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Historic sites of Athens


More Adventure travel tales in Greece:
Samos
Peloponnese
Nafplion
Monemvasia
Mycenae
Olympia
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Ruins of Pompeii, Italy
Florence, Italy
Cappadocia, Turkey
Selçuk, Turkey


The Herodes Atticus Theatre at the Acropolis, Athens

Athens is the Acropolis, the cradle of our civilization. But it is also crowds, pollution, chaos, and traffic jams. Yet, one has to pass by when visiting Greece. Also because all ferries to the islands start and end here.

At 5 AM we arrive in the harbor of Piraeus. The trip from Samos was quiet, but we didn’t get much sleep. Fortunately, the metro to the center of Athens is already going, so a little later we arrive at the hostel recommended by many. The only drawback of this hostel should be its location in a so-so neighborhood. But we only see a quiet street, so that’s fine. But the hostel itself isn’t very good in our opinion. Our room looks and feels cold, and so does the common room. There aren’t much facilities either, so we wonder what the recommendations are based on.

After a nap we head out for an exploration of Athens. All interesting sights are located in the Plaka quarter, so that’s where we are heading for. We soon notice that Athens is indeed a crowded city. Changing of the guards in AthensBut on foot, it doesn’t bother us much. We are just happy to have left deserted Samos. As we approach the city center, the first typical Greek buildings appear, with pillars, staircases, and statues. These are government and university buildings, and as we will find out later, the only typical Greek buildings we will see.

The first place of interest is the house of parliament. We pass just in time to see how the funny looking and silly walking guards are inspected. This must be where the Ministry of Silly Walks is located as well. We walk along and enter the park. There is a warning sign for falling trees, but the people are more in danger because of the fat ducks at the pond. A little boy with popcorn is almost run over by the ducks, who are obviously well fed. Other than that, the park is a peaceful surrounding, especially when the sun breaks through the clouds as we reach the big fountain, where we sit down to relax.

Olympic Stadium

The old Olympic Stadium in AthensFrom the park we walk on to the old Olympic Stadium of Athens. It originates from the 5th century BC, and was completely restored for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. The stadium is large, complete made from marble, and completely intact. The athletics court is still intact, too. But the track is much longer and more narrow than the current tracks, so the stadium cannot be used for modern competitions. In the Olympic Games of 2004, it only played a ceremonial role.

From the park and from the Stadium we saw the Acropolis in the distance. It is often argued that it can be seen from all over Athens, but that’s not true. We decide to visit it the next day, for now we only visit the streets around the hill. A lot of souvenir booths and restaurants, obviously, but we can also obtain an cheap Gyros sandwich. And a bookshop where we can get 3 second hand books for 1 Euro. So not everything is expensive in these touristy surroundings.

The Acropolis

Acropolis means high city, and the most famous of all Acropolisses, is the one in Athens. It is situated on a hill, obviously, and consists of a number of buildings and other structures. After climbing up the hill to the Acropolis, we reach the admission desk, where we can buy a ticket for 12 Euros, giving admission to 5 other sites in Athens as well. But first, we have to climb further, and the first thing we come across is Herodes Atticus theatre. It is the smallest of the 2 theatres near the Acropolis, but this one is still intact, and even being used for festivals in summer. But it is closed now, and we can only watch it from above.

View from the Acropolis to the AgoraThen the path up leads us to the gates, the antique Propylaia, and the Roman Beulle Gate. They are nor very special, and the Propylaia is covered by scaffoldings for renovation. But when we walk through the gates, the masterpiece of the Acropolis appears: the Parthenon. Unfortunately, it is partly in scaffoldings as well, and we cannot discover more to it than we already saw on pictures.

More impressive is the Erechteion, the temple with the 6 Caryatids, the virgins who are supporting the southern porch. There is renovation going on here as well, and we can see how complete blocks of marble are replaced. It is a bit strange that they do not replace missing blocks, but they do replace damaged blocks by completely new ones. So the wall looks old with every once in a while a polished block.

From the Acropolis we have a nice view over Athens. We can see the other monuments of the old city, and far away the old Olympic Stadium. We can also notice the cloud of smog hanging over the city. But we have seen worse in other cities, although the problem are worse here in summertime.

Also in the Acropolis is the museum with found statues and objects. But we are not very impressed by them, a lot is hardly recognizable, and there are no major exhibits, except from the original Caryatids. Those at the temple are fake ones, apparently.

Agora’s

Tower of the wind in AthensWe descend from the hill and notice the one way signs. Probably necessary in summer, but we ignore them now. After lunch, we head for the Roman Agora, which means marketplace. From this marketplace, not much is left, except from some foundations of buildings. What did remain is the eight sided tower of the wind. Each side has a relief depicturing the direction. In the old times, the tower was both a clock and a weathervane.

The ancient angora is much larger than the Roman one. A lot is destroyed here as well, but one of the temples still stands erect. But from afar it looks better than from up close. There is also an old church from the 11th century completely intact, and the eastern stoa is completely renovated. Here, a museum is situated, with more interesting items than in the museum on the Acropolis. We wander around the Agora, and sit down on a small hill for an overview. There is also a drawing here picturing what it must have looked like in the old days.

To see the rest of the sites, we take the metro the next day to drop us off at the back of the Acropolis. At the metro station here a number of items are on display, which were found while digging for the new metro station. Based on the many items found, there must be a whole lot more still in the ground.

Numbered blocks

At the back of the Acropolis is the theatre of Dionysos, god of the underworld. The theatre is big, but not well conserved, apart from a few luxurious seats for the important visitors. The other buildings on this side are in decay as well. They are in renovation, but from the looks of it, that may take quite a while. Whether the numbered blocks, which can be found at every site here, will ever be put together is questionable.

The last historical site we visit in Athens is the temple of the Olympic Zeus. This must have been a huge temple, built with the temple of Artemis in Ephesus as an example. From the temple of Zeus only 16 pillars are left, one of which is fallen down. There is also one in scaffoldings, but it is clear that no more will be rebuilt. Most of the material of the old temple is reused in other monuments.

Illegal?

We walk back into the city, and are lucky enough to see the changing of the guards again. After that, we enjoy the sun on the central square, while we are watching people. There are many people passing by, and to the side are some dark guys offering their goods. Not completely legal, as we learn when everybody suddenly grabs his gear and runs. A policeman has arrived, and arrested one of them. Amazing to see how a complete, although improvised, shopping street just disappears in seconds.

It’s our last day in Athens. It’s good to have seen this historical city, although the old Olympic Stadium impressed us more than the Acropolis. We didn’t suffer from the crowd, chaos and pollution in this city. Maybe because it was quiet at the touristic attractions, and since we had seen enough peace and quiet in Samos.

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