I will be the first to admit that Athens was not my favorite place under the sun. I tried to give her a chance, I really did. I just didn’t feel the spark I so desired.
Athens, I swear it’s not you, it’s all me. When I visited, I was in the midst of a terrible bout of gastroenteritis that may have ruined our chances. But I’ve never been a history buff and it’s clear I just need to work on myself. I have been avoiding this moment, but the time has come to say goodbye.
For old times sake, let’s take a look at some of your redeeming qualities. With your abundance of history and culture, you have so much to offer. You are the basis of democracy, the study of geometry and philosophy, the spirit of the Olympics and theatre, and even the word alphabet.
A journey into the birthplace of western civilization means immersing yourself in almost 6,000 years of history. Athens’ resiliency is evident, a city that has been occupied, destroyed, rebuilt and reinvented over again. You can unearth a plethora of ancient wonders by spending just two days with this time-honored city.
Marvel at the glorious Acropolis, a citadel constructed in 5th century BC to honor Athena, the goddess of wisdom, who defeated Poseidon to become the patroness of the city. This complex houses the remains of the Parthenon, Propylaia, Erechtheion and Temple of Athena Nike. The crumbling columns are sacred reminders of ancient civilization past.The Acropolis rises on a rocky hill 490 feet into the clouds, making it visible from each corner of Athens. By trekking up to the top and entering the monumental gateway of Propylaea, you are granted sweeping 360 views of the city below.The Parthenon in all its grandeur, was completed in 438 BC in Doric style. With columns crafted of Pentelic marble from Mt. Pentelicus, giving a pure white appearance, until the iron components oxidized, giving it the soft, honey color it is renowned for today. To achieve visual perfection, the columns are slightly slanted inwards with a curved shape. This makes the lines of the building look perfectly straight to the naked eye. The Parthenon has functioned longest as a Greek temple, but previously as a treasury, a fortress, a church, and a mosque. It has endured many natural disasters, invasions, and attacks except the greed of Lord Elgin, the Ambassador of Constantinople, who sold all its statutes, vases, and monuments to the British museums.
The Erechtheion or Erechtheum Temple was built between 420 to 406 BC in the Golden Age to showcase the wooden cult statue of Athena. It is thought the most holy place of the Acropolis where Athena planted an olive tree.The name acropolis derives from the Greek Akro, meaning high or extreme edge, and Polis, or city. Translating literally as ‘High City’, ‘City on the Edge’ or ‘City in the Air.’ Just take a look around and it all makes sense!While most visitors to the Acropolis head straight for the top, you can’t miss the Northern and Southern Slopes of the Acropolis. Besides the well preserved Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the Theatre of Dionysus, the slopes boast numerous sanctuaries, churches and sacred caves. Your options are to buy a single ticket to the Acropolis for 20 € or a special version for 30 € that grants you entrance to all of the archaeological sites for five days. This includes: Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos, Hadrian’s Library, Kerameikos, Museum of the Ancient Agora, North and South slope of Acropolis, Olympieio, and Roman Agora of Athens. A more pricey but comprehensive option are the City Pass options.Note that most sites are open from 8am-3pm daily (or 8pm in the summer), except on Sunday. The above tickets can’t be bought in advance online; only at the entrance to the Acropolis and other participating sites. For those over 65, and an EU citizen, under 18, or a university student, you are offered a 50% discount with a valid passport or ID.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
The area of Olympieion is best known for the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Construction of this Greco-Roman architecture began in 6th century BC, but was put on hold during the period of Greek democracy, and not completed until much later in 2nd century AD. Aristotle believed that building a structure at such a large scale was a tyrannical ploy to get the public to labor for the state, leaving no time to rebel. The temple was destroyed by an earthquake in Medieval times, but the ruins of only 15 of 104 Corinthian columns remain. This area also has Roman baths, classical houses and a section of the ancient city’s fortification wall.
Now I’m normally not a huge fan of museums, as I prefer to soak up a city’s history and culture from the streets. But the Acropolis Museum blew me away. Entrance is just 5€ (3€ for students) and worth it for a view of 4,000+ original artifacts in a modern setting. It was only just opened in 2009!The museum was designed with Athens in mind. The first level displays finds from the settlement and sanctuaries on the slopes of the Acropolis. The top floor is the same dimensions as the Parthenon and rotated to align with the original, with remaining marble pieces in the relative positions. Arguably the most exciting part of the museum was the Lego exhibit, a replica of Athens itself.
Whats more, gaze out the windows for an immaculate view of the city!
Temple of Hephaestus
Located on Kolonos Agoraios hill overlooking the Agora, the Temple of Hephaestus, built in 450 BC, is the best preserved in Greece. It was named from the god of volcanoes, fire and metalworking, and the physically imperfect who was made to perform manual labor. On the eastern front of the temple, there are sculptures depicting the labors of Hercules and the battle of Thesseus with the Pallentides, the fifty children of Pallas. On the west side the sculptures depict the fall of Troy.
Tower of the Winds
Located in the Roman Agora, Tower of the Winds or Horologium was erected around 50 BC to help measure time based on the position of the sun. The tower features sundials, a water clock and a wind vane. Each of the building’s eight sides faces a point of the compass, depicting the eight wind deities according to their direction: Boreas (N), Kaikias (NE), Eurus (E), Apeliotes (SE), Notus (S), Livas (SW), Zephyrus (W) and Skiron (NW).
Built in 132 Ad, Hadrian’s Library was a gift from the Roman Emperor Hadrian to the people of Athens. Hadrian was an ardent cultural Hellenophile, and he did much to leave his mark here. The library stored papyrus scrolls and tons of books. Arch of Hadrian was built to celebrate the arrival of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and to honor him for his many benefactions to the city. An inscription facing Acropolis reads ‘this is the Athens, the ancient city of Theseus’ and the other side says ‘this is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus.’
Kallimarmaro Panathenaic Stadium
This Roman wonder is the world’s only stadium made entirely of white marble. It was built in 1869 and hosted the first modern Olympic games in 1896. The stadium was used again for the 2004 Olympics and still hosts atheletic events and major concerts with a capacity of 60,000. Admission is just 3 euros and includes a taped history of the stadium and headphones. The views alone are worth it.
Wander the diverse neighborhoods
I urge you to throw out the map and get lost in the maze of streets, shops, galleries, and cafes in the various quirky neighborhoods. You never know what hidden gems you will stumble upon! Interested in connecting with locals? Check out Dopios or Athens Insiders for a variety of historical, cultural and culinary experiences. Syntagma: At the heart of modern Athens, this area known as Constitution Square is home of Parliament where political demonstrations often take place. The Monument of the Unknown Soldier is guarded around the clock by two men wearing traditional uniform called Evzones. You can catch the ceremony of the Changing of the Guards each hour.
Monastiraki: A popular bohemian district, famous for its open air food market and a wide range of antique shops with books, vinyls, cookware, souvenirs, arts and crafts, and funky clothing. Stroll down bustling Adrianou street to access the ground level ruins. Be sure to try Κωστας (Kostas), a local favorite for the “best Souvlaki in Athens,” Krinos for your sweet fix, and Six D.O.G.S. for cocktails.Plaka: The oldest neighborhood in Athens, known as “Neighborhood of the Gods” is located right below Acropolis hill, nestled between Syntagma and Monastiraki. It retains its traditional charm, with neoclassical houses and old, pedestrian friendly, winding streets. Check out Voulis St. for chic wine bars such Oinoscent, alongside hip cafés and classic Greek taverns.Ignore the ugly tagging covering some walls, vibrant and intricate Cycladic street art is found heavily concentrated in Exarchia, Monastiraki and Psirri neighbourhoods
Athens, I thought we would make wonderful memories together. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with me. It’s my fault for being so closed off and it’s clear I’m just not the right one for you.
Although Athens didn’t sweep me off my feet, I am confident there is a special someone out there to offer the compassion she deserves. No hard feelings please, let’s still be friends?
Have you ever been to a city that disappointed but you were determined to make the most of it? How did you cope?