Our flight and luggage were greatly delayed so we ended up not getting to our hotel until almost midnight our first day in Athens so we went straight to bed and tried to get up early the next day. I say try because we were really tired and we didn’t end up getting out of the hotel until 9:30 am at which point it was already sweltering outside. We started our climb up to the Acropolis staying in the shade as much as possible.
Entrance into the Acropolis is 20 Euro however you can buy a combined ticket for 30 Euro which gets you into the other famous ancient ruins around Athens so that’s what we did. Since the ticket itself was fairly expensive we skipped a paid tour and decided to use the Rick Steves app to guide us along. The first ancient ruin you see when entering the Acropolis is the Odeon of Herod the Atticus, a half circular theatre built over 2000 years ago that is still used for concerts today. We heard a sound check and the acoustics are absolutely astounding. It was originally built to commemorate the wife of a magistrate who had passed away.
Next we would our way up the steps of the great Propylaea, or gateway, to the Acropolis and gazed upon the important structures flanking it. One of which is the Temple of Athena Nika, built in the Ionic style to symbolize Athens or Athena’s victory in many battles. The other is the Monument of Agrippa, a tall column, which has stood above Athens since 27 B.C. but has been adorned by various statues depending on who was occupying the city – the Romans, Ottomans, etc.
Finally we made it to the jewel of the Acropolis – the Parthenon – the largest temple but more than a temple it also housed the treasury of ancient Greece. The reconstruction and preservation of the temple is still going on but it is remarkable even partially restored. It is important to note that large pieces of the façade are actually located in the British museum – a fact that is particularly frustrating to Greeks.
One of the most unique monuments is the Erechtheion. Instead of the typical columns you see on the Parthenon or other monuments in the Acropolis it has the figures of 6 women holding up the roof. Of course the statues are replicas and the originals are in the museum.
Our last stop before leaving the Acropolis was the lookout post that holds the Greek flag. Apparently when the Nazi’s occupied Athens they ordered a Greek soldier to take down the Greek flag and raise the Nazi flag – he solemnly lowered the flag wrapped his body in it and jumped off the cliff. A couple of weeks later two teenagers climbed up the cliff and rose the Greek flag once again. It’s a great viewpoint high on the cliff and you can see the flag from every point in Athens.
As we walked down the hill we passed more ruins of old Athens underneath the hill of the Acropolis including the Theatre of Dionysus, the god of plays and wine. It is believed to be the first stone theatre and was built about 100 B.C.
At the bottom of the hill we went into the Acropolis Museum and reveled in the air conditioning. The museum is full of carvings and statues excavated from the Acropolis and the final floor has a wonderful view of the Parthenon and is constructed similarly to show all the carvings in the way they were oriented on the Parthenon itself.
After reluctantly leaving the air conditioning we hiked up to Mars Hill, the location where the Apostle Paul spoke to the Athenian people in Acts. It has a great view of Athens but it slightly slippery and scary.
The next day we got up earlier to beat the heat and see the Ancient Agora. The Acropolis was for rituals and rich or important Greeks but the Agora, or city center, was where every day life was lived. This was where the markets, streets, wells, temples, and theatres were that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle strolled through and ‘corrupted the youth’.
We went into the museum located in the Stoa of Attalos (a reconstructed market) and saw ancient Greek jury duty machines, coins, and all sorts of propaganda and pottery. We also saw the Temple of Hephaestus, the most well preserved Greek temple, because it was made a Christian church.
Before heading back to cool down in the hotel we went to the Roman Agora where the Tower of the Winds is located – an ancient weather tower. Finally we saw Hadrian’s Library. Hadrian was a Roman who was slightly obsessed with the Greeks and built many wonderful structures in Athens.
In the evening we went on a free walking tour where we saw Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple to Zeus that he built. We also saw the original Olympic stadium and the most entertaining changing of the guards we’ve seen yet (the guards march like horses and have horse shoes on the soles of their shoes!)
After strolling through the cute neighborhoods of Plaka and Monastiraki the tour ended and we headed to a roof top restaurant to enjoy the beautiful sight of the Parthenon lit up at night.