When you walk into the courtyard of the Acropolis Museum, you may not see them immediately; once you do, you won’t be able to look away. Glass panels and enormous openings in the concrete reveal the remains of streets, baths, wells and buildings from different eras in the city’s history. The ruins extend in every direction below the courtyard and the building.
The first time I saw them, the museum wasn’t yet open and I was just passing through. I gasped when I noticed I was walking on glass. I gasped again when I noticed what lay underneath.
On this visit, I study the colour-coded diagram on an information panel. The ruins are a three-dimensional floor plan and the diagram is the legend. I try to picture people walking down that narrow street, or sitting in that bath, or eating in the dining area over there. I wonder how they made the curves so smooth and the lines so straight. I peer into the shadows where the ruins disappear from view. I stand on the glass—me, who skirts subway grates and steels myself to walk up openwork staircases—I stand on the glass and wish it wasn’t covered in white polka dots that must somehow strengthen it but obscure my view.
In downtown Athens, ruins are as ubiquitous as the yellow taxis. What draws me to these ruins in particular? The delightful memory of our first encounter. The masterful way they are incorporated into the design of the museum. Above all, their dense geometry. The perfect circles and square corners. The way everything is built up from rectangular blocks of different sizes. Indecipherable on one level, yet so clear and tidy on another. Even the plain concrete modern-day pillars, the ones holding me above it all, blend right in.
Restoration of the ruins is ongoing. Makeshift wooden walkways disrupt the shapeliness of the site.
I read on another information panel that visitors will soon be able to walk among the ruins. I can’t decide how I feel about this. Would I want to go down there? Would walking along the roads or next to the buildings instead of looking down on them help me to better understand the life of our predecessors in this place?
I look up at the people moving through the courtyard. I imagine looking down at these same people, their heads and hats and sandals moving in single file along designated paths. I imagine hearing snatches of whatever tour guides might be saying.
I think imagining anything is going to be a lot harder when they let the people in.
I’ll find out when I return.
I originally wrote this reflection for a scholarship application in 2015. As of my last visit, in 2017, the ruins remain inaccessible to the public.