It was constructed in the 4th century BC, enabling 17,000 spectators to attend the premiers of plays by Euripides, Aristophanes, Sophocles and Aeschylus. Our entertainment was more prosaic: two young women in twirling skirts posed for selfies on the very spot where actors of the ancient world once performed Medea.
The magnificent Acropolis Museum is a fitting tribute to the ancient world. It nestles below the hill in view of the monuments whose treasures it houses. The museum is elegant — all glass and marble with large concrete pillars — a modern-day temple. The first floor is dedicated to the “minor” buildings on the Acropolis and includes the original Caryatids, which have been removed from the Erechtheion for preservation.
In an architecturally inspired move, the top floor — a vast glass structure — is pivoted 23 degrees so as to directly face the Parthenon. Following the exact proportions of the temple, plaster casts of the frieze, metopes and pediment reveal what the decorations around the temple once looked like. A different shade of plaster is used to identify the substantial sections removed by Lord Elgin, which now reside, controversially, in the British Museum.
Though the Acropolis Museum is the jewel in the crown of Athenian museums, one that lingers in my memory is at the other end of the spectrum of splendour. Housed in a portakabin in a rundown park, the Plato Academy is a digital museum.
Accompanied by an aspiring young philosopher, we made a pilgrimage to the park where in 387 BC Plato established The Academy, his school of philosophy where he debated with his students beneath the trees. Nowadays teenage boys with skateboards hang out under the olive branches.
Newly opened, the museum is accessible to all ages, using interactive computers, online quizzes, philosophical questions and video monitors screening interviews with Platonic scholars. It succeeds in turning complex concepts into a fun learning experience. It is striking that there is only such a tiny tribute to the man who laid down some foundations of western thought.
A visit to the ancient Agora — once the centre of Athenian politics, commerce, religion and culture — brought us up close to the workings of Athenian democracy. We located the pottery discs used in 472 BC to vote to ostracise Themistocles, an Athenian general and statesman; we strolled along the colonnade of the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos where, in the 2nd century BC, politicians met to run the city.