Athens

Athens: Top 10

(continuer en français) – Published: January 22, 2022

The capital of Greece first evokes Antiquity. That period of History when it was the centre of the known world for what would become the Western civilisation. Its heyday was around the 5th century BC, when the whole Mediterranean basin was under its control. Since then, the changes in history have been cruel, but the curiosity of visitors has restored it to its former grandeur.

01. Acropolis

The Acropolis dominates Athens with its 156 meters of altitude and its centuries of history. The goal of so many conquests, it has been remodelled by each of its conquerors, until we are left with this field of ruins where we can look for the source of Western civilisation. Today, the remains of the temples dating from the 5th century BC are being consolidated, removing later additions (more).

02. Roman Agora

Between the Acropolis and the tourist district of Plaka lies a fenced-in area with rows of columns and a few sections of wall that are difficult to make sense of. During the period of Roman rule, a large market was located here, the economic centre of the city. Only the surprisingly intact Tower of the Winds catches the eye.

03. Agora of Athens

Unlike its Roman neighbour, the Agora of Athens cannot be seen from the outside. This ancient residential area was razed to the ground to recover the traces of buried religious and civic buildings. Two of them were rebuilt, the Hephaestheion temple and the Stoa of Attalus, which serves as a museum where fragments from the archaeological excavations are displayed.

04. Hadrian’s Gate

Probably built around 130 AD during the benevolent visit of the Roman emperor, the gate in the form of a triumphal arch has come down to us in good condition, although its meaning has been lost. Its proximity to the busy Avenue Amalias shows the difficulty of making ancient remains coexist with later city developments.

05. Acropolis Museum

The museum is an essential complement to the visit to the Acropolis. It has an abundant collection of all the finds as well as some of the sculptures, which have been replaced by casts for their protection. The numerous explanations allow a better understanding of the metamorphosis of the site. Opened in 2009, the museum has all the modern comforts.

06. Archaeological Museum

To go beyond Athens, beyond Greece, the museum presents a collection that places Athens in a wider historical context, starting from prehistoric times. Major works found during excavations throughout the Greek world are on display. Like this Zeus, a large bronze dating from 450 BC, found in a wreck in the Aegean Sea.

07. Benaki Museum

Originally a private collection assembled by the Benaki family in their large mansion in the centre of Athens. The works cover mainly the history of Greece from Antiquity to the war of independence against the Turks. This allows for a more diverse view of the country, beyond the ancient sites that are usually highlighted.

08. Changing of the Guard

This has essentially become a tourist attraction, although the motivation is based on pride in national identity. The dress and movements of the evzones, the members of the Presidential Guard, include a rich symbolism built on a long history. Apart from the large Sunday changing of the guard, every hour there is a small one.

09. Pláka

The old district at the foot of the Acropolis has a lot of charm. You have to pass the first streets, full of souvenir shops and restaurant terraces. You have to get to the narrow white-painted streets reminiscent of the villages on the islands. Primitive, rudimentary houses, steps, cats and some plants give the image of an ancient city.

10. Mount Lycabettus

Mount Lycabettus is a wonderful balcony overlooking the whole city, including the Acropolis. There is a chapel at the top, but the main reason for coming is the view. The best is at sunset, when the rows of lights come on, the harbour of Piraeus takes on the colours of sunset and the Acropolis lights up. Yes, there is a cable car.

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20 comments

  1. Athens has for so long intrigued me for its rich history. But when the city hosted the Olympic Games in 2004, with an elegant and beautiful opening ceremony highlighting the cultural heritage of the Greek civilizations, my interest in the Greek capital and the country in general began to really develop. This post of yours reminds me why I should visit Athens sooner than later (maybe after some sort of normalcy returns, whichever that might look).

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    • The choice of Greece and Athens in particular can be seen as part of a cycle of visits to the sources of Europe. In the past, I had visited Egypt-Athens and Rome in a few weeks. This year, due to the current restrictions, I am content with the last two stages, but what a historical and cultural density! In addition, I have the chance to extend these visits with the collections of the Louvre. Enough to spend the winter sheltered from the cold and boredom!

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  2. I visited in 2006 in another time not into pictures so not too many memories of it. However, have niece teaching there and several friends even classmates from high school and university. I should have visited more! Too many places lol!

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    • The good news is that the Acropolis hasn’t changed much. But the museum is a real plus. On my previous visit it didn’t exist yet, but this time I really enjoyed it and all of this in the air conditioning.

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  3. It’s been so long since I visited Athens so these pictures were a needy reminder of its beauties. I remember it all so well, it was in the 1970’s and we went in late January when it should have been very cold. It was so hot, a mini-heatwave had hit Athens so I had to dash out and buy some blouses as I’d only gone with sweaters (tee shirts weren’t heard of then, nor layering)!

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    • Global warming is not a new thing though. Greece, however, gives the impression of a sunny and warm country. This could explain why nudity is so widespread in their statuary for example.

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  4. Good choices for top ten – I think we’ve seen most of these ourselves. The changing of the guard is one of the more humorous such pageants, don’t you think, even though it’s a bit of a tourist thing. Glad you included Plaka, it’s full of tat shops but we think you can’t help but enjoy the atmosphere.

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    • I’m not a big fan of the changing of the guard, but having done some research on the evzones, I admire their eagerness to show pride in their history. As for Pláka, I had a wonderful time photographing these narrow lanes where no one passes but a few bored cats.

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