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Posted by Tim on Dec 20, 2005
Shadow of the Acropolis

Athens is somewhere in the neighborhood of five thousand years old. It boasts a staggeringly rich history, and is consequently home to a vast number of noteworthy sights and tourist attractions. In the Agora, Socrates spread philosophy and challenged his audiences; later, St. Paul stood in the same spot to seek converts to a newborn religion. The Keramikes served as a cemetery from 1200 BC through to Roman times, housing the elite of Athens society along the so-called "Street of Tombs." The Temple of Olympian Zeus is the largest temple in all of Greece. The list goes on and on. Everywhere you wander, it seems, you come across buildings, statues, columns, and rubble left behind by the ancient Greeks and Romans. There is a lot to see here.

Given that, the fact that everyone only cares about one sight means it must be a pretty damn impressive one.

The Acropolis. There's nothing like it in the world.

Well, that's not true, actually: there are things like it everywhere in the world, because it achieves such architectural perfection that it has been relentlessly imitated for thousands of years. This is it, this is the big one, this is the high point of Ancient Greek civilization, this is the most important collection of ruins in the entire world.

So, a lot to live up to, there. And the two of us couldn't help but wonder: with a build-up like that, were we going to walk away from the Acropolis disappointed?

Back to that question in a bit.

Tales of Another Ancient City

Along Turkey's Agean coast lies the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus. Ephesus, it should be noted, was a city of Greeks, not Turks. As has often been noted, there are in fact more Greek ruins in Turkey than there are in Greece.

A few weeks ago, Jessica and I spent the better part of a day exploring Ephesus. It's an amazing place, and an amazingly huge one, covering somewhere in the neighborhood of three square kilometers. (To put that in perspective, the Acropolis covers one-tenth of a square kilometer.)

At Ephesus, we wandered along the remains of ancient streets, exploring the ruins of private homes, public baths, communal toilets, libraries, gymnasiums, pagan temples and early Christian churches. We sat in the massive stands of the venerable Great Theatre, built by the Romans (and recently damaged during a Sting concert, apparently). We climbed the ruins of the Church of the Virgin Mary, site of the Third Ecumenical Council (one of the pivotal moments in early Christian history). There was so much to see that we were too exhausted to check out the tomb of St. Luke, author of one of the four gospels.

I clearly remember thinking at the time that the Acropolis would have a lot to live up to. Which brings us back to Athens.


First of all, you can see it from absolutely everywhere in Athens. We stepped out of the metro station after arriving from the airport, and there it was, looming above us. And from that first moment, I knew.

This was not going to disappoint.

Ephesus is an astounding historical treasure, and exists on such a massive scale that it boggles the mind. But the Acropolis is, well, the Acropolis. It's special in part because we've always grown up knowing how special it is. I've seen its image so many times before that seeing the real thing was a bit jarring, frankly. And that was just glimpsing it from a distance. On Sunday morning, we climbed up to see it a bit closer.

(Note: visiting the Acropolis on Sundays is free, a savings of €12. In fact, all the major sights in town are free on Sundays and closed on Mondays. Also, it should be noted that one advantage to visiting Athens this late in the year is that while it may have been a little chilly, there was virtually no one at the Acropolis when we were there.)

Something you seldom hear about, incidentally, is that one of the things that makes the Acropolis so special is the view: perched atop a high plateau, it looks out at sprawling Athens on all sides and beyond that, at the twinkling Mediterranean Sea. The wind whistles through the scaffolding of the ubiquitous restoration projects and gives the place an eerie, other-worldy air.

The undisputed king of the Acropolis is the Parthenon, probably the most-imitated building in the world. In the early morning, it traces complex patterns of sun and shadow; at night, it is illuminated by hundreds of spotlights to shine like a beacon above the city. I like it best at dusk, though: after the shadows have been softened but before the spotlights are turned on, when it basks in the cherry-red light of the setting sun.

Just before the sun had completely set, however, the stomping of boots announced the approach of the evzones. These gaudily-uniformed Macedonian guards of the Acropolis had arrived for the ceremonial lowering of the Greek flag, and the few of us still gathered there had to depart. As we left, I couldn't help but wonder how we had ever been able to doubt whether the Acropolis would live up to our expectations. It had exceeded them, and then some.

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other jess
December 20, 2005 at 7:23am
Beautiful. Now I really have to go and read some history again.
December 20, 2005 at 7:32am
You just reminded me of when Ken and I got married--Greece was so magical. Enjoy the Acropolis and all of the treasures of Athens…and thanks for making my day:)
December 20, 2005 at 10:48am
Timmy you educating fool…oh saw King Kong by the way…"O for Awesome"
Amie a.k.a. Koreen's sister
December 20, 2005 at 11:29am
Hey Philsie do you think Kong is too scarey for an 8 year old. He really enjoyed Lord of the Rings.

I wish I had these pictures before painting "sister on donkey". I love your photography and I would buy your book…nuff said.

December 20, 2005 at 2:21pm
um it might be and nothing really happens for like 1 1/2…it should be ok
December 20, 2005 at 9:53pm
I must say that you two hedge-hogs have awoken in me a mad desire to: 1.)take classical art history classes again 2.) re-read the Phaedo
3.) take a course in Greek/Roman mythology and 4.)watch back to back episodes of HBO's "Rome" while wearing a toga. If ye should see Approditie can you send her my way? Thanks! :D
December 21, 2005 at 12:32am
love the idea of being there as the sun sets. more beautiful photos, too. miss you both a lot.
December 21, 2005 at 10:52am
Your stories have been so inspiring that I'm developing a deep love/fascination for hedgehogs. Some photos you might enjoy…
Hog on run: http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v292/swingingclogs/d5985a07.jpg
Little hog typing:
Triple hog delight:
This little Hog looks like he could sing some Soooooul music, maybe do a little James Brown!:
Don't forget the Marzi hog (it's cold over here in NC!):
Good luck on your venture East!
December 24, 2005 at 7:19am
I want to search for Olympus in a toga now.

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