Experiencing Greek Antiquity at the Acropolis

I first became compelled to visit Greece during my undergrad studies as an Art History major. Many of my Art History courses emphasized Greek Antiquity, and its undeniable impact on both contemporary art and the connection of art to collective memory. While learning about the construction of Greek society through its art, I needed to personally experience the ancient history of one of the most visited attractions, the Acropolis, and admire the architectural details of its ruins.

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Parthenon on the Acropolis, 2013

The Acropolis is a 5th century BCE complex that sits on an elevated outcrop overlooking the city of Athens. While the Persian Invasion  of 480BCE on the Acropolis negatively transformed it’s landscape, a renowned sculptor, Pheidias, helped fulfilled the visions of a powerful statesman, Pericles, for the reconstruction of the sacred site.

This citadel has become synonymously viewed as an icon of democracy and the birth of western civilization.

One of the most important structures on the Acropolis is the Parthenon. It’s a classical-style temple that was erected for the warrior goddess, Athena. The temple has Ionic characteristics and is supported by Doric columns. Where the Parthenon currently stands, an older Athenian temple stood but was ruined during the Persian Invasion.

When I backpacked for 2 months around Europe in 2013, I booked a ticket to Greece. On my second day in Athens I went to the Acropolis. The walk towards the citadel’s ruins filled me with anticipation because the nearby streets encircling the outcrop offer numerous vantage points of it.

Although I arrived before noon, the site was still congested with tourists. In hindsight, I’m glad I wore appropriate footwear that would accommodate the steep slopes, dusty terrain, and slippery marble.

At this time, all of the Cultural Heritage workers on site were unpaid due to Greece’s economic crisis. Signs and banners were hung throughout the site informing tourists about their hardships.

In 2013, the Parthenon was partially hidden away by scaffolding due to an ongoing restoration project led by the Greek Ministry of Culture. This project started in 1983, and is to ensure the integrity of the architecture and stability. The Chicago Tribune recently posted an article that states the restoration is nearly complete and provides detailed photographs of the accomplishment.

Don’t miss these noteworthy places at the Acropolis:

  • The Entrance
  • Propylaea
  • Erechtheon with the Caryatids (read more about one of my Art History professor’s interesting research concerning the hairstyles of these women)
  • The Temple of Hephaestus
  • Athena Nike Temple

In addition there are two museums in Athens worth a visit. The first is the National Archaeological Museum, which displays famous Greek artifacts and paintings. When I went to the National Archaeological Museum I was blown away by the size of its collection and explored for over 2 hours. The second is the Acropolis Museum, which faces the Acropolis and houses artifacts collected from the site for conservation purposes. Replicas of the original extractions are at the Acropolis.

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View of Athens from the Acropolis, 2013

Chichen Itza, A Slice of the Mayan World

In the last week of April, I took a tour from Cozumel to the Yucatán peninsula to visit the ancient Mayan archaeological site, Chichen Itza. Even though each way took three hours because of a ferry ride to the mainland and a shuttle service, it was well worth it. 31543518_10156962242623797_420894816344211456_n

Chichen Itza (At the edge of the well of the Itzaes) used to be one of the main Mayan cities. The site was settled largely in its present location because of its close vicinity to two cenotes, which are accessible areas that lead to underground pools of water. The site is historically significant due to the synthesis of Mayan and Mexican architectural stylization. The stonework and hieroglyphs on the buildings were painted with local colors, some residual colors can still be faintly seen.

The Kukulkan Pyramid or El Castillo is the iconic, large pyramid that attracts millions of tourists each year to learn about Mayan history and culture. Recently in 2017, it was established as a Wonder of the World. Although tourists are no longer able to climb up the stairs of El Castillo, the site is still impressive. A quirky feature to El Castillo is that if a group of people clap before it, the sound of a squawking bird will echo back.

Here are some other noteworthy areas on the complex to see:

  • Temple of Warriors with its many columns and a statue of Chacmool, where human sacrifices occurred.
  • The Great Ball Court and the North Temple (Temple of the Bearded Man)
  • The Osario Group is a short pyramid
  • The Observatory is a tower with a circular staircase that is thought to be used by the Mayan people to study astronomy.
  • Temple of Xtoloc
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Panoramic shot of the Temple of Warriors

When I visited a few days ago, the temperature was beyond 90 degrees Fahrenheit It’s important to frequently drink water and apply sunblock. The ideal time to go is in the morning because the site will be overwhelmed by tourists in the afternoon. I heard the site was commercialized, however I was stunned by the persistent vendors that lined many main pathways on the outskirts of the site.

Don’t forget to taste Xtabentún, a local liquor made from honey and anise seed.

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The Osario Group with El Castillo in the background

Things to do in Kyoto, Japan

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Walking within the torii at Fushimi Inari

During my 8 day adventure through Japan, I explored Kyoto for three days in early November. Three days was not enough time. The city instilled me with a desire to return one day and visit more of it’s ancient sites.

Fushimi Inari is a Shinto shrine is dedicated to Inari, the god of rice. There are many protective Fox Statues along the trails of the shrine. It’s located on a mountain, and is easily accessible from the JR Nara Line at Kyoto Station. This site also has free entry and is virtually always open. It’s best to go early in the morning because the pathways of red torii became quickly congested with fellow tourists.

 

Kiyomizu-dera Temple (Pure Water Temple) is a wooden Buddhist temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has a balcony overlooking Kyoto. We were fortunate to visit here during November, when all of the trees were bright with peak autumn colors. A diminutive statue of Kannon sits inside the temple’s Main Hall. While not the quickest route, we took the Keihan Railway Line to Kiyomizu-Gojo Station and walked about 20 minutes to reach this temple.

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View of Kyoto from Kyomizu-dera

 

Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka are streets sloping downhill from Kiyomizu-dera Temple and into the heart of Gion’s historical district. The streets, architecture, and occasional Geisha promises to transport any tourist back in time. You can also spot Yasaka Pagoda from this area (not featured in the image below).

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Kinkakuji’s reflection in the pond

 

Kinkakuji (Golden Pavillion) is another iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site in Japan, but is distant from the main city. The Zen pavilion is layered in gold leaf and on calm days, you can witness it’s stark reflection in the pond. While the most inexpensive way to visit is by bus, we were pressed for time and took the metro to Kitaoji Station and then hired a taxi for a 10 minute ride.

 

Arashiyama is a town located in western Kyoto that’s infamous for it’s Bamboo Forest (a UNESCO World Heritage site). However it also has hiking trails, the Togetsukyō Bridge with gorgeous views of the river, shops, restaurants, and Tenryuji Temple another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Bridge in Arashiyama

 

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Nara is another popular tourist destination known for its Park. Inside of Nara Park are an abundance of sacred deer that will bow at you if you feed them crackers,
and also Todaiji Temple. Crackers can be bought everywhere in the park, but practice caution with some of the deer because they tend to nibble on everything. It takes approximately 30 to 40 minutes one way via metro from Kyoto Central Station.

Pontocho Alley is a narrow street along the river that boasts historical architecture like Gion. This area is close to Gion-Shijo Station and has plenty of restaurants, and fun thematic bars to explore at night. The bars are built into various floors of the buildings and can sometimes only offer limited occupancy of about 5-15 people. I wish we had more time to explore the fun bars in this area. One of my favorite bars we went to was Cafe La Siesta 8bit Edition. It’s a gamer bar with a myriad of retro consoles, hand-held games, and card games. They have a human-sized Gameboy that plays N64 and their drink menu is based off of vintage games too.

Nishiki Market is approximately a 400-year old market in downtown with over 100 stalls selling diverse foods and tourist items.

Vandalized in Pompeii

When I first visited the ancient remnants of Pompeii in 2013, I was astonished by the lack of security and sources of conservation. Unfortunately, as I admired the frescoes, cobbled streets, columns, I recognized evident signs of rampant vandalism and destruction blatantly created by the tourists. I worried I wasn’t allowed to explore certain areas I cautiously toed around the grounds, however I watched as others felt entitled to sneaking into places that were obviously restricted the general public. Sure, there are iron gates blocking entry into some areas, but it doesn’t cease someone from simply scaling it.

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I hope that this new regulation will deter some of the issues that Italy and UNESCO faces, however I believe more restrictions are required, and will be instated in the future. This is just the start.

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Firstly the grounds are too spacious to hire a handful of guards and conservators. It could take someone days to see EVERYTHING in Pompeii. Secondly, it would be too costly for the amount of security to ensure the safety of the monuments. Until Pompeii receives necessary resources, it will continue to suffer the brunt of tourism. Thirdly, how will it best be executed? Italy and UNESCO can’t hide everything under glass and fences… it will tarnish the near natural reality of Pompeii as an eerie archaeological site. Perhaps it’s a borderline impossible project. Ultimately, people will need to acknowledge and accept the importance of preserving this city for educational purposes and future generations, if it should remain.Untitled 4