Today was supposed to be a day focusing on the National Archaeological Museum and the New Acropolis Museum, but we made a last-minute decision to take advantage of the good weather and go straight to the Acropolis. The Metro was on strike (as happens from time to time) so we were glad to be staying at the Athens Cypria, right in the middle of the best sites in Athens. Most of the best sites in Athens are within a square mile of each other so, although we did a good amount of walking today, we were able to see everything on foot.
We made it to the Acropolis before the crowds and spent a good hour wandering around the Parthenon, Propylaea, Erechtheon and Temple of Athena Nike. What an incredible site! It always amazes me how close we can come to these ancient buildings … to be able to gawk at and touch buildings erected by 2500 year old minds and arms is quite the experience.
The Acropolis has been a holy site for Athenians as far back as the fourth millennium BC. Before the Parthenon there was the Vorparthenon, which was destroyed when the Persians came through in 480 BC. If you have seen the new 300: Rise of an Empire movie you have seen part of the story of Themistocles and how the Persians came through and destroyed the city. This is an incredible story which was only partially told in the movie, but is one of the most incredible stories of Greek history:
After the battle at Thermopylae, Themistocles knew the Persians were coming to Athens. They had been delayed by the Spartan 300 (and the 2200 other recruits who’ve been ignored by history, including the Thepsians who stayed to the end) but the Persian hoard were coming regardless. The Athenians went to Delphi to consult the Pythian oracle for advice and were told “Within your wooden walls will be your salvation.”
Themistocles thought about this and realized that the Athenian navy (wooden ships) would be the answer. He encouraged the Athenians to desert their beloved city and flee to the nearby island of Salamis and engaged the Persians in a naval battle and routed them decisively. Xerxes then retreated back to Asia, but not before completely sacking Athens and burning every structure to the ground.
Ten years later, after the Athenians have rebuilt the Acropolis we know today with the guidance of Themistocles, popular opinion was pushed against him by his rivals – in fact, the people were led to believe that Themistocles was in collusion with the Persians and let them come in and ruin the city. The Athenians held a vote (an ostracism) and banished Themistocles from the city. He was condemned throughout the land, not to be offered food or shelter within the Hellenistic land.
Incredibly, no longer able to be at home in his mother country, Themistocles appealed to the Persians for succor. The son of Xerxes, Artaxerxes, granted him mercy and gave him the governorship of Magnesia. Not long after Artaxerxes came to Themistocles with a grand offer: he was planning another attack on the Greeks and wanted Themistocles to lead his army against the city that had condemned him to death. Themistocles responded unequivocally: he committed suicide instead of betraying the Athens that had betrayed him. What a story.
After leaving the Acropolis we walked to the ancient Agora, where Socrates and the Stoics wandered and taught. We saw the place where Socrates drank his hemlock, after being condemned for impiety and the corruption of the youth. We wandered through the Agora museum and got to see the ostraka that condemned both Themistocles and Socrates (the ostraka “shards of pottery” used for voting, where we get the term “ostracism”).
Tim and Brad then went off to collect our rental van while we girls snuck in a little souvenir shopping. We then patronized a favorite dinner place – Scholario’s – and enjoyed more of our favorites, grape leaf rolls, hummus, meatballs, spanikopa, calimari and more.