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The History Fangirl Podcast

Sep 25, 2017

The Acropolis of Athens, Greece, is one of the most recognizable landmarks in all of the world. But to hear Ryan Stitt of The History of Ancient Greece podcast tell it, depending on when you were born, you won’t recognize the same Acropolis as the people who came before. The Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis were built around 460 B.C., and as Ryan tells me in this episode, the controversy over who the Acropolis is for and what it means is still raging on.

The Not-so-Humble Beginnings of the Acropolis of Athens

The Acropolis of Athens is one of the most recognizable historical landmarks in all of the world. Associated with the Golden Age of Greece, it was designed, from the very beginning, to be an ostentatious sight and site. Ryan Stitt, host of the “History of Greece” podcast, told me about how there’s archaeological evidence that people lived on The Acropolis as early as 6000 BC. But the construction of the Parthenon and other temples really took shape around 460 BC. Everything that stands today is from the Classical period. All of the architecture from the archaic times was destroyed during a war with Persia (though some statues were buried, and remained for archaeologists to find).

A Beautiful Tourist Destination, a Perfect Battleground

The plateau of the Acropolis made it the perfect place for Athenians to stand and fight for their city-state. As Ryan told me, the Acropolis was alternately attacked by the Phoenicians, the Byzantines and the Ottomans, who all left their cultural touch on the landmark. But after it gained its independence from the Ottomans, the citizenry of Athens was overcome with national pride. And that pride in all things Greek motivated the people to preserve what was built by Greeks, and wove the idea of Ancient Greece into the fabric of their lives, leading up to today, when tourism is still a huge part of the Greek identity.

Pericles Does Work on the Acropolis

So what is left on the Acropolis of Athens, and how did all of this magnificent architecture get built? Once the threat from Persia ended, the famous Athenian leader Pericles began an ambitious building program. Across decades (mostly foreign) workers built the Parthenon, the Rechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike, among other structures. As Ryan said, the various religious buildings, erected to honor the gods of Ancient Greece, were often adopted by the religions of the dominant culture at any time.

An Ancient Controversy, Still Burning

Ryan and I discussed what happens once antiquities become “property” of another culture. For instance, an Ottoman sultan sold the beautiful “Elgin Marbles” sculptures of Ancient Greece to a Duke of England in the early 19th century, when the Ottoman Empire occupied Greece. Once Greece won its independence, many felt the antiquities should be returned to the country, though England now claims them as part of their culture, as well. The question of who “owns” ancient artifacts still burns today.

Travel Tips for visiting the Acropolis of Athens

Ryan has some amazing stories and great tips about traveling to Greece to see the Acropolis. He’s made two trips there, including a monthlong visit on a study abroad program, and he shares his must-sees, as well as the best way to navigate all of the sites of Athens. Even though I got a little jealous of his student pass that gave him discounts on the site visits, this episode is still a must listen for anyone thinking of visiting Athens!

Outline of This Episode

  • [2:45] Introduction to Ryan Stitt
  • [5:55] Ryan talks about his time studying abroad in Greece and how he got around.
  • [13:24] We dig into the early days of the Acropolis.
  • [16:40] Discussion of the Acropolis of Athens as a monument to nationalism.
  • [20:16] What sparked the building boom, and insight into Pericles, the man with the plan.
  • [26:30] Was the Acropolis essentially propaganda?
  • [30:30] It’s worth a trip to Nashville to see the Parthenon model that was built there.
  • [39:12] Who were the workers who built the structures on the Acropolis?
  • [45:45] What happened to the Acropolis after the Peloponnesian War?
  • [51:55] The Acropolis becomes a Roman Catholic Cathedral, and how war damaged the Parthenon.
  • [58:00] Controversy over the Elgin Marbles
  • [64:45] Ryan discusses some of the hidden gems of Athens tourism

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