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Greece (Athens, Delphi)

Don’t Touch the Marble!

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The Parthenon on the Acropolis. Notice the newer, whiter pieces of marble used to reconstruct the buildings. Photo: M. Yung

What to know before you visit the Acropolis in Athens

“Don’t touch the marble!” a thirty-something woman called out into the distance from her perch in front of the Parthenon. With one hand on her hip, and another shading her eyes beneath her billed beach cap, she waited and watched. About thirty feet below, a woman with short, curly hair had just rested her canvas tote bag on a large, rectangular-shaped stone and was digging through the bag, searching.

“Don’t touch the marble!” the guard called out again. Oblivious, the woman dug deeper into the bag, craning her neck to see into the folds and pockets that held gum, ticket stubs, or sunscreen.

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Looking up at The Acropolis from the Temple of Zeus Olympios, which was even larger than the Parthenon. Photo: M. Yung

“Ma’am! Please don’t touch the marble!” the guard called out for the third time. The woman shifted the bag against the marble stone, and continued looking.

With this final and futile reprimand, the guard hopped down from the boulder and walked briskly down to the offender. When she arrived, the woman looked up, surprised. The guard pointed at the stone, then turned and motioned to the tattered gray ropes that set the limits on the Acropolis. The woman covered her mouth with her hands, slung her bag over her shoulder, and stepped back onto the walkway. Crisis averted, the guard climbed back to her boulder, placed her hands on her hips, and continued scanning the global audience taking in the Acropolis.

Planning to visit the Acropolis yourself someday?

Avoid being “that tourist,” (and get the most out of your €20 ticket, by the way) with these tips for touring the Parthenon, the Propylaea (with the Temple Athena Nike off to the side), and the Erectheion… the most prominent structures on top of the Acropolis, Greece’s most famous landmark.

  1. If it shines, step aside. Other than a paved walkway, the walking surface on the Acropolis is rugged. Stones jut up from the ground to create uneven areas, including some larger ledges and steps. Thousands of people walk here daily and it’s been this way for millennia. In fact, all the buildings you see on the Acropolis were built or rebuilt during the 500-300 B.C. As a result, the rocks are very shiny and SLICK. Walk on the connecting mortar or other stones. We witnessed one husband helping his wife, who had apparently just slipped, return to the Propylea (the first building you’ll walk through and the entrance to the hilltop) for an early walk back down.

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    See what I mean about rough terrain?  That’s the Erechtheion on the left. Photo: M. Yung
  2. Wear good shoes. These should be banned on the Acropolis: flip-flops, any shoe without a tread, a wedge greater than two inches, and heels of any height. Believe it or not, I did see women in heels. In the age of Instagram, some people will wear anything for the perfect post. No, you don’t have to wear orthopedic shoes, but definitely wear something sturdy with a tread.

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    Here are some of the stacks of remnant pieces from the Parthenon area. The closest section contains fragments of Ionic capitals.  Stacks of Doric and Corinthian capitals were nearby. Photo: M. Yung
  3. Be aware of the construction. This is a construction zone and you’ll see a variety of work happening. You may be lucky enough to see a stone carver working on a new marble replacement column. We watched as men strolled across plots of ground covered with mounds of old stones sorted by size, shape, or style.
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    Can you imagine being the sculptor assigned or hired to carve new columns for the Parthenon??? Photo: M. Yung

    Also, you’ll see roped-off pits that contain stone walls and equipment near the Erectheion, the temple dedicated to Athena and Poseidon with its five “caryatids,” stunning female sculptures that served as support columns. Other areas on the grounds are filled with huge marble chunks, an iron cannon, and other remnants of past activity.

4. Get there early. Lines begin forming at 8 a.m. in early June, so be there early to avoid crowds. We didn’t arrive at the ticket booths until about 8:45. As a result, we crept up the steps of the Propylaea with a steady stream of tourists.  I can only imagine how much busier it became as the day continued.

5. Bring sunscreen. Obviously, you’ll be in direct sunlight for an hour or more. Put on sunscreen before you leave your hotel room, and take it with you to reapply when you’re on top.

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This photo shows the Erechtheion and a construction office on the right. Various piles of stones, column pieces are strewn about on the grounds. This area was not accessible to the public. Photo: M. Yung

6. Finish your food before entering. Food is not allowed inside the gates. When we entered and showed our ticket to the man at the gate, he requested I finish the cookie I was eating with my dose of Ibuprofen. He was polite about it, but did ask that I finish it before going much further.

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This is a picture of the side of the Erechtheion that shows the caryatid statues on the right. These are exact copies of the originals, which are in the Acropolis Museum except for one that’s at the British Museum. It was removed by Lord Elgin, British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in 1801. Photo: M. Yung

7. Leave your water at home or bring an empty bottle. If you don’t want to lug the extra weight of water in your backpack or purse, you don’t need to. Depending on the crowd, the walk up will only take twenty to thirty minutes, after which you can venture over to a water fountain adjacent to the Parthenon. There you’ll find three bubblers and one bottle filler. The water is clean and cold. In fact, there are water fountains here and there across the grounds, not only  next to the Parthenon, but also below near the Theater of Dionysus.

And finally,…

8. Don’t touch the marble. Avoid the reprimand. If a stone is especially light in color, has an unnatural shape (as if it’s been cut or chiseled), or otherwise appears to have been shaped by human hands, don’t touch it. It’s probably marble. Just think, all those missing stones from the structures have fallen nearby and the walking paths weave among them. If you think a stone could be marble, it probably is.

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Looking down onto the Theatre of Dionysos from atop the walled limestone crag known as The Acropolis. | Photo: M. Yung

We toured the Acropolis on Friday, May 31, and spent about three hours on the site. The top (the site of the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaea, and the Temple of Athena Nike) occupied about two hours, while other structures on the slopes of the Acropolis (such as the Theatre of Dionysos and The Odeion of Herodes Atticus) balanced out the morning. Following our tour, we lunched at The Cave at The Acropolis, a restaurant in the Plaka neighborhood district around the base of the Acropolis. I’ll be posting more about our trip. Follow my blog for updates!

By marilynyung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

6 replies on “Don’t Touch the Marble!”

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