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Athens Travel Guide

Athens has been inhabited continuously for over 7000 years. Its acropolis, protected by a ring of mountains and commanding views of all approaches from the sea, was a natural choice for prehistoric settlement.

It’s development into a city-state and artistic centre reached its zenith in the fifth century BC with a flourish of art, architecture, literature and philosophy that pervaded Western culture forever after.

Since World War II, the city’s population has risen from 700,000 to four million – and is now home to more than a third of the country’s population.

The speed of this process is reflected in the city’s chaotic mix of retro and contemporary: cutting edge clothes shops and designer bars stand by the remnants of the Ottoman bazaar, and crumbling Neo-classical mansions are dwarfed by brutalist 1960′s apartment blocks.

The ancient sites are only the most obvious of Athens’ attractions. There are attractive cafes, landscaped stair-streets, and markets; startling views from the hills of Lykavitos and Filopappou; and, around the food of the Acropolis, scattered monuments of the Byzantine, medieval and nineteenth-century town.

Plaka is the best place to begin exploring the city. One of the few parts of Athens with charm and architectural merit, its narrow winding streets and stairs are lined with nineteenth-century Neo-classical houses.

An attractive approach is to follow Odhos Kydhathineon, a pedestrian walkway starting on Odhos Filellinon, south of Syddagma. It continues through cafe-crowded Platia Filomoussou Eterias to Odhos Adhrianou, which runs nearly the whole east-west length of Plaka from Hadrian’s Arch to the Thission.

The downhill, northerly section of Adhrianou is largely commercial as far as the Roman Forum. But a few steps south from Kydhathineon, there’s a quiet and attractive sitting space around the fourth-century-BC Monument of Lysikrates, erected to celebrate the success of a prize-winning dramatic chorus.

Continuing straight ahead from the Kydhathineon-Adhrianou intersection up Odhos Thespidhos, you reach the edge of the Acropolis precinct.

Up to the right, the whitewashed Cycladic houses of Anafiotida cheerfuly proclaim an architect-free zone amidst the highest crags of the Acropolis rock.


A rugged limestone plateau, watered by springs and rising an abrupt 100m out of the plain of Attica, the Acropolis was one of the earliest settlements in Greece, drawing a Neolithic community to its slopes around 5000 BC.
In Mycenaean times it was fortified around a royal palace and temples where the cult of Athena was introduced. During the ninth-century-BC, it became the heart of the first Greek city-state, and in the wake of Athenian military supremacy and a peace treaty with the Persians in 449 BC, Pericles had the complex reconstructed under the directions of architect and sculptor Pheidias, producing most of the monuments visible today, including the Parthenon.

Having survived more or less intact for over two thousand years, the Acropolis finally fell victim to the demands of war.

In 1687 besieging Venetians ignited a Turkish gunpowder magazine in the Parthenon, blasting off the roof, and in 1801, Lord Elgin removed the frieze (the “Elgin Marbles”), which he later sold to the British Museum.

Meanwhile, generations of visitors have slowly worn down the Parthenon’s surfaces; and, more recently, smog has been turning the marble to dust.

“Since 1981, visitors have been barred from the Parghenon’s precinct, and a major restoration programme is proceeding sporadically; scaffolding and cranes may obscure the view.”

The Parthenon was the first great building in Pericles’ plan. Designed by Iktinos, it utilizes all the refinements available to the Doric order of architecture to achieve an extraordinary and unequalled harmony.

Built on the site of earlier temples, it was intended as a new sanctuary for Athena and a house for her cult image, a colossal wooden statue decked in ivory and gold plate that was designed by Pheidias and considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; the sculpture was lost in ancient times, but its characteristics are known through later copies.

“Parthenon” means ”virgins’ chamber” and initially referred only to a room at the west end of the temple occupied by the priestesses of Athena.

To the north of the Parthenon stands the Erechtheion, the last of the great works of Pericles. Here, in symbolic reconciliation, Athena and the city’s old patron Poseidon-Erechtheus were both worshipped.

On the south side, in the Porch of the Caryatids, the Ionic line is transformed into six maidens (caryatids) holding the entablature on their heads.

Placed discreetly on a level below that of the main monuments, the Acropolis Museum contains nearly all of the portable objects removed from the Acropolis since 1834.

Rock-hewn stairs immediately below the entrance to the Acropolis ascend the low hill of the Areopagus, site of the court of criminal justice. Following the road or path over the flank of the Acropolis, you come out onto pedestrianized Dhionysiou Aeropayitou, by the Odeion of Herodes Atticus.

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