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  • Writer's picturevsigston

Step back in time - The Parthenon, Athens

Updated: Feb 4, 2022

After my emotional post talking about seeing the Acropolis and Parthenon from afar I thought I would now share our experience of seeing it all up close and personal.

We decided to go and visit the site on our third day in Athens and set off nice and early to make sure we had a full day to take it all in.

We walked through the city feeling excited and with the boys chatting a lot about what they were expecting to see. I understand why people use taxis and other public transport to get around cities but if you are physically able I really recommend walking. As you approach the main entrance to the hill you come through a village within the city called Plaka. It's one of the oldest parts of the city and is full of quaint winding roads filled with cafés, restaurants, tourist shops and jewellery stores. You'll pay more for food and goods here as they are hoping to entice the excited overseas visitors but if you go just for the atmosphere and hold back from getting the credit card out it's really charming.

We made our way through the maze of small streets and approached the top of the hill. Before you get to the main entrance, over to your right you will see a rocky outpost jutting up in front of you. This is called Areopagus Hill (or Mars Hill) and if you like your Christian history this is the hill where the Apostle Paul delivered his famous "sermon in the mount".

There are some steps up to the top and it's really worth taking 5 minutes to head up and take in the views. You can see Plaka beneath you stretching out to the city beyond and behind you is the Parthenon, sitting grandly at the top of the hill. This is where you get your first full view of the size and magnificence of the place.

After we'd had our fill of this view we made our way over to the ticket office. We'd read that in the summer it can get really busy but on this warm December day just before Christmas it was fairly quiet and we didn't have to queue at all. There were quite a few tour guides eager for us to use their services but we'd decided to go at our own pace and so politely, but increasingly firmly, said no thank you.

In the winter season you pay €10 for adult tickets with children getting in for free (the adult price is doubled through the summer). Your ticket gives you access to the whole site which is massive so well worth the money we thought.

We entered through the ticket barriers and tried to get our bearings a little. There's a hill straight in front of you that takes you up to the Parthenon itself and then pathways leading away to your left and right, we took the right hand path and started to wander along.

One of the first things we saw was The Odeon of Herodes Atticus. This is a fairly "modern" part of the site because although the original theatre was built in 161 CE, over the years it was left to ruin before being rebuilt in the 1950's and it is still used for drama and musical productions throughout the year. The seating area is solid marble and really impressive. You can also see this structure from the road behind the Parthenon site and it's worth taking a wander at some point while in Athens to see both angles.

Carrying on past the Odeon there are collections of pillars, engraved stones and other treasures that have been excavated from the site over time. A very serious security guard is on hand to be sure no one is touching but you can go right up the stones, getting really close and trying to make out the faded drawings and writing which we thought was great.

A little further along is the Theatre of Dionysus. Much older than it's Odeon counterpart and would have been used to showcase the first Greek tragedies in the 6th Century BCE. Dionysus was god of many things including wine making, festivity and theatre and we thought he sounded a fun god to have around.

We then wandered around the rest of the gardens on that side of the hill, you can see more artifacts dotted about and there are plenty of information signs in both Greek and English that fill in any of the gaps in knowledge that you might have. On the south side of the hill, high up from ground level is the entrance to The Forgotten Monument of Thrysallus. An ancient entrance to a temple that is now sadly too damaged to enter safely. The doorway, with it's white columns, stark against the surrounding rock looks really enticing and I hope that they are able to restore and reopen this impressive monument one day.

Having seen all there was to see at ground level we now began to make our way up the uneven paths towards the Parthenon itself.

If you are ever here you must make sure you enter through the Propylaea, this is the original entrance where Athenians through the ages would have entered to seek knowledge or help or to pray and it's really a grand sight. We took some time to sit on the steps, drinking in the atmosphere. It was a little busy but not overwhelming and everyone was mindful and respected other's personal space. Other than signs asking you to please not touch the marble, it's all open and again you can get really close to the pillars and stonework that make up the walk way to the top of the Acropolis.

Once at the top of the stairs the floor levels off, there is always work being done on the site and they have apparently spent a long time in recent years improving access. So although the pathways around the temples are rocky and uneven there is a smooth path right through the middle making it much more accessible to those with mobility issues.

There is so much to see once at the top, the highlight of course being the Parthenon itself, the largest structure and centrepiece of the site (this is the one you see on posters, postcards and websites - the one you can see from all around the city). Plenty of scaffolding around the temple does not detract from it's size and grandeur. Take some time to study the pillars, looking at the hand carved detail is astonishing. We did at least two laps of the building before moving on.

My favourite thing to see was the temple of Athena - with it's reproduction statues of the goddess around the front (you can see the originals in the Acropolis museum), it's really a site worth seeing. If you can manage some steps and uneven ground go around the back to see the enormous entrance door to get a perspective of what it would have been like for members of the public coming to pray and offer gifts to the goddess.

The last thing I'll point out as a "must do" up here is to go to the far end of the site and up a few steps to the Acropolis View point. This looks back over the Parthenon and other temples giving you a wonderful vantage point (and if you are feeling brave you can also peer over the top at the sheer drop down the side of the Acropolis back to street level! Warning this is not an activity for those, like my dear husband, who are worried about heights).

There are of course many other sites to see, smaller temples like Athena Nike (which was painstakingly taken apart, renovated and then put back together again in the late 1990's), as well as other areas of restoration. If you go with children see if they can spot the metal tracks that circle the site which are used to move the huge stones and marble structures as work is carried out.

After we had had our fill of Greek history we slowly made our way back down through the grand entrance and back down the hill. It takes some time, partly because it's all quite uneven and a little slippery but partly because you just can't stop looking at the architecture and small treasures to be found around each new corner.

We left the site through the smaller entrance on the South side, along the pedestrianised walkway of Dionysiou Areopagitou. I understand that this entrance is mostly used for tour groups and school visits but in the summer can be less busy than the main entrance for individuals needing to buy tickets.

The entrance to the Acropolis Museum is also along this walkway, we did the museum visit on a different day but if you are only in Athens for a short time it would definitely make sense to do both in the same day as they are so close. I would really recommend seeing the Acropolis first as it was fabulous to see the friezes, statues and pillars in the museum and be able to picture where you would have seen them up on the hill.

Like so many people seeing the Parthenon and spending time on the Acropolis was one of the big reasons for our visit to this city and it did not disappoint. Here are some final tips that I think would make your visit go smoothly:

* Wear good comfy, study shoes. They are making big improvements to accessibility on the site but there are lots of uneven pathways, steps and slippery surfaces so open toed sandals would not be a great choice of footwear.

* Bring plenty of water. It was a warm day when we went and with the amount of walking we did we needed plenty of hydration, I imagine it can get quite uncomfortable in the summer months.

* Read up about some the Greek gods before you go, in particular Athena, Psoiedon, Zeus and Dionysus. It was really great to bring those names to life as we saw the temples and read the information signs.

* If you are going to visit more than one or two archaeological sites you can buy combination tickets which can end up saving you money.

* Decide beforehand if you would like to use a guide while you are there so you can be confident in saying yes or no to the people who approach you at the ticket entrances.

Comment below if you've found this useful or if you've been yourself and would add any other tips :-)

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