Named after the goddess of wisdom and military victory, the city has been in existence for over three millenniums, giving you unlimited choices of things to see in Athens. It was the centre of culture, art and science and one of the leading city-states in ancient Greece. Democracy was born there. Every now and then, foreign power would come and rule the city, from Phillip of Macedon and Alexander the Great, the Romans, Franks, Florentines, Venetians and Ottomans. There were a lot of things to enjoy here, and being a lazy traveller, I did not regret spending 5 days in Athens!
Unfortunately, some of the ancients buildings were damaged during the wars throughout the centuries. Like the war between Venice and the Ottoman in the 17th century. The Ottoman dismantled the Temple of Athena Nike to erect a cannon battery and also used Parthenon as the storage for their ammos and gunpowder. The result? Complete destruction of the roof and most of the walls. The Venetians also looted the Parthenon, btw. 😅
HOW TO GET TO ATHENS
From Eleftherios Venizelos airport, we took a Metro from the airport to Syntagma station. The platform is located right outside the arrival building with a bit of luggage dragging and going up and down the escalators. I finally downloaded the train app and bought the tickets online (TrainOSE) because somehow my credit card didn’t work in the ticketing machine and we got no small bills! From Syntagma we switched train to get to Akropoli station. This was where I got pickpocketed! Anyway, after all the drama we decided to put our bags in the hotel first. And as soon as we got out of the station, we were welcomed by an array of restaurants and their very persuasive waiters. 😅 From there, it is easy to reach Plaka and Monastiraki by foot.
THINGS TO SEE
There were just too many and honestly, I didn’t take any picture of some of them. 😂 But some of my must-visits were:
Admission: €10 (in March, but it’s higher in summer time).
This ancient citadel with buildings from the 5th century BC, is of course always on anyone’s itinerary while in Athens. And even if it was in March, there were still a lot of visitors there. I could barely take a picture without photobombs!
♦ Parthenon ♦
Probably the best-known icon of Athens, or Greece. Built in the 5th century BC (around 447-432 BC), this marble temple was dedicated to the city’s patron goddess, Athena Parthenos. It has gone through a lot in over two millenniums, from earthquakes, explosion to plunder and other man-inflicted damages. Just like with other ancient buildings and ruins, the restoration was still ongoing when I was there (the workers were working all day!).
♦ Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus ♦
Built in the 6th century BC and considered as the oldest theatre in Greece. It is believed that this was the place of the beginning of European theatre. Initially, it was part of the temple to hold religious ceremonies dedicated to Dionysus, God of Wine and Grape Harvest. It later evolved to a theatre where the Greek dramas were performed. The theatre itself has undergone several remodellings and modifications throughout the centuries in Greek and Romanesque style.
♦ Erechteion ♦
A marble temple dedicated to Athena, Poseidon, Hephaistos and some local heroes, built in the 5th century BC. The area around it was also considered the most sacred in Acropolis. In the 6th Century AD it was converted to a Church and 900 years later, the Ottoman Turkish governor used it as a harem. What’s interesting to me is that the columns were in the shape of a woman supporting the structure over her head. This specific sculpture is called “Caryatid”, which literally means ‘maiden of Karyai”. We can find some of the Caryatids in Acropolis Museum now.
New Acropolis Museum
I don’t know which one is the best, going to the Acropolis first then this museum or the other way around. I did go to the Acropolis first because, well, it was right there calling us out!
In the museum, you can find various artifacts excavated from the Acropolis (mostly sculptures). On the 2nd floor, there is a restaurant if you want to have lunch and also a comfortable reading lounge if you feel like hanging out there longer while finishing your reading. Or you can also get your caffeine boost in the café and do some shopping in the souvenir shop on the ground floor.
When you’re outside, before entering the building, don’t forget to look under your feet! Exactly beneath the walkway are the ruins of ancient Greek structures from the 7th AD.
Church of Panagia Kapnikarea
I was actually on my way to Monastiraki when I saw this church. It looked small in terms of size and was surrounded by bigger, newer buildings, but somehow stood out for being so different, like an anomaly. But I guess that is how it’s like in places as old as Athens or Rome, the old and the new stand side by side.
This Greek Orthodox church is dedicated to The Virgin Mary and was built some time in the 11th century on the ruins of an ancient temple. It was once almost relocated or demolished in 1834 after the Greek War of Independence when the authorities opened the street. But thanks to King Ludwig I of Bavaria (father of King Otto of Greece) and Bishop Neofytos Metaxas, the plan was cancelled and we can still see the church standing there today.
While the construction and kufic brick patterns on the exterior of the church date back to the 11th century, most of the interior (paintings and mosaics) we see today was done much later, i.e. in the early 20th century (1936-1955) by the Greek artists.