THINGS TO SEE IN ATHENS
Acropolis and the new Acropolis Museum:
One of the most famous monuments of the ancient Western world. For a visit to the wonderful new Acropolis museum you may book your visit on the museum’s website: http://www.newacropolismuseum.gr. In this age of superlatives, it's hard to define the historic and artistic importance of the Acropolis. Crowned by the Parthenon, the Acropolis (literally, high city ) rises gleaming like a beacon above the grey concrete of modern Athens, a lasting testament to ancient Greece's glorious Golden Age in the 5th century BC. The acropolis has been the heart of Athens since the beginning of recorded time. The first settlers arrived here in Neolithic times, drawn by the permanent springs. It developed into a powerful Mycenaean city, associated with the mythical hero Theseus. The Mycenaean ruled from a palace that stood between where the Parthenon and the Erechtheion stand today. People lived on the Acropolis until 510 BC. Then the Delphic Oracle ruled that the Acropolis should be dedicated to the gods. The four major monuments — the Parthenon, Erechtheion, Propylaia and the Temple of Athina Niki (Victory) survive in remarkably good condition given the battering they've suffered over the centuries. The only entrance is at the western side of the Acropolis. From Roman Agora in the Plaka, signs point uphill. At the entrance ask for the helpful guide (free but not always offered).
Ancient Agora in Placa:
The commercial, political and social heart of the city in ancient times. The National Archaeological Museum, http://www.culture.gr. One of the great museums of the world, home to the most important findings from archaeological sites around the country.
Syntagma square (Constitution square):
In 1830 the Plaka was the nucleus of Athens. Syntagma Square (now the heart of the city) was on the outskirts of town. It was created in 1834 as part of a grand plan drawn up by the best of Bavarian architects called in by King Otto's father, Ludwig, to create a worthy capital for newly independent Greece. Originally, Syntagma Square was a large front yard for the new royal palace with the country's leading families building mansions around it. The Hotel Grand Bretagne, the adjacent Hotel King George II, the palatial Zappeion in the national garden, and the stately architecture lining Queen Sophia Avenue behind the palace (now embassies and museums) are all surviving examples of these early mansions.
Originally known as Plateia Vasileos Othon, it became known as Syntagma (that means constitution) Square after a riotous crowd jammed the square on 3 September, 1843, demanding a constitution. King Otto, giving a speech from the balcony of the Royal Palace (now the Greek Parliament), overlooking the square, gave people a constitution. Today the city's busiest subway station brings people into the café filled square. Plane trees (chosen for their resilience against pollution and the generous shade they provide) make Syntagma Square a breezy and restful spot. Traffic is relatively limited as even and odd numbered licence plates are prohibited in the centre on alternate days, parts of the city centre are strictly for pedestrians, and the city's public transport has improved since 2004, when Athens hosted the Olympic Games. Along this square you'll find the city's most venerable hotels. Buses to the airport (parked in front of the City Bank) also leave from Syntagma.
The Greek Parliament:
Greece's imposing parliament building, where 300 representatives (elected every 4 years) tend to the business of state, overlooks Syntagma Square.
It was completed in 1842 at a time of rapidly escalating tensions between the new Bavarian elite and frustrated leaders of the War of Independence. The palace, badly damaged by fire in 1909 and refurbished in the 1930s, has been the home of the Greek Parliament since 1935.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier:
In front of the Parliament buildings is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded by the much-photographed Evzones. These are clad in the traditional pleated kilt (fustanella), white britches and pom-pom shoes made famous by the klephtes, the mountain fighters who battled so ferociously in the War of Independence. The pleats in the soldiers' skirts are 400, one for each year of Turkish/Ottoman occupation. The Evzones change guard every hour =on the hour- with a full changing-of-the-guard ceremony. The changing of the guard is accompanied by a marching band, at 11:00 on Sundays.
This pedestrian shopping street leads from Syntagma down into the Plaka. When first pedestrianised in 2000, merchants were upset. Now, they love the ambiance created as countless locals and tourists stroll through what has become a people-friendly shopping zone.
The Church of Kapnikarea:
It is a classic Byzantine church (11th century) with round arches over the windows, bricks with the mortar surrounding the stone, and a domed cupola symbolizing heaven (always painted inside with the omnipotent "Pantocrator" God blessing us). Turning left at the church, on Kapnikareas Street and crossing pedestrian and colourful Pandrossou Street you will arrive at the Roman Agora. Pandrossou Street market leads to Monastiraki Square.
The Athens Cathedral:
It was built with the arrival of King Otto in 1842. A statue of Damaskinos, Archbishop of Greece from 1891 through 1949, faces the cathedral (generally open 8:00-13:00, 16:30-20:00). Since the earthquake of 1989, the church is under renovation and there is scaffolding around it.
Byzantine Church of Agios Eleftherios:
The marble bits are ancient, taken from the ancient agora in 12th century. The carved reliefs above the door are part of a calendar of ancient Athenian festivals, thought to have been carved in the 2nd century AD. The church is sometimes referred to as the old cathedral because it was used by the archbishops of Athens after they were evicted from the Parthenon by the Turkish. Step inside for pure 12th century Orthodox architectural beauty.
The Monument of Lysicrates:
This elegant marble monument is the sole survivor of many such monuments that once lined this ancient "Street of the Tripods." It was so called because the monuments came with bronze tripods that displayed grand ornamental pottery vases and cauldrons (like those you'll see in the museums) as trophies. These ancient prizes were awarded to winners of choral and theatrical competitions staged at the Theatre of Dionysos on the southern side of the Acropolis. This lonely monument was erected in 334 BC by Lysicrates, proud sponsor of the winning choral team that year. Excavations around the monument uncovered the foundations of other monuments which are now reburied under a layer of red sand awaiting further study.
The Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds:
The Romans conquered Greece in about 150 BC and stayed for centuries. This square was the commercial centre of Roman Athens with a colonnade providing shade for shoppers browsing along the many shops and stores that fronted this square. Centuries later, the Ottoman's made this their grand bazaar. The mosque survives. The octagonal Tower of the Winds, built in the 1st century BC, was an ingenious combo clock, weather vane, and guide to the planets. It's named after the beautiful relief carvings that depict the eight winds the ancient Greeks had names for. As you walk downhill you will see a boy with a harp, a boy with a basket of flowers (summer wind), a relief with a circle, and a man blowing a conch shell — he's imitating Boreas, the howling winter winds from the north. The tower was capped with a weather vane, in the form of a bronze Triton (half-man, half-fish) that spun indicating which wind was blessing or cursing the city at the moment.
Bronze rods protruded from the walls, acting as sundials to indicate the time. And when the sun was not shining, time was told by the tower's sophisticated water clock, powered by water piped in from springs on the Acropolis. Under Turkish rule, dervishes used the tower as a place of whirling and prayer.
To the right of Pandrossou, the market street from where you entered the square, stands a mosque (Arabic script over door, place of worship from 15th to 19th century, today housing the temporarily closed Museum of Ceramics). Behind the mosque stand the Corinthian columns of Hadrian's Library (2nd century AD. The yellow train station (Athens' original British-built 19th century train station — neoclassical with a dash of Byzantium —today serves metro lines 1 and 3). Just past the station, a road leads downhill into the flea market (antiques, jewellery, and clothing). Opposite the Acropolis, Athinas Street leads straight to Omonia Square past the bustling Central Market (5 minute’s walk). The small church in the square is the Church of the Virgin Mary (12th century, Byzantine). Behind the church, the street is crowded with locals eating some of the best souvlaki in town.