Athens, The Ancient Capital of Greece
As well as being the capital and largest city in Greece, Athens is also one of the oldest cities in the world with landmarks dating back to the 5th Century BC. However it doesn’t seem to get the same attention as the likes of Paris , Rome or London . Many people including myself have a love hate relationship with the city, on one hand it has the history, culture, beaches and nightlife to happily satisfy most tourists, but it’s also extremely busy, densely populated, plagued by traffic jams and pollution. However even with this in mind, I find it one of the most fascinating cities in Europe and believe it’s a city not to be missed.
Many tourists arrive in Athens and stay for just enough time to check out the famous Acropolis then leave soon as possible, eager to go island hoping around the beautiful Greek islands. Although this is a must do when visiting Greece, you should try to stay in Athens for a few days and get to know and visit more than just the famous Acropolis.
Central Athens is relatively small, so getting to see all the sights by foot can be quite easy for most, however the city is quite hilly so walking around can be tiresome for some, especially in the summer heat.
The center of Athens is dominated by the hill-top Acropolis which can be seen from every point around the city and looks magnificent in the evening all lit up. Most ancient sites can easily be found a short walk from the acropolis, however the city also has an excellent public transport system to help take the weight of your feet.
The Acropolis is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the most famous of all the historical sites in Greece and possibly Europe. The site itself dates back to 7000 BC with its first human inhabitants occupying this site and the nearby Ancient Agora. The structures as seen today are thought to have been built between 490 and 250 BC. If you enter the site at the quieter east entrance near to the Akropoli metro station you will be able to check out the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. This large amphitheater was built in AD 161 by the wealthy Roman Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife Regilla.
As you continue around the side of the mount you will then come across the Temple of Nike, this tiny marble temple is the earliest Ionic temple designed by Kallicrates and was dedicated to the goddess Athena Nike. In Greek Nike means victory (Athena the goddess of Victory).
As you continue up the hill you will be met by the Parthenon itself, its magnificent columns sweep up to what was once some of the finest carving of their time. The triangle structures topping the east and west facades were filled with elaborately carved sculptures.
As you circle around the Parthenon you will then come across the Erechtheion, named after the mythical king of Athens, and the Porch of the Caryatids, these sculptures were modeled on the women of Karyai. It is thought that the Erechtheion housed the cults of Poseidon and Athena, it was here that according to myths this god and goddess had a contest for the cities affections. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident producing a salt spring whilst Athena produced an olive tree. The flourishing olive tree that now sits beside the Erechtheion is thought to be the sacred tree that Athena produced to seize the victory in the contest for Athens.
Opening times: 8am-8pm Apr-Oct and 8am-5pm Nov-Mar
Entry fee: Adults: €20 Child €10
For more information check out www.odysseus.culture.gr
The Acropolis Museum
The new €130 million Acropolis museum lies at the foot of the Acropolis southern slope and is a modern purpose-built museum that houses many of the surviving Greek treasures, this collection includes artifacts that where previously held in storage and those who have been returned from foreign museums. As you enter the grounds you will be met with a plexiglass floor which displays the newly uncovered ruins excavated during the building of the museum. Just inside the museum you will encounter the foyer gallery which has an ascending glass floor which allows glimpses of the ruins below. The museum has been cleverly though out and has an abundance of statues, pottery and other artifacts found within the Acropolis site. If you want to delve deeper into Greek mythology and the history of the Acropolis, this museum is a must.
Opening times: 8am-4pm Mon 8am-8pm Tue-Sun 8am-10pm Fri Apri-Oct
Prices: Adult €5 Child free
For more information check out www.theacropolismuseum.gr
The Ancient Agora of Athens
This place was by far my favorite site in Athens, the Ancient Athenian Agora was the center of ancient Athens and was set around a large open square in which residents would use for a variety of purposes such as markets, religious festivals and dramatic performances. Parts of this huge site are still being excavated but you can still wander around the site and visit the new museum housed in the Stoa of Attalos which was originally built around 200 BC
Inside the museum you will find a selection of the thousands of objects recovered in the past 75 years, reflecting the use of the area from 3000 BC. to 1500 AD. Walking around the grounds you will also find many artifacts and items of interest as well as the very well-preserved Temple of Hephasistos.
Opening times: Daily 8am-8pm
Prices: Adult €8 Child €4
For more information check out www.odysseus.culture.gr
Hadrian’s Arch stands on the edge of one of Athens busiest avenues. This arch was Built by the order of the Roman emperor Hadrian in AD 132 and thought to commemorate the consecration of the Temple of Zeus. The northwest frieze inscriptions read ‘This is Athens, the Ancient city of Theseus’ whilst the southeast frieze reads ‘This is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus.’ This is thought to show that the arch was a dividing point between the ancient and Roman city.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
The building of the Temple of Olympian Zeus started in the 6th century BC but was never finished, it was only 700 years later was it finished by Hadrian in 131 AD. Originally there stood 104 Corinthian columns of which only 15 remain standing.
The original racecourse stadium was built around 330 BC but was later rebuilt in marble in 144 AD by Herodes Atticus and had a capacity of 50,000 seats. It is thought to be the only marble stadium in the world and known to be the site of the first modern Olympic games. The stadium is still used today and is also where the hand over ceremony for the Olympic flame is held every 4 years.
Prices: Adults €5 Child €2.50
For more information check out www.panathenaicstadium.gr
These are just some of the more popular historical sites to visit whilst in Athens, there are many more hidden away in side streets, you don’t have to look far to find a bit of history in Athens. As well as the historical sites there are an abundance of other things to do, including museums, day trips further afield, great beaches as well as great cafes, restaurants and bars, including some great roof tops bars that have some of the best views of the Acropolis. If you are ever in Athens make sure you make time to explore before jumping ship!