Take Athens on your Greece List
Interested in taking a ride to where philosophy, democracy and theatre were born? The cradle of western civilisation is a pleasant tourist attraction.
Undoubtedly, you’ll want to start your visit with Acropolis. One thing to keep in mind would be to pay a visit as early as possible to avoid the crowds and the heat especially during the summer. Acropolis, in other words, upper city, is one of the most significant UNESCO world heritage sites. The Sacred Rock rises 490 meters above the sea level and covers a surface area of 30,000 square meters. You’ll enter "the province of the Gods" through Beule Gate and then pass through the Propylaia entrance.
The Parthenon holds great importance, not only as one of the most important surviving buildings built in the Classical Greek style, but as a symbol of modern Western civilisation and the cultural identity of Greece. Dominating the hilltop Acropolis, Parthenon was built in 432 BC for the goddess Athena Parthenos who gave the city all of her wealth. The temple was turned into a church, a mosque and even a garrison over the years. The Morean war in 1687 caused more damage to the Parthenon in just one year than it had suffered in the two millennia.
The marble panels depicting battle scenes between the Centaurs and the Lapiths however are not present at site. These panels and statues known as Parthenon Marbles, are currently exhibited in London’s British Museum. This was due to a controversial acquisition back in 1803, that arose many disputes ever since. Was it preservation, or pillage? Acropolis Museum holds replicas but here you have the originals from the British Museum.
Theater of Dionysus: This open-air theatre, dating back to 4th century BC, is the first stone theater ever built and hence the birthplace of European theatre where great Greek tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides were performed.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus – known as the “Herodeon” was actually built by Herodes Atticus, the Roman philosopher and teacher in memory of his wife. Today it still serves an amphitheater where you can enjoy concerts, festivals and plays.
The Porch of the Maidens sits at the rear of the elegant Erechtheion, ceremony venue. The maidens are exact replicas of the 5 originals which are on display at the Acropolis Museum after being removed in 1979 to preserve them from the elements of modern times. The 6th Caryatid sits also in the British Museum.
Temple of Athena Nike housed the legendary sculpture of Phidias. Unlike the famous Nike of Samothrace which is winged (winged victory), Athena Nike was wingless (wingless victory), so that the goddess would never leave Athens.
Acropolis Museum: This top rated museum is devoted to the Parthenon and its surrounding temples. Here, you not only get to learn about Athens and its significant finds, but you also get to marvel at the beauty of the wonderful views of the ancient and modern parts of Athens. A cup of coffee or a lemonade at its restaurant is a good excuse to complement the great experience.
Temple of Zeus, also known as the Olympeion, was built to honour Zeus, the father of all of the Olympian gods. Political disorders and lack of funds caused a total of 700 years to build it. The temple was originally supported by 104 Corinthian columns but only 15 columns remain standing.
Arch of Hadrian was built to honour the arrival of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and thank him for his benefactions for the city. The arch marked the boundary between the old city of Athens and the new city back then. The remains of wall-paintings suggest that in the Middle Ages it had become part of a Christian church. In 1778 it was converted into a gate of the defense wall around Athens, and was known as the "Princess Gate".
The rich collections of National Archaeological Museum, with more than 11.000 exhibits, offer the visitor a complete image of the ancient Greek civilization. Perhaps the most precious piece is “Artemision Jockey”, a magnificent bronze statue of a young jockey and a horse found off Cape Artemision in Euboea. It’s a rare example as most ancient bronzes were melted down for their raw materials. This one survived when it was lost in a shipwreck. Another important piece is the gold funeral mask discovered in Mycenae which is considered as ‘Mona Lisa of prehistory’. Often confused the mask of Agamemnon, leader of the Achaeans, final research suggests it predates the period by 300 years.
Agora, once the heart of ancient Athens, was the commercial hub, the center of social, economic, political and intellectual activities. It coudln’t have been named better as Agora translates to “a place of gathering”.
Stoa of Attalos was erected during the 2nd century BC as a gift of the king of Pergamon. Originally, the facade of the two-storied portico was painted red and blue. People gathered here to watch the Panathenaic Procession. It was also the first-ever shopping arcade, for which the word stoa is still used today. The Museum of Agora is housed in the stoa and is not to be missed.
The Temple of Hephestus was the first in Athens to be made of marble. This well-preserved structure served as a church and burial place In the 7th & 19th centuries respectively. Hephaestus, Greek god of volcanoes and metalworking, was the only one of the Olympian gods who was physically imperfect - he was lame.
Roman Agora was built around 100 metres east of the original Agora. The Tower of the Winds is an octagonal Pentelic marble clock tower, said to be the word’s first meteorological station. It was built by Andronicus, a Syrian astronomer, during the 1st century BC. Gate of Athena Archegetis is the second most prominent remain in the site.
Monastiraki Square is a lively square in a colourful neighbourhood with its murals and famous flea market. Tzisdarakis (Cizderiye) Mosque in the square has been under construction since the early 90s. Looks like Athens wants to remain as the only capital in Europe which doesn’t have a mosque. Though, underground or basement mosques without a permit exist.
Plaka, aka God’s district, is oozing with cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops and hotels. It’s believed that the area took its name from a large stone slab that was found in the area near Dionysus ancient theater. You will be mesmerized by the atmosphere and feel like you’re in a labyrinth of houses, cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops.
Philopappos Hill, or The Hill of the Muses, took its name from the poet Mousaios, who lived and was buried there. The hill, offering panoramic views of the city, is famously home to the Philoppapos Monument. It honours Gaius Julius Antiochus Philopappos, a prince of Commagene who became a benefactor of the city after his exile from Syria.
Piraeus is a port city that’s the centre of all sea communication between Athens and the Greek islands. But for me, it has been the two cute harbors. Zea Harbor or Paşalimanı was once a war port and yet is filled with small leisure vessels and fishing boats today. Restaurants, cafes and fancy yachts Smaller than Zea Harbor, Mikrolimano is also more languorous with its upscale cafés and seafood restaurants, most right up against the water line with views of the fishing boats and Attica coast beyond. Apparently, there was more to it than this, from Michelin-starred restaurants to little-known archaeological treasures.
You can find graffiti around too. Just watch out.
While you’re there...
Try souvlaki – grilled, small pieces of meat and vegetables on skewers; gyros – meat (pork, chicken, beef or lamb) cooked on rotisserie and wrapped in pita with onions & tomatoes; tzatziki - salted yogurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil.
Ready to find out more?
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