What to see in Athens, WhyAthens.com
A sign outside a home in Plaka leading the way to the Acropolis. Photograph: S.borisov/Shutterstock.com

The Acropolis

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As you would expect, the Acropolis has the final word of what to see in Athens. The temples on the sacred rock are considered the most important monuments in Western civilisation and have influenced architecture more than anything else since.

It is a mesmerising view, once you catch your breath after the long walk up and was a source of inspiration for many foreign travellers, poets and writers during the 18th century. Prior to this and because of the Ottoman occupation, travelling to Greece was difficult and Athens remained somewhat of a mystery to the outside world.

What to see in Athens, WhyAthens.com

Photograph: The Parthenon is an imposing sight. Ivan Bastien/Shutterstock.com

William Christopher Wordsworth the English Bishop and accomplished poet wrote the following description on what he saw when he visited the Acropolis around 1839, about seven years after Greek independence. What is interesting is that his descriptions are not too far removed from what you see today, more than 170 years later.

“…form and colour are both exquisitely beautiful lying under a clear sky and still surmounted by the marble temples of its ancient Gods; he will see the city lying at its feet; he will follow with his eye the long line of the sacred Way to Eleusis; on this, the eastern, side of the City he will trace the winding course of the Ilissus; and beyond the walls, to the west, the olive groves of the ACADEMY, through which the Cephissus flows into the harbor of Piraeus, from which his eye will pass over that glorious gulf to the hills of Salamis on the right, and on the left to the peaked summit of Oros in the island of Aegina, and in the distance beyond them both, to the lofty crest of the Acrocorinthian Citadel.”

The ancient city of the Acropolis includes the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Temple of Athena Nike and the Propylea. On the northwest of the Acropolis stands the Areopagus (the Rock of Ares), which served as the high court of appeal for criminal and civil cases, during classical times. These days, it’s used by many to relax and enjoy the view.

What to see in Athens, WhyAthens.com

Photograph: The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, Acropolis Athens. Elgreko/shutterstock.com

Constructed during the late 5th century BC during the ‘Golden Age of Athens’, the Acropolis was built to honour the city’s patron goddess Athena. In the 5th century AD, the Parthenon was used as a church and later as a mosque by the Turks during the occupation.

Many might not know that the Parthenon was painted in contrasting colours above the level of the column capitals using natural pigments such as copper silicate for blue and iron oxide for red. Here’s an example of what it would have looked like. 

What to see in Athens, WhyAthens.com

Photograph: Why Athens. An example of the contrasting colours once found on the Parthenon

Why Athens Tips:

  • It is worth going to the Acropolis Museum first to give you a greater understanding of the Acropolis
  • From 8:30am hoards of tourist buses arrive (in summer) to avoid the peak heat of the day. The best time to go in our opinion and for the best photos would be from 6pm
  • Don’t get stuck at a tourist trap for lunch or dinner! Try our recommendation here that is very close by.
  • You should be aware the Acropolis has been under an extensive, restoration and conservation since 1975 and some of its temples will be under construction. On a whole, you will still be able to capture great photographs
  • The marble grounds can be slippery, it is advisable to wear appropriate footwear
  • Be prepared for quite a walk to the top. If you’re unfit and struggle with the heat, you’ll find it a challenge during the summer months. Don’t let it scare you off, you can take the journey slowly and be prepared by taking water and sunblock with you and wearing comfortable shoes. Don’t forget your hat!