient architecture, these ruins are
an amazing testament to the power and wealth of Athens at the peak of the
golden age of Perikles, a prominent and influential Greek statesman and general
of the time.
The Acropolis is composed of several historic structures, the
most famous being the Parthenon. Work on the Parthenon began at the apex of the
Athenian Empire’s power in 447 BC. Initially dedicated to the city’s patron goddess
Athena, the Parthenon was converted to a Christian church dedicated to the
Virgin Mary in the 5th century AD and later to a mosque after the conquest of
the Ottoman Empire.
Just as impressive is the Erechtheion, an intricate temple
built to host religious rituals. The most sacred site of the Acropolis, the
Erechtheion replaced the “Old Temple,” the foundations of which can be seen
between it and the Parthenon. Construction began in 420 BC, and shortly after
it was completed in 406, the Athenian Empire fell to the Spartans. Like the
other monuments of the Acropolis, the temple suffered the ravages of many
foreign powers throughout the centuries. Miraculously, the original maiden statues
of the famous Caryatid Porch have survived and are on display in the Acropolis
Museum, with the exception of one Caryatid that was famously removed by British
ambassador Lord Elgin in the 19th century and is now in the British Museum.
On the southwest slope of the Acropolis stands the Odeon of Herodes
Atticus, once a magnificent amphitheater with a three-story stone front wall
and a wooden roof made of expensive cedar wood. The construction was sponsored
by Tiberius Claudius Herod Atticus in remembrance of his wife, who died in 160
AD. Destroyed in 267, the monument was not restored until 1953 and is now the
sight of festivals, concerts and theater performances.
Sometimes mistaken for the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the
Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus is one of the earliest preserved open-air
theatres in Athens. Dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine and drama, it was the
site of the City Dionysia, a festival held in ancient Athens to honor Dionysus.
From the Acropolis you can view the entire city of Athens
sprawling below, including other famous landmarks of ancient Greece. In this
photo you can see both the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, which was the largest
temple in Greece when it was completed in the 2nd century AD, and Hadrian’s arch,
also built in the 2nd century as part of a wall that separated the old and new
cities of Athens.
Officially opened to the public in 2009, the new Acropolis
Museum in the heart of the city was built to replace the inadequate museum that
stood on the Acropolis itself. Designed to house every artifact found on the
site of the Acropolis, it is an enormous facility of 250,000 square feet with
150,000 square feet of exhibition space. There are nearly 4,000 objects
exhibited as part of the permanent collection, and a stop here is the perfect
complement to a visit to the Acropolis.
On all of its sailings, Oceania Cruises offers a Hotel Program, which
allows guests the opportunity to extend their stay on either end of their
cruise. If you embark or disembark in Athens, I highly recommend taking at
least one extra day to visit this amazing historical site. I truly felt like I
had stepped back in time to the birthplace of democracy.