The Home of Democracy
Athens is a place of wonder for all travellers, from students and teachers to filmmakers and tourists. The City was the true heart of Classical Greece and is the birthplace of democracy, philosophy and modern politics.
The sprawling city is bordered on three sides by Mt Ymettos, Mt Parnitha, and Mt Pendeli and within the boundaries of modern Athens are twelve hills, seven of which are historical. These hills provide a magnificent view down to the Saronic Gulf, Athens’ entrance to the blue Aegean lying away to the south of the city. The ancient part of Athens is easy to explore as most of the sites of archaeological interest can be found within a relatively small area, near the city centre and close to Syntagma Square. The following are some the top historical heritage sites to see in Athens.
The Athenian Acropolis
The Athenian Acropolis or the “sacred Rock” is one of the world’s most important archaeological sites as it is the sanctuary of the Classical Greek Period. The buildings of the Acropolis are the embodiment ofAthensduring fifth century BC. They represent a tangible memory of the beginnings of democracy, of theatre and Western science, philosophers and written history.
The Acropolis contains several monuments including the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the temple to Athena Nike and the monumental entrance, the Propylaia. All of the constructions were completed during the fifth century BC, a period when the city was at the head of a maritime empire up to when it was weakened by plague and started suffering grievous defeats at the hands of its enemies.
The Acropolis was a military fortress during the Neolithic period as it offers a great view of the land and the sea. During the Mycenaean times, it became a religious centre and was dedicated to worshipping the goddess Athena.
The Ancient Agora
The Ancient Agora is located on the northwest of the Acropolis, between the neighbourhoods of Thission and Monastiraki. The Ancient Agora was the center ofAthensin the antiquity, the place where political gatherings and juries would proceed. During the fifth century BC when Athenian democracy was at its peak, the city council, the presidents of the council, and the magistrates would all meet in the Agora. The Persians destroyed most of the buildings in the Agora in 480 BC, but the Athenians soon rebuilt them.
ThetempleofHephaestusis amongst the most important monuments of the Ancient Agora, and the Stoa of Attalus is the best preserved temple inGreece. The Stoa was constructed by the king of Pergamus, Attalu, between 159 and 138 BC. Today it is open to visitors as a museum and there are many interesting excavations to see.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus
The ancient amphitheater of Herodeion, also known as Edoen of Herodus Atticus, was built during theRoman Empirein about 161 A.D. You’ll find it at the bottom of the Acropolis. It’s still one of the best places to experience a live classical theatre performance. The Roman philosopher, teacher, and politician Herodes Atticus built it in memory of his wife Aspasia Regilla, who died in 160 AD.
The amphitheater is semi-circular and has space for more than 6,000 people. The original roof was a cedar wooden one and the wall of the stage stood more than three storeys high and was embedded with marbles and precious ceramic pieces. Today it stands in ruins; however, the stage and seating area have been renovated.
The Library of Hadrian
One simply cannot miss out on visiting the Library of Hadrian. Although few remains have survived, what’s left is still impressive and gives visitors a real feeling of what it meant to participate in Roman intellectual life. The Library is located outside the metro station of Monastiraki and on the northern side of the Acropolis.
The Roman Emperor Hadrian constructed the Library in 132 A.D. It was built according to a typical Roman Forum architectural model. It has only one entrance, a high surrounding wall, and inner courtyard with a central pool and garden surrounded by marble columns.
The Arch of Hadrian
The arch of Hadrian stands triumphantly between the rock of the Acropolis and the templeof Olympian Zeus. The Arch was built to mark the line between the ancient part ofAthens and Hadrian’s new city, although it is not known exactly who built the arch. During the 18th century, the Arch was used as one of the seven gates in the defensive wall that the Turks built around the city to protect the city from Albanian raiders.
The Arch is made of fine Pentelic marble and is 18m high, 12.5m wide, and 2.3m in depth. The monument has two layers; the centre one was used as an arch gate through which people could pass. There are also two missing columns that were connected by the architraves between the two layers. Unfortunately the Arch no longer retains its majestic colours due to pollution which has caused extensive discoloration of the original material.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
Antistates, Callaeschrus, Antimachides, and Porinus began constructing the temple of the Olympian Zeus in sixth century BC. However, due to political upheaval it was not until 174 BC, 336 years later, that King Antiochus IV Epiphanes started rebuilding the temple by replacing the limestone with high-quality Pentelic marble.
The temple was built in honour of the chief of the Olympian gods, Zeus. In its final form it had 104 columns and an enormous chryselephantine statue of Zeus, along with many other smaller statues of gods and Roman emperors. However, the temple did not stand in its grandeur for more than a few centuries.
A large part of the temple was damaged in 267 AD and in 425 AD the Byzantine emperor Theodosius II prohibited the cult of ancient Greek and Roman gods from meeting in the temple. By the end of the Byzantine period only 21 of the 104 columns were left, as most of them were used for the construction of churches, houses and other buildings in the town.
Today, the statue of Zeus no longer exists and there are only 15 columns left, most of them were destroyed during Turkish rule and many more were destroyed by a severe storm in 1852.
Most of the hotels inAthensare located around Omonia andSyntagma Square, as well as in traditionalAthensneighbourhoods such as Plaka, Thissio, and around the Acropolis. If you prefer coastal views, Glyfada, Voullliagmeni, and Paleo Faliro are central spots. Below is a list of the best accommodation places by location.
- Alexandras Ave
- Hilton Area
- Michalakopoulou Ave
- Paleo Faliro
- Panepistimiou Ave
- Patisson Ave
- Singrou Ave
- Vasilissis Sofias Ave
Travel & Transport
Public transport inAthensis inexpensive. A subway and metro system links the city withPiraeus, the suburbs, and downtownAthens. The ticket fare for the subway and metro is around 250 drs. Busses run regularly all over the city, and the fare is around 150 drs.
TheAthensInternationalAirportis located 27km northeast of the city and is accessible via Attiki Odos, a six-lane motorway constituting theAthens City Ring Road. Public transport is provided by express airport bus connections on a 24-hour basis.
There are more than 15 000 taxis inAthens, however make sure that the fare is set on “1” rather than “2”. Double fare is only for between midnight and 5am, or if you take a taxi outside city limits. There are about 15 radio taxi companies inAthens, but make sure that you check for their numbers in “Your Guide” in the Athens News as their numbers change regularly.
Most of the ancient archaeological sites are all located in the city centre and are very close to each other, so the best would be to explore by foot. There are safe pedestrian zones in sections of the Commercial Triangle, the Plaka, and Kolonaki, making strolling and sightseeing a pleasant experience.