An overdose of some incredible history, awesome archaeological sites, absolutely spectacular beaches, breathtaking island getaways and some mouth-watering street food…these simply put, is amazing Athens.
A trip to Greece with a plan to explore Athens is probably one of the top picks in all of Europe. Being one of the oldest named cities in the world, Athens never ceases to charm a visitor. In southern Europe, this 5000 years old city, is a clear testament of its cultural achievements during 5th century BC that created the western civilisation. Taking the name of its patron Goddess Athena, this amazing city is nothing short of frozen history in beautiful ruins. One extraordinary feature of this city is the fact that you get to see a piece of history everywhere you go. Right among the new structures of the modern metropolis that it has become now, you will find a piece of historical ruins appearing suddenly to grab your attention and make you wonder what it could actually be.
Passing through time in glorious history
My first visit to Athens had been during the bright summer. Despite the peaking summer time, with an added element of excitement of just being there, never did I mind the heat as the evenings were cool anyway. The first box to tick as a part the travel plan is to make sure to stay close to The Acropolis, very simply, to get ample sights of this incredible structure both in daylight, as well as when lit after dark.
As an ultimate destination for any traveller and as the most visited, the Acropolis of Athens never ceases to loose its incredible status in the world of travel. It was the first on my agenda as I started my walk towards this citadel located right atop a rocky outcrop, as the name Acropolis translates as highest point in greek, overlooking the city of Athens. This elevated landscape played the host for many a historically significant architectural masterpieces.
A lot of ‘must-see’s when in Athens can be done on walking, as we were witness to the temple of Olympian Zeus is the first spectacle that we get to witness as one of the largest in antiquity. This colossal temple right at the centre of Athens is on the way to The Acropolis. As we ascend, it seems like passing through time that narrates some epic stories at every point, with incredible structural forms of ruins.
As we walk towards the flattened sacred rock of Acropolis, the first encounter with exciting history is the Theatre of Dionysus. Supposedly constructed by the late sixth century BC, this first orchestra terrace is said to have hosted some historically significant & dramatic performances by Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylos and Aristophanes, with a full capacity of up to 17,000 till Roman period. It sure, is an awesome natural amphitheatre indeed, right up on the hill.
After an awesome thought of having witnessed an imaginary concert in the remains of a glorious amphitheatre, a bit of walking brings us to the Ruins of the Asklepieion. This is said to be the sanctuary built to honour the Gods of healing Asclepius and Hygieia, and even served as a hospital in the ancient Greek world. Moving on one gets to see the Stoa of Eumenes, a gallery for the spectators with high arches on the wall on what appears as an artificial terrace.
As we ascend, it gets better. The next stop that can inspire an artist to give it all to see himself / herself performing here. The Odean of Herodes Atticus, is nothing short of a brilliant piece of ancient architecture. This Roman theatre in stone is said to have been built in 161 AD by the Greek Herodes Atticus as a tribute to his wife. This seems to narrate his love & his interests. The best thing about this spot is that it forces you to let your imaginations run away into picturising those ancient concerts being held with a full house audience on those steep rocky seating…spectacular indeed!. Currently it hosts some of the best concerts and other events and if you happen to plan your travel to Athens, look for the schedule, as the most popular Athen festival happens from may to October.
It is then a short climb up to the sacred rock, the flattened top of the Acropolis. On reaching the flattened top of the hill, it is a surreal sight of some of the most important masterpieces of incredible architecture and artistic expression in limestones. Clearly as a grand entrance to something spectacular and one of a kind in the world, the Propylaea, though partially ruined stands as the monumental gateway to the Acropolis of Athens. Most visitors, as they climb the grand steps of Propylaea, stop to take pictures and this results in slow movement up momentarily which actually adds a bit more to the excitement of being a steps away from witnessing some incredible monuments.
At about 150 meters above sea level, standing 14 meters tall, is one of the most beautiful & monumental creations in the world, the Parthenon. This 438 BC creation stand majestically supported by those Doric columns that are recognisable throughout the world instantly. The magnificence of the structure is so overwhelming that as a visitor you tend to ignore the restoration work happening all around. In fact it is very interesting to see the way the modern engineers are perfecting the restoration work by matching the colour, shape & artistic creativity. Looking at it in awe, my thoughts are running amok trying to answer logical answers to those numerous questions in my mind starting from how they would have brought these huge stones up the hill to every aspect of the magnificent workmanship without the modern technology that we are now equipped with.
With difficulty, I had to move away only to look at the other impressive structures that stood on the other side of the Parthenon. The Erechtheion is characterised by the stunning sculpted six virgins standing as columns in support. These Virgins, as the Porch of the Caryatids, seem to offer great views for the whole structure from different spots as you walk around. With the distant skyline of the spectacularly ancient Athens, every click here can turn out to narrate a story.
Moving from Temple of the Athena and the Erechtheion, I find an equally spectacular Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus in its interestingly ruined state as these structures never cease to impress. Very interestingly a lone tree stands strikingly posing right in front of Erechtheion, and is considered as a sacred Moria tree with religious significance.
East of the Parthenon lay the foundations of a small building attributed by the first excavators of the Acropolis to the Temple of Rome and the Roman Emperor Octavian Augustus. These circular marble columns and other exquisite sculptures in their ruined forms lay there as a separated pieces of architectural marvels.
As I walk around, among these archaeological remains of the Acropolis, it is exciting to just be amidst the building blocks of Western Civilisation. The flat top of the Acropolis offers spectacular views of amazing city of Athens.
A trip to the Acropolis is not complete without checking out the most impressive Acropolis Museum. Contrastingly made of steel, glass and concrete, this is a modern structure that treasures most of the significant contemporary works of architecture in Athens. The rich history that defines Athens well represented by over 4000 priceless finds from the Acropolis monuments are displayed in the Museum. One can connect more with the magnificence of the Acropolis, witnessing these works that are in display.
Other sites that stand out
The Panathenaikon Stadium, also called as Kallimarmaron, is right in the heart of the city. It dates back to ancient times, as the host for the very first Olympic Games in 1896. This structural masterpiece is clearly a testament to the sporting spirit of the ancient era and the master craftsmanship, as it stands intact still holding the traditional torch-lighting ceremonies for the modern Olympic Games. I considered myself both lucky and yet not-so-lucky as I arrived in the City but made it to the Stadium as the beautiful ceremony was concluding.
The Zappeion Mansion close to the stadium is another impressive and grand structure, which currently is an exhibition venue that hosts events as a centre for promotion of arts.
The Athenian pie
When it comes to Greek street food, nothing beats the delicious Athenian pies. And my all time favourite is the most authentic Spanakopita, the spinach pie. This flaky pastry with a filling of cooked spinach, feta cheese and the tang from the lemon juice is, without a doubt, a ‘must-have’ when in Athens. There is no better place than Plaka, the historic centre of the city and particularly Athinas Street at the commercial hub, to have these exotic pies as you bury yourself in an ancient time zone experience.
The Temple of Poseidon
When in Athens, one of the must-dos is the scenic drive from the city to Cape Sounion, to witness one of the most spectacular monuments of the golden age of Athens, The Temple of Poseidon. The temple built in archaic period in dedication to the God of sea to grant the seafarers safe journeys, stands in ruins, marking the end of Cape Sounion, right on top of the rocky hill overlooking the Aegean sea.
The Doric columns of the Temple are a standing proof of invasions, wars and extreme weathering over centuries since it was built during 450 BC period. It offers amazing views of the Aegean Sea and if you are one with the lenses, standing right on the edge of the cliff is the best that you can ask for.
The beautiful beach side
Athens, the ancient city, marked with some of the most amazing structural forms of frozen time, also has beautiful beaches to awe every visitor.
Athens…an amazing city indeed!
Pictures – irk99 | www.instagram.com/irk99