The Athens airport spit me out into a 45 minute train ride out to the Acropolis, an ancient rocky citadel overlooking Athens that’s home to the country’s most famous historical sites. I had half a day in Athens and was determined to see what the big deal was. Stepping out of the train station, I was shocked to find historical shit suddenly all around me, right off the street. Whoa.
Getting to the Acropolis involves walking across town and up a very long, steep hill. I admired the stone walkway beneath my feet and wondered how old it was, as a Greek man played some kind of old school proto-guitar in the early morning light.
The sun rose as I walked and shone through the lush greenery lining the path.
There was never at any time any indication that I was headed in the right direction or progressing toward the most famous tourist site in the entire country. But it seemed like you couldn’t go wrong by just continuing to go up, since the Acropolis towers over the city in the most conspicuous way possible.
Eventually I ran out of up to go, and there was an automated ticket booth. BOOP. And I was in. I followed the small but growing crowd up the pathway and soon there were Greek ruins all around us. Up through a marble gateway and boom! There it was. The Parthenon. Holy shit.
The most sacred temple of the ancient world, the Parthenon was dedicated to the goddess Athena in the year 438 BC. It was built at the peak of the Athenian Empire’s power, and then spent the many hundreds of years after that suffering through the indignities involved in the fall of the empire that had created it, and then everything that came after.
The first surprise of the Parthenon is that, for one of the most famous buildings in the entire world, it’s kind of a gigantic mess. Really more a loose grouping of pillars than a building at this point. I think this shock was enhanced by the fact that some heavy restoration was going on while I was there, leaving the Parthenon even more jacked-up than I think it normally is.
The Parthenon’s hot mess status makes more sense once you start to read up on the history of this site and realize this place has been to hell and back several times over. It was destroyed again and again by Persian invaders, Heruli pirates, and the Ottoman Turks, looted by Roman emperors as well as its own defenders, and for good measure was burned down accidentally several times. At various times it was converted into a Christian temple to Mary and more than once into an Islamic mosque.
My favorite of these stories took place in 1687, when the Venetians were waging a war to take the Acropolis back from the Ottoman Turks. The Turks were using the Parthenon as a storehouse for their gunpowder, either because they thought that was a hilarious idea or because they thought it meant the Venetians wouldn’t risk destroying the very thing they were trying to liberate by firing on the Turkish fortifications upon the Acropolis.
The Turks judged wrong (or right, if they just thought the whole thing sounded hilarious and you know, YOLO) because the Venetians hit the Parthenon directly with a mortar round, and predictably blew the whole thing all to shit.
Even in modern times the Parthenon can’t catch a break, since 19th century restorations made to re-assemble the building were completed using iron pins, which rusted and expanded over time, cracking the marble and damaging the building even more than it had been in the first place. Several exhibits at the site today explain in great detail the many previous restoration efforts and how badly they all dicked things up.
A napping cat nearby found this convoluted history not in the least bit troubling.
I was fortunate to be there early enough in the morning to have a little quiet time sitting and observing the building before the crowds really showed up. I was impressed by the second surprise: How undeveloped the land around the building was. The Acropolis has a few vaguely defined walking paths, but most of the surface is large, lopsided boulders that are extremely easy to trip over.
A drone pilot was following an interviewer and some TV lady in a spandex dress as they compared the current restoration efforts to a dentist trying to put somebody’s jacked-up teeth back together. I left my rock to get out of their shot and headed over to check out the view of Athens below.
To one side of the Parthenon sits the Erechtheion, a temple to Athena and Poseidon.
On the other side, the rest of Athens stretches out as far as the eye can see.
Below, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a large amphitheater tucked into a natural depression in the hillside, looms.
This struck me more than many of the other buildings because it was very easy to imagine ancient Greeks here, sitting in these very seats over 2000 years ago, watching a mediocre production of CATS.
The site was beginning to fill up with more and more people who were less and less conscious, so I headed down through the gates. As I was about to leave, I noticed an ignored pathway heading off to one side and decided to see where it went.
The path was lined with beautiful trees and immediately I felt the shift, as I was now in the energy of this place and not the tourist crowds.
Ahh yeah, this is the stuff. This place feels amazing, and nobody walks over here. I was completely alone in spite of the crowds building way up above. I stood and took in the steep cliffs of the North Slope, which were dotted with caves and shrines were nature sprits were worshiped by the ancient Greeks. I peered up at the Klepsydra Spring and the various caves in the cliff face.
Here, I was able to tune more clearly into something I had been feeling up top at the Parthenon. That this… mountain? This tower of rock, had a powerful spiritual energy to it, but that this energy had been misused for some kind of dark purposes. I couldn’t tell if this was the ancient history of the place or if it was still being misdirected in this way to this day. I suspected maybe both.
A series of promptings flashed through my head and I saw in a blur of images that I needed to do some clearing work for the Acropolis and Athens around it. I proceeded to walk the North Slope path around the Acropolis, calling for the violet flame to move through the rock and the town, visualizing the flames sweeping through and purifying the energy and records of everything that had occurred here.
This took some time, but after an hour or so I felt like I had accomplished what I had been drawn here to do. Huh, okay. That’s some crazy shit, Greece.
Wandering back down the hill from the Acropolis, I was struck by how there seemed to be so many historical buildings just scattered around everywhere. What’s this thing? It looks old. Who knows?
There’s definitely some kind of alchemist living in there.
I wandered through a sunlit alleyway that mixed Greek charm with modern graffiti.
Shops lining the street sold all manner of Greek tourist crap, from “This is Sparta!” 300 tee shirts to assorted shwag with your favorite Greek god on it.
Further down the hill, I passed by a café that appeared to have a porcelain cow sticking out of the wall. Cool…
Down the long hill, the city came to life. I stopped and smiled at a charming “Child Crossing” sign.
Greek writing swirled all around me, in its full, glorious indecipherability. I badly wanted a local to ask me something, so I could answer “It’s all Greek to me!”
I stopped and noticed a handy button affixed to a nearby pole.
I dropped a pin on this spot in Google Maps, just in case. Winter trees curled inward as the traffic swarmed all around them.
A huge dog concentrated on resetting the world from the middle of the sidewalk.
I wandered through shops and cafes in a futile attempt to get something to eat. Nothing was open in spite of it being nearly 11am. You might be taking it a little too sleazy, Athens.
The city seemed to be growing grittier and grittier the further I wandered.
I loved this evocatively dirty old sign for a travel agency that may or may not still exist.
After a few miles of walking, I finally reached my destination. The National Archaeological Museum, home to Greece’s historical treasures.
I crossed the square and climbed the grandiose steps up to a large doorway.
BONK. Closed. Huh? I squinted at the sign. Closed. The museum doesn’t open until 1:30pm on Tuesdays. Why the hell? Who knows, it’s all Greek to me.
I frowned and looked at my phone, trying to figure out a back-up plan. Maybe I could go to that restaurant I’d heard about- Also closed. Damn, Greece! While I was standing there frowning at my phone, several people walked up to me and asked why the museum was closed. Each person seemed pissed at me that the museum was closed. I need to go stand somewhere else.
I found another spot to stand, where a tiny purse dog smelled my shoes repeatedly as I scrolled through Google Maps’ aerial view of Athens.
National Gardens? That sounds good. Let’s go.
Walking a few miles across the city in the opposite direction, I found myself having to repeatedly step into oncoming traffic to get around various and sundry scooters, tables and refrigeration equipment obstructing the sidewalk, as Greek people and cars streamed around me.
Half-way to the gardens I spotted the vegan grocery store I’d intended to stop at for lunch along the way.
Inside, I was immediately paralyzed by the huge wall of vegan chocolates on display. I already had chocolate from Israel melting in my bag but those details mean nothing in the face of so many rare and delicious choices. Before I knew what was happening I had my hands full of orange chocolate, caramel and a vegan Snickers bar. I wandered up to the deli counter in a daze.
“Hi. Can you recommend something for me for lunch?”
“Yes of course. You should get the New York Sandwich.”
“Yeeeeeah, I think I’d like something more Greek.”
“The New York Sandwich is our most Greek item!”
“The New York… ? Uhm. Look, can I have some Spanakopita?”
“Yes of course!”
Wandering out the door with my hands full of food, I spied the National Gardens on the other side of a busy six-lane street, with no crosswalk in sight. I noticed a local preparing to run this gauntlet and shadowed him like I was the secret service. Coincidentally, he was going into the gardens as well, and due to this I’m pretty sure thought I was trying very ineffectually to mug him.
Crossing out of the traffic and into the Gardens, I breathed a sigh of relief. Green, fruiting trees stretched up above.
I turned a corner and angels of light streamed through a tall tree up the path.
Ahh, this is more like it. After wandering for a bit I saw a woman up ahead contemplating something in the water.
Turtles! Whoa, so many turtles!
I smiled and sat down on a nearby bench to enjoy my lunch. I used to meditate every day at a lake by my old work in Minnesota, and while I was meditating, turtles just like these would crawl up out of the water and onto floating logs to warm themselves in the sun. Any time anyone walked by they would all dive back into the water, and I took it as a bit of a compliment that they didn’t seem to mind that I was there. Watching them stretch their heads up toward the sun and sit in absolute stillness, I took them to be a bit of a totem animal for my own meditations.
These Greek turtles were not nearly so shy, as they coated this little turtle island and didn’t care who saw them. I admired their slow-motion ambulations as I washed down my spanakopita with a raspberry kombucha in the beautiful late-morning sun.
When it was time to go, I headed across the back acres of the gardens and across a covered walkway leading out to the busy street.
The street was lined by the watchful faces of Greek philosophers, who guided me to the subway station and the train and the airport and Egypt beyond.