The whitewashed villages of Greece islands overlooking the caldera had bewitched us to an extent that we longed to visit one. The Greek island of Santorini having easy access from the Greek capital Athens, a visit to Athens along with Santorini fell on the card.
We were nonplussed on visiting Athens dissuaded by not so good Athens review by our friends that most of the archaeological sites of Athens are in ruins and there would be nothing for us to see there. Nevertheless, as a history buff, we were compelled by Athens, its glorious history.
Finally, we did it and we are glad we did it!
Athens, the capital city of Greece is well known for its compelling antiquity and the archeological sites. The ancient sites beckon the inquisitive tourists and history buffs from all over the world to unearthed Greek history which laid the foundation for the western civilization.
We were so smitten by the Greek history and stories that we decided to explore more of it on the full day Argolis tour exploring the Corinth Canal, Corinth City, Mycenae, Nafplio, and Epidaurus one of the best day trips from Athens.
Acropolis in Athens is an ancient citadel on a rocky hill overlooking the city of Athens. The iconic Athens landmark Acropolis is a complex of several ancient historical monuments and architectural masterpieces including the Parthenon, the Erechtheon, the Propylaea and a small temple of Athena Nike.
Propylaea of Athens
The entrance to the Acropolis complex is through a monumental gate ‘Propylaea of Athens’. The Propylaea is constructed from Pentelic marble and comprises of Doric columns on the outer side and ionic columns in the central area and can be reached through a stairway.
The imposing building on entering the complex is the magnificent Parthenon completed in 438 BC. The temple dedicated to the goddess Athena epitomizes the ancient Greek art, it has 46 outer columns and 23 inner columns in total which is huge! It is said to be set on fire, ravaged by earthquakes, looted for its sculptures and almost destroyed by the explosion.
Yet, the grandeur of the building remains intact radiating the glory of its bygone era even through its ruins!
Temple of Athena Nike
The small temple in Acropolis dedicated to the Greek goddess, Athena Nike sits on bastion next to the Propylaea. The temple is an Ionic structure built in tetrastyle with various sections elaborately decorated with relief sculptures of Nike.
The other interesting temple is the Erechtheum dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon and is popular for the ‘Porch of the Maidens’ which has six draped female figures (caryatids) as supporting columns.
The temple during its glory days is said to have elaborate ornate and gilded decorations on doors, windows, and columns.
Theatre of Dionysus
Theatre of Dionysus is an ancient theater dedicated to Dionysus, the god of winemaking and a patron of the arts. The theatre was built to seat up to 17,000 people and was a great venue for plays and celebrations.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is an ancient amphitheater built in the Roman times and has a seating capacity of around 6,000 people. Today the amphitheater is the venue for Athens Art Festival and musical concerts.
The Acropolis Museum
The Acropolis museum is made of glass walls and floors allowing the visitors to look at the excavations of the archaeological site beneath. The museum houses a great collection approximately 4,000 artifacts and sculptures found in the archaeological site of the Acropolis. Do not miss the documentary on history and information of the Acropolis.
Temple of Olympian Zeus and Arch of Hadrian
The Temple of the Olympian Zeus is a former colossal temple dedicated to the Greek god Olympian Zeus. The temple consisting of 104 gigantic Corinthian columns is said to be larger than the Parthenon of which only 15 remain standing today.
The Arch of Hadrian or the Hadrian’s Gate is a monumental gateway erected to honor Emperor Hadrian.
The major draw to the bustling Syntagma Square is the House of Parliament, originally a 19th-century Royal Palace. The changing guard takes place every hour by the Presidential Guards in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. On every Sunday at 11 am the changing of the guard ceremony takes place in traditional uniform and is a great event to behold. You can watch it here. So if you are here on Sundays plan accordingly and be there at the Syntagma Square at 11 am.
Historic Plaka and Anafiotika
We had visited in May when the Athens temperature can be really high. The hot scorching sun had drained the energy out of us. We descended the hill into the charming district of Plaka where the cobbled streets are lined with souvenir shops and restaurants and quaint houses have bougainvillea adorned balconies.
The small quaint neighborhood of Anafiotika north of Plaka resembling the Cycladic islands with its whitewashed houses and narrow alleys is a hidden gem. The village was built by immigrants from the island of Anafi who arrived as workers during the reign of King Otto I.
Monastiraki Square and Flea Market
Monastiraki is a popular square known for the flea market held here every Sunday. The market sells everything from antiques, clothes, souvenirs, and handicrafts. The square also houses the Pantanassa Church which has an ornate interior with painted vault and the Tzistarakis Mosque, a domed building originally built as a mosque today houses the ceramics museum.
The Ancient Agora
The Ancient Agora a commercial and social hub of bygone Athens today holds two prominent buildings which should be on the list of things to see in Athens. The Temple of Hephaistos located on Agoraios Kolonos hill dating back to the fifth century BC was dedicated to the gods Hephaistos and Athena. The ‘Stoa of Attalos’ built as a two-story shopping mall has been rebuilt to house the Agora Museum displaying monuments and statues found on the excavation of the Ancient Agora.
The Panathenaic Stadium in Athens today was restored from the 4th century BC Panathenaic Stadium which was the site of the Panathenaic Games held in honor of goddess Athena. In the 19th century, the stadium in ruins was restored with Pentelic marble and the refurbished stadium was used for Olympics in 1896 and 2004.
The National garden was originally the private garden of the Royal Palace which is today Parliament Building. The garden decorated with statues and flower beds and houses several ponds, a small zoo and a play area which would be one of the great fun things to do if visiting with kids. The garden is open to the public and offers a respite from the bustling city.
A climb up the Mount Lycabettus offers with breathtaking views of the city of Athens. The mountain can be either hiked or reached by a funicular. The summit has a large open-air amphitheater, 18th century Chapel of St. George and a small restaurant where you can relax and take in the wonderful views.
It is disheartening to see the ruins of the temples and places of worship being unearthed by excavation. Has God been partial when it comes to this wonderful land of mythology and legends which have been revered as the ‘Land of Gods’? The unearthed architectures are so astounding that certainly, these structures in their years of glory must have been the most remarkable structures of splendor.
When we visited Athens we opted for HOHO buses but Athens also has a very well-connected and frequent Metro connecting all the major Athens attractions. So you do not need to worry about where to stay in Athens though staying in city center around Syntagma Square or Acropolis and Plaka would save you much time on Athens sightseeing. If you plan to visit the city from Athens airport you have good options of taxi, metro and airport buses to choose from which makes commuting from the airport to the city very convenient.
It’s practically not possible to cover all of these sites in detail within a day you may need spend at least 48 hours in Athens or skip a couple of museum visits to fit all of these in one day or join one of the Athens tours. For beach bums, the city has an array of gorgeous sandy shores with crystal clear blue waters so head to one of Athens beaches for soak up the balmy sun. Though the Greek islands top the things to do in Greece the compelling historical sites are great reasons why one should definitely visit Athens on your trip to Greece.
Athens City Pass
Athens city pass offers free admission to major Athens attractions including Acropolis tickets and museums with the skip the line advantage, discounts in shops and restaurants, free HOHO rides and much more. Choose from the three different city passes Classic, Complete and Mini as per your requirements and enjoy your Athens sightseeing.
What do you think of the archaeological sites of Athens? Do share with us in Comments.
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