Athens, one of the world’s oldest cities, the cradle of civilization, birthplace of democracy, capital of Greece, and historical capitol of Europe, is a city like no other. It is unique city that once visited will never be forgotten.
It may be the magical mythical history or an image of the great Greek philosophers debating in the shaded lush gardens of the famous Athens Academy. More likely though the first picture that pops into your head is the Acropolis, trademark of Athens.
The main attraction in Athens is the Acropolis, meaning, “the highest point of the city” or “upper city”. There, in the 5th century BC, Pericles initiated the construction of some of the most famous landmarks ever built.
The main building is the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena the Virgin, which has been preserved almost intact. This extraordinary structure of gleaming white marble columns stands proud in its glory, visible from any location in Athens.
Having reached the Parthenon through the entrance, the Propylia, more great monuments are spread out: the Erechtheion, a temple dedicated to goddess Athena, goddess of wisdom. Its south porch rests upon 6 statues of beautiful maidens, the Caryatids. The god Poseidon, god of the sea, contested against Athena about whose name was to be given to this ancient city; Athena won.
Close by to the tiny Temple of Athena Nike (Athena the victorious) are two ancient amphitheaters, the Theater of Dionysus and the Theater of Herodes Atticus, where on summer evenings the Greek comedies and tragedies written by the likes of Aristophanes and Sophocles were performed before the Athenians.
The view from the Acropolis is spectacular. Directly below it lie the narrow, winding streets of the Plaka, the oldest and most scenic neighborhood of Athens, full of character, popular with tourists for its wealth of traditional Greek tavernas, souvlaki, souvenir shops, stylish cafés and wonderful neoclassical architecture. Located here is the flea market of Monasteraki.
Of the many squares in Athens two stand out: Omonia, the oldest square and the largest Syntagma, (Constitution Square) in front of the Greek parliament buildings, once the royal palace where the Greek National Guards – the evzones – in white pleated skirts and red leather curly-toed shoes adorned with a large pom-pom protect the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Leading off of Syntagma Square is Ermou Street, a shopper’s paradise, as is the nearby area of Kolonaki with its high-end boutiques nestling at the foot of Lycabettus, Athens’s highest hill.
Other ancient monuments of note in the city center are: Hadrian’s Arch, the gateway to the city, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus built in the 6th century BC with only 17 of its original 104 Corinthian marble columns remain.
Athens is a city of history, its treasures and artefacts fill many museums to the brim. Few of the main museums are: the National Archaeological Museum of Athens – one of the largest and most important archaeological museums in the world; the Benaki Museum – an extensive collection of Greek artefacts housed in five branches; Museum of Cycladic Art showcasing the famous white marble figurines of the Cyclades Islands; the New Acropolis Museum – an archaeological museum on the south-eastern slope of the Acropolis; Jewish Museum of Greece featuring the culture of the extensive Jewish community in Greece.
Athens by night is an experience. This bustling cosmopolitan city could certainly share New York’s label, as “the city that never sleeps”. Tavernas, restaurants, and bars stay open into the early hours of the morning or the last customer leaves.