After some renovations, the Acropolis is finally accessible, which gave Mandy Latimore the opportunity to tick it off her bucket list
In my planning to attend a family destination wedding in Greece earlier this year, I was made aware that the authorities had made the Acropolis accessible during the months of COVID-19 when everything was under lockdown. Naturally, I was really excited as I had always wanted to visit this icon from the past on the various occasions when I was in Athens; but had been unable to due so because of the access issues.Mandy Latimore visited Acropolis to find that it is quite accessible.
The Acropolis is the greatest sanctuary from ancient Athens dedicated to the goddess Athena. Dating back to the Neolithic period (4000 – 3000 B.C.), there are signs that this hill was inhabited in the 13th century B.C. A fortification was built around it, and it became the centre of the Mycenaen kingdom. Parts of this fortification can still be seen today.
The naturally fortified rock was only accessible from the western side and was approached through the Buele Gate or through a small door under the temple of Athena Nike.
Through the ages, various temples have been built but suffered damage from both natural causes and human intervention. The monuments that are currently on the site were all built between 447 and 421 B.C. The main building material was Pentelic marble quarried from the flanks of Mount Pentelikon, located about 16 km from Athens.
The Old Parthenon was the first temple to use this kind of marble. This has always amazed me: How ancient people managed to quarry and move huge blocks of marble long distances and then up a huge hill!
Of the monuments found at the site, the most renowned is The Parthenon also known as the Periklean Parthenon III on top of the older marble temple (Parthenon II).
Erechthion is on the north side of the sacred rock and was built as a replacement of the earlier temple called the “Old temple”.
Propylaea is on the west side of the hill where the gate of the Mycenaen fortification once stood. Propylaea (meaning gates) were built throughout the early years, but these structures were erected in 437 – 432 B.C. and never finished.
After the Greek War of independence the Medieval and Turkish editions were demolished and the site excavated with restoration taking place in the early 1900s, then in 1975, and again from 1982 to today.
The Temple of Athena Nike stands in the south east edge, which, in Mycenaen times, protected the entrance to the Acropolis. The first of these temples was a wooden structure erected in the mid-sixth century B.C., with the current temple built in 426 – 421 B.C. A frieze from this temple was moved to the Acropolis Museum in 1998.
The other buildings include the Temple of Rome and Augustus, the Brauronion, the Pedestal of Agrippa, the Chalkotheke and the Old temple of Athena.
The Venetians besieged the Acropolis in 1687 and bombarded and destroyed the Parthenon, which was serving as a munitions store. Lord Elgin later caused more damage in 1800 – 1802 by looting the sculptural decorations of the Parthenon, the temple of Athena Nike, and the Erechtheion.
The Acropolis was eventually handed over to the Greeks in 1822 during the Greek war of independence. Since then, there has been concerted efforts to restore and renovate the site. So, there are always areas that have scaffolding and workings, but these don’t detract from the amazing history and wonder at how the ancient people managed to erect these structures on top of this sacred hill.
The Acropolis Museum is a modern wonder built over an excavation of an ancient part of the city. The external access is via a large glass walkway that offers glimpses of the exposed dig site. The ground floor has a sloping floor that evokes the route taken by the ancient visitor as they ascend the Acropolis.
This museum houses many hundreds of artifacts that have been recovered from both the Acropolis site as well as the excavation below it. There are informative digital displays throughout the space that explain the various restorations and historical events that make up the wonderful history of this site.
So, here’s what I did in order to make my visit possible:
- I looked for information on the official site and on www.disabledaccessibletravel.com. I found out that the newly added facilities include an accessible path of about 350 m from the (western) side gate to the elevator, which was also recently installed.
- I then went to my “go-to” site (www.getyourguide.com), which offers many accessible tours as well as various options of combination tickets with and without physical guides or audio guides. I chose the combo of site, museum and audio guide, and I downloaded the apps. There were reminders sent to confirm your date and time.
- I had booked the 08h00 start as I wanted to escape the heat and crowds. My companion also needed to finish early as he had a flight to catch.
- We took a taxi from our hotel right up to the gate and were able to get an amazing view of the sun rising over the site.
- The accessible route is through the exit gate, but the staff are extremely accommodating. There is a golf cart for those who may not be able to get to the elevator along the 350 m pathway.
- This is a vertical glass elevator that offers a spectacular view of the city as you ascend to the upper station.
- Once at the top, there is a wide concrete pathway that covers about two-thirds of the route around the structures (which is the current official accessible route) with gravel areas surrounding the buildings. So, getting up close to these takes a bit of hard work or assistance. For those who want to attempt to see everything (like me), the last third has only gravel on the walkways and a really 4×4 section of uneven rock. So, you either have to turn back or have a strong assistant to assist you to “bump your way” over these rocks in order to complete a circular route of the site.
- The total time needed on the hill is about 45 minutes if you want to see all the sites that are accessible. Of course, I was there during peak tourist season, and decided to visit the site in the morning as it opened. This offered me an amazing experience, as my assistant and I were the first people up onto the site. The other visitors had to climb up the stairs and so only arrived about 20 minutes after us; giving us a unique experience of being the only people on the site for this time!
- To get from the Acropolis site to the museum at the bottom of the hill, one has to gain access from the exit gate down a road with pavers that are a bit uneven. So, we asked a tour guide, who had dropped off his clients, how far it was and if we would manage with the wheelchair. He kindly offered to us a lift down to the museum.
- The museum is completely accessible with ramps and good signposts. The staff are again extremely diligent in assisting should you need anything.
- Once you have your ticket with your scan code, you just need to show the ticket and you are let in. There are dedicated counters should you need to purchase tickets onsite for persons with disabilities, and accessible toilets on each level of the museum.
- Access to the archaeological dig site is gained through a series of ramps on the outside of the museum and there are accessible walkways that extend over the ancient neighbourhood of people who lived in the shadow of the Acropolis rock for more than 4 500 years. This area, consisting of houses, courtyards, wells and water systems as well as impressive mansions with private baths, are accessible using the metal walkways, which take you over the sites that offer a much closer look at how people lived in these ancient times. We were able to see the museum and the archaeological site in about two and a half hours.
So, I was able to tick off another item from my bucket list, but we were not able to spend any time walking around the base of the hill to see the amphitheatre and other buildings. That is a site visit that I will keep for the next time I’m in Athens. Happy Travels!