Deep into the caves

The LEGO version of the Acropolis - a wonder to behold

The LEGO version of the Acropolis – a wonder to behold

We are doing it again: research-assistant extraordinaire Big Boy T (7 years 3/4) and I are on a research trip. This time we are in Greece and our travels will focus on Athens and Attica. We arrived yesterday afternoon and had time to squeeze in a visit to the new Acropolis Museum, which is magnificent. Unfortunately, one cannot take pictures in Greek museums (a new rule as far as I can tell). There was one place, however, where photos were allowed, and that was where they exhibit a LEGO model of the Acropolis. Big Boy T was more impressed by this than by anything else in the museum.


The sanctuary of Asclepius viewed from above

Today we went to the Acropolis. Everyone knows the Acropolis. Or do they? Guided tours only tend to go to a few places, and they miss wonderful things on the way. Basically, they only go up through the Propylaea and visit the temples at the top of the Acropolis. In my opinion, the slopes are more interesting than the top. On the southern slopes, one can find the theatre of Dionysus, the sanctuary of Asclepius, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Unfortunately for the historian of medicine that I am, there is nothing much left of the sanctuary of Asclepius, although the view from the top of the Acropolis is quite informative.


Cave of Aglauros

However, my favourite part of our long excursion around the Acropolis was the northern slope. First, it is – surprise surprise – to the north, which means that it is shady. It may only be April, but it is hot. The lady at the hotel asked me whether I was sure I would be OK with a sleeveless dress this morning. Let me tell you, I was. So the northern slope of the Acropolis was wonderfully shady. Second, it has lovely natural caves that were used as sanctuaries. There is one cluster of small caves that served as sanctuaries of Pan, Zeus and Apollo. Then there is a very large cave that was a sanctuary of Aglauros, the daughter of the legendary king of Athens, Cecrops.

Wild flowers on the northern slope of the Acropolis

Wild flowers on the northern slope of the Acropolis

Although I do appreciate the skill and craft involved in building the monumental temples of the top of the Acropolis, a part of me loves the work of nature in carving those caves even more. Then there were all the beautiful wild flowers: blood-red poppies, nettles in bloom (yes peksy nettles do bloom quite prettily), asters, and numerous other asteraceae (chamomile-type flowers). So when you visit the Acropolis, do take the paths that lead you away from the crowds!






A pomegranate tree planted by the temple of Hephaistus. Note the circle around the tree.

In the afternoon, we visited the agora. My highlight was the temple of Hephaistus. Or to be more precise, the gardens that surround that temple. When archaeologists dug there in the 1930s, they found huge planting pots in the bedrock. These pots would have been filled with soil in which small plants such as box or pomegranate would have been grown. Today shrubs are grown there, and if you look carefully, you will see the traces of what I believe are still the original planting pots (there was nothing said about them on the touristic information).

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