The Crowning Jewel of Athens: My Experience in the Birthplace of Democracy

By: Jacob B.

What site better exemplifies the storied past of Athens than the Acropolis? This imposing hill has served as a nexus for the city that slowly grew up around it, seemingly since the first settlers made their homes in the southern reaches of Greece. The crown jewel of the Acropolis is the breathtaking Parthenon temple, which was built on the remains of temples and palaces that stood there before. None of them could hold a candle to the Parthenon, an imposing monument to Athena in its classical era prime. This is what made the thought of seeing the Parthenon so exciting for me.

The first time I got a truly good look at the Parthenon was from the roof of our VRBO rental in Greece. This first glimpse was stunning, but it was soon overshadowed when we spent the entirety of the next day at the Acropolis. We spent the morning at the Acropolis Museum with our fantastic tour guide, Maria.  This allowed us to immerse ourselves in the history of the Acropolis and the Parthenon before actually seeing it up close. Having a guide show us through the museum was a real blessing. Not only did it make navigation much easier, but it also gave us fascinating insights into artifacts that we may have passed over otherwise. We started the morning off looking at ancient sculptures. Dr. Sarah Costello, one of our visiting speakers last semester, discussed the sculpture as well as the overall craftsmanship of the Parthenon, which gave us a good base of knowledge right from the start. It was fascinating to see how the sculptures evolved from stiff and rudimentary to finely-crafted naturalistic masterpieces. After this, we had a delicious lunch at the museum restaurant, where we had a fantastic view of the Parthenon. We finished our time at the museum by admiring the friezes that adorned the Parthenon in its prime. These friezes depicted everything from drunken centaurs in a brawl to the epic war between the gods and the giants.

As the sun began to set, we left the museum and made our way up the rocky path to the top of the Acropolis. On the way up, we saw the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a stone theatre built during the Roman occupation of Athens that is still used for live musical performances in the summer. Completing our long and beautiful walk up the slopes, we finally came to the temple that has served as the definitive symbol of Athens’ Golden Age for generations, the Parthenon. It is difficult to find words that do justice to the beauty of this intricate masterpiece. Every stone and column seem to hold some deep ancient mystery. The mysticality that these massive ruins exuded was only amplified by the light of the setting sun. I spent so much time this semester learning about Pericles (the man who had the Parthenon built) that knowing I was standing in the same place he must have stood centuries before was truly awe-inspiring. The yellowed marble of this immense sanctuary dedicated to the goddess of wisdom is an amazing reminder of the capability of humans. For example, everything in the Parthenon is slightly askew, making it appear completely straight due to errors of the human eye. This complex relationship between the real world and what the human eye sees was discovered by men who had none of the advanced technology available to us today. One of the most important lessons I learned on this trip is that you should never doubt the ingenuity of mankind.

Getting the chance to not only learn about this amazing historical site throughout our first semester, but to actually see it in person is an experience for which I will be eternally grateful. Walking across the weathered stones of the Acropolis and looking down on the city that literally birthed the idea of democracy filled me with an immense sense of pride for the ability of man to do good in the world. I felt inspired to do my small part in making the world a better place. I may never build something as magnificent as the Parthenon, but I hope to leave a legacy of my own someday, a legacy that, like the Parthenon, glorifies the goodness of mankind.