Athens is a city with an almost unbelievable history, having been considered a magical city at one time full of gods and goddesses and actually worshiped. It has been called the birthplace of civilization and where democracy was born. A trip to Athens Greece will fill your mind, body and soul with overwhelming touches of the past, the present and the future. Just being in Athens is enlightening but there are specific locations that really should be experienced.
The Acropolis in Athens, Greece is sometimes referred to as the Sacred Rock and is considered the most important site of the city and is undeniably one of the most recognizable monuments in the world. There are other acropolises in the world but the one at Athens is the best known, so much so that it is considered THE Acropolis. The Acropolis in Athens is a flat topped rock that is almost 500 feet above sea level. This region has been inhabited since the 6th millennium BC although there are no definitive artifacts on the site of the Acropolis to support Mycenaean life on the hill. Throughout history buildings were demolished and rebuilt as religion and need dictated. It’s remarkable that the Acropolis still exists and its sparkling gem, the Parthenon, can be seen for miles around.
Speaking of the Parthenon, it’s another one of our must see landmark stops when you visit Athens, and since its located atop the Acropolis it’s like knocking down two birds with one stone. The Parthenon was originally supposed to be a different structure but it was sacked by the Persians in 480 BC so, not ones to waste, the ancient Greeks used the ruins to fortify the north end of the Acropolis and in its place the Parthenon was constructed sometime between 447 and 432 BC. The architects were Iktinos and Kallikrates and the building was originally dedicated to Athena Pallas or Parthenos. A gold and ivory statue to Athena was housed inside the building. Those who remember studying Greek architecture in social studies or history classes, the Parthenon is a classic example of Doric architecture with eight columns at the front and seventeen columns in the rear. The back of the Parthenon featured a room that was to house Athena’s treasures and four Ionic columns support this structure. Visitors to this temple were not expected to enter it but to view the statue from the outside, through the columns.
The National Archaeological Museum is the place to go if you really want to see some incredible Greek artifacts collected and preserved for everyone to view. The artifacts at the National Archaeological Museum have been collected for numerous locations around Greece and stretch from prehistory to late antiquity. This is considered one of the primary museums of the world with the best collection of Greek antiquity in the world. The first national archeological museum was created in 1829 but it’s been moved several times but it wasn’t until 1889 that it found a permanent home. At the time it was called the Central Museum but the name was later changed and remains the National Archaeological Museum today. The building itself is a pretty magnificent structure and has been undergoing almost constant expansion and renovation. Prior to the Olympics in Athens in 2004 the museum closed for almost two years to accommodate some elaborate renovations and the inclusion of more artifacts. Believe it or not, there are already rumors of more expansions to come.
The Plaka is the oldest section of Athens and closed to most vehicles to preserve the architecture and as the ancient streets are simply to narrow. This old neighborhood is situated on the northern and eastern slopes of the Acropolis and features a ridiculous maze of streets lined with neoclassical architecture. This is one of the top tourist locations and it also houses several stops inside the city. Visitors come to tour the Jewish Museum of Greece, the Greek Folk Art Museum and the Frissiras Museum. If you’re in the area look for Adrianou Street, the oldest street in Athens still in continuous use with same route.
The Agora in Athens was a unique area at the time and served as the town seat. All law courts were centered in the Agora and anyone who was in the region at the time may have to serve on the jury. Originally the region had private houses but was reorganized in the sixth century BC under Peisistratus to serve as city center. Homes were destroyed, wells were closed and a drainage system and fountains were built. Many of the buildings, or parts of them, have been preserved and the region has been under excavation since 1931.
The Monastiraki Flea Market in Athens is the main shopping district in the area and isn’t what people in the United States think of as a flea market. The square features small stores and boutiques that sell clothing, souvenirs, specialty items and other goods. It’s a great place for tourists to pick up a memento and a gift for those at home, and if you’re good at wheeling and dealing you’ll probably find more than one bargain. On Sunday’s the flea market turns into something that’s a bit more familiar to those from the United States with impromptu stores set up for the day. Make sure to take a break and enjoy a coffee or snack at one of the many cafes along the street. It’s a wonderful way to take in the sights and sounds of the city and to imagine what it may have been like centuries ago as people shopped the same streets.
Whether you decide to climb Lycabettus Hill to view the impressive city below or if you prefer to view it from the streets, it’s an impressive site. This limestone rock reaches 1,000 feet in the air and at night the top is floodlit. In the day time the tree draped hill is topped by a tiny white church, the Agios Georgios. If you do decide to check out the view from the top, the funicular is the easiest route. There’s also a café once you arrive so you can sit back and enjoy the scenery.
Photo credit: Kyri Sarantakos