We headed up to the Acropolis today, starting at the bottom of the hill with the Theater of Dionysos. Restoration work everywhere in the Acropolis makes it looks as much like a construction site as a tourist attraction. They’ll probably be restoring it for decades if not centuries.
It’s hard to get an overall picture of the Acropolis without a map or a guide, but we didn’t really need one or want one to admire the marble ruins. There were some waysides with decent illustrations.
At the top of the hill it got crowded. The steps of the Propylaia, the gate to the hilltop, was crammed with polyglot visitors. The cruise ships brought their passengers up hundreds at a time. There were lots of Americans, French, and Spanish; even some Argentinians. It reminded me of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Then I finally saw the Parthenon! All architects should be forced to stare at the Parthenon until they develop good taste. I wish it wasn’t so crowded. What is it like during the busy season?
The Parthenon is massive but we tried to pay attention to the details. What was so amazing about this building, I realized, was not just the Parthenon itself but what was scattered around the entire site: Acropolis chunks. Ancient columns and pedestals and capitols stacked up like warehoused merchandise to be used later in the restoration. A close look at a random capital on the capital pile reveals beautiful and precise hand-carved decorations. There is not just one of these little masterpieces, but hundreds of them.
The Ancient Agora, below the Acropolis was much more tranquil. It was park-like and quiet, better organized and less chaotic. The grounds aren’t trampled to death and there are actual blades of grass. Much of the Acropolis crowds didn’t venture down there, or at least the herds of cruise ship passengers didn’t.
Then we went to the Roman Agora, amid the maze of streets in Plaka. I thought it was interesting that though it was Roman they still built in the Greek style with no arches.
We took lunch on a quiet, sunny street in Plaka: lamb and potatoes and Greek salad. The meat was very tender and tasty, cooked simply with lemon, oregano, and olive oil. We’ve been lazy about learning Greek pleasantries; everybody in central Athens speaks English. Even traffic signs are in English. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a Greek neighborhood of a big American city.
We wrapped up the day at the Temple of Olympian Zeus. What little was left was even bigger than the Parthenon, built to the mind-blowing scale of the gods. One fallen column looked like a giant stack of poker chips someone knocked over.
Yesterday I didn’t think Athens had any charm but after our tour and our pleasant lunch this fine day, I think it does. The weather was sunny and pleasant, almost perfect, though a little muggy in the morning after last night’s rain. Athens is somewhat ragged and without the elegance of Paris (it’s not even close), but its roughness matches the partially restored remains of its ancient civilization.