close
close

Acropolis now: The splendor of Athens and the mythical Sacred Triangle of Greece are timeless. But it is a milestone year for the country that Lord Byron raved about.

Acropolis now: The splendor of Athens and the mythical Sacred Triangle of Greece are timeless. But it is a milestone year for the country that Lord Byron raved about.

The image may contain nature, sea, water and landscape.

The almost 2,500-year-old Poseidon Temple stands on a promontory in Sounion high above the Aegean Sea

Not that Efi Antoniou, the exemplary private guide provided to me by the equally exemplary company True Travel, would buy into such cosmic mumbo jumbo. “Sacred Triangle? You can’t be serious,” is more or less what she tells me when we first meet, a short walk from the Acropolis, at The Dolli hotel (which has a rooftop swimming pool, a delicious restaurant, and epic views of Athens, its hills, the Temple of Hephaestus, and the Acropolis; and fabulous bedrooms, too).

Efi is skeptical about the triangle: the temples honor different gods, the chronology is complex, there is nothing about it in ancient literature—exactly the kind of hair-splitting you’d expect from a BA in history and archaeology and a Masters in prehistoric archaeology. But she has plenty of entertaining aperçus about the Acropolis and its surroundings, pointing to the Areopagus, the open-air court where murderers and blasphemers met their fate back then; today, she says, it’s irresponsible influencers who fall off the rock and stumble while taking their selfies. Directly below is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, an auditorium built in 161 AD that now hosts concerts by Kraftwerk and the Foo Fighters. And did I know why the Temple of Athena Nike (Victory) on the Acropolis was so presumptuously different? Depictions of Nike are always winged, since victory always flies from one victor to the next – with the exception of Nike of Athens, for victory never leaves Athens… But of course she did so in a war that began just a year after the Parthenon was completed – the Peloponnesian War.

The Parthenon itself is a wonder, even if it is still a shock to see scaffolding on top of it. Its purity of line is exquisite, and it is hard to remember that it once housed the chryselephantine statue of the goddess Athena, made from unknown quantities of ivory and a tonne of gold by Phidias, the greatest sculptor of his time. The gold has, of course, disappeared, as have the Elgin Marbles, which were taken from the Acropolis by the 7th Earl of Elgin between 1801 and 1812 and are still, controversially, in the British Museum. Byron savaged Elgin’s sacking in verse and would surely join the #reunitetheparthenon campaign. Even more to his taste would be the stark “You belong here” sign I saw in the window of a tavern just below the Acropolis. A taverna just 200 metres from the Capuchin Monastery where Byron stayed and railed against the Turkish occupiers. And to get a measure of the Ottoman influence on Greek culture, head to the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art, a wonderland of stunning tiles, astrolabes and images of the Kaaba in Mecca; the cafe does excellent orange cake.