A Return to Athens' Acropolis

by Robert Thonton

Robert and his wife, Yoli, in front of the Parthenon
Robert and his wife, Yoli, in front of the Parthenon

More than 30 years ago I traveled to Athens, Greece on business.  With a day off in the city, before traveling to my assignment on the island of Crete, I decided to visit the Acropolis.  What I experienced there prompted me to plan to return one day with my wife, Yoli, so she too might experience this historic wonder of the old world.

On my first visit, restoration and preservation activity had recently begun on the Acropolis, to attempt reassembly of stone fragments of buildings and statuary that lay strewn about the mountain top. Small chips and huge blocks of marble were everywhere.  Everything had to be collected, sorted, tagged and stored for the giant puzzle to once again become whole.

Now retired from work, Yoli and I had the time and opportunity to cruise the Mediterranean aboard Star Princess with a stop in Athens.  With reservations in hand we could hardly wait to be on our way.

On the morning of arrival in Athens we opened the drapes of our balcony cabin to a promising day of touring the Acropolis and a bus trip through the city of Athens to see the sights.  After breakfast and disembarkation, our bus dropped us off at the base of the Acropolis.

Everyone’s anticipation on the tour was palpable; to see the remains of the ancient world’s seat of religious, cultural and political learning.  Through tree-lined pathways we walked, staying together so we could hear our guide’s comments.  Groups from other tours and countries joined us and it seemed there must have been at least one representative from every country in the throng.

Then we looked up and saw the stairs leading to the top of the Acropolis.  The Acropolis rises 490 feet above the city. The day was clear, cool and bright as we ascended ever higher.

At different levels on the way up there was room to stop. Our tour guide pointed out a large outcropping of limestone close by. It was Mars Hill, where the Apostle Paul, as described in Acts 17:22, preached the gospel of Christ risen from the dead at the Areopagus, gaining the first disciples to Christianity from among the Greeks.

At the top, our attention was drawn to the monumental gateway through which we passed to the Acropolis, called the Propylaea.  Everyone looked upward in awe at the scale of the massive pillars and wondered at the architectural and engineering skill required to erect such an array of massive stones.

Once through the gateway all eyes immediately turned to the massive structure on the right just ahead called the Parthenon.  In our imaginations we journeyed back in time to consider the discussions that must have taken place amid those pillars that tower to the sky; among scholars and students, business men and politicians, religious figures of their day and those eager to hear wisdom and receive instruction.

Yoli and I wanted a picture with the Parthenon in the background and some tourists from a different group obliged us.

From the Parthenon, on the left of the main path, the “Porch of the Maidens” could be seen shining brightly in the sun.  Although the original six pillars carved in the form of maidens are now safely in a museum to protect them from the elements, their replacements were so faithfully crafted that only an expert can tell they are replicas.

At the far eastern corner of the Acropolis we stopped to see the surrounding area of Athens spread out before us in a panorama of whitewashed buildings and red rooftops.

On the way around the eastern side of the Parthenon, where part of the original pediment can still be seen, we walked through grassy fields of stored building fragments, as yet unassembled.  The workers were busily absorbed in their restoration efforts; to bringing ancient Athens’ financial and cultural center back from 2,500 years of wars, pollution, pillage and vandalism; one stone at a time.

The esthetic beauty of design and craftsmanship poured into these monumental structures by the original architects and builders have withstood the test of time and bear witness to a culture dedicated to learning and discussion of new ideas as a means of unity and understanding among men of good will.

Now at the end of our tour, we left the site with reluctance to return on our Europe cruise, to the present world below, wondering what the ancients would think of this present age, as they look down from their airy heights.