For our first full day in Athens, and while we still were supposed to have some good weather, we decided to visit the Acropolis. We began our day by getting crepes, both savory and sweet, and then taking the walking path up to the site.
We hadn’t researched what exactly the Acropolis was and the other sites that might be in the same area beforehand as we felt like simply exploring. Our first stop ended up being the Ancient Agora; as all other sites in Greece would be, we got in for free as we went to a school in the European Union.
One of the main sites in the Ancient Agora is the Temple of Hephaestus. The patron god of metal-working, craftsmanship, and fire, Hephaestus was also the husband of Aphrodite. Constructed in 449 BC, the temple was turned into a Christian church in the seventh century and was used as such up until the 1800s.
On the other side of the complex is the Stoa of Attalos, which was originally built in 138 BC, but reconstructed from 1952-1956. In addition to housing the Museum of the Ancient Agora, the structure now hosts important events such as the 2003 Treaty of Accession of 10 countries to the European Union.
Scattered throughout the Ancient Agora were numerous other ruins including statues of Roman royals.
In the back of the site is the Church of the Holy Apostles. Dated to around the late 10th century, the church is significant as the only monument in the Agora, other than the Temple of Hephaestus, to survive intact since its founding.
After leaving the Ancient Agora, we ran into Hadrian’s Library, built by the Emperor Hadrian in 132 BC. It was created as a public square surrounded by the library, various reading rooms, and lecture halls.
At this point it was time to start heading up the hill towards the Acropolis. There were two paths up and we weren’t sure which to go to leading us to explore a different side of Athens.
A giant rock located next to the Acropolis, the Areopagus gives you great views of both the Acropolis and the city of Athens. Historically, this was where the elders of Ancient Athens met for law-making.
The first site we saw was the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, completed in 161 AD. It was used as a venue for musical concerts with a capacity of 5,000. Since the 1950s, it has been the main venue of the Athens Festival, which runs from May through October annually. Artists who have performed here include Plácido Domingo, Maria Callas, and Elton John.
My favorite building of the Acropolis was the Erechtheion, an ancient Greek temple dedicated both Athena and Poseidon. Built between 421 and 406 BC, the site was associated with some of the most holy relics of the Athenians, for example the sacred olive tree that sprouted when Athena struck the rock with her spear in her successful rivalry with Poseidon for the city. Over time it became a church, a palace, and a harem before being restored in the 1980s.
Located at the top of the Acropolis, in addition to all the ancient sites, was a viewing point with the Greek flag flying.
Finally we saw the Parthenon, which was unfortunately marred view-wise due to construction. Dedicated to the goddess Athena, it was constructed in 432 BC and is considered the most important surviving building of Classical Greece. Though it had a shrine to Athena, the Parthenon was used as a treasury rather than for any religious function. In the sixth century it was converted into a Christian church, becoming the fourth most important Christian pilgrimage destination in the Eastern Roman Empire. In the mid 1400s, after the Ottomans invaded, it became a mosque before being partially destroyed in 1687. The restoration of the Parthenon began in 1975 and is continuing today.
After exploring the Acropolis, we went to find a place for lunch. We ended up at a very traditional establishment where we ordered a series of small dishes to share. It was our first experience with classic Greek food to mixed results.
We then headed to the Acropolis Museum, located at the bottom of the Acropolis site. Opened in 2009, it is an archeological museum that focuses on the history of the Acropolis and makes understanding the site much easier. Nearly 4,000 objects are exhibited along with ruins underneath the building.
We spent quite a bit of time at the museum, partly waiting out a storm, before leaving to wander the city to see some other sites. As we passed a yogurt and smoothie place, we realized we needed some energy. I decided on traditional Greek yogurt with hazelnuts and honey.
The next site we saw, right across the street in fact, was the Arch of Hadrian, also known as Hadrian’s Gate. It was founded around 130 BC, though it is unclear who commissioned the structure.
Across from Hadrian’s Gate was the Temple of Olympian Zeus, though as it was late, we could only look through the gates. Construction began in the sixth century BC, but wasn’t finished until the second century AD. During the Roman period, the temple was known as the largest temple in Greece.
Our last stop of the day before heading back to our Airbnb was the National Garden, a public park located directly behind the Greek Parliament building. We wandered around the park looking at the various statues and plants as the sun set.
One of the statues we discovered depicted Greece in the form of a woman crowning the English poet Lord Byron. Created by the French sculptors Henri-Michel Chapu and Alexandre Falguière, the statue was erected in 1896 to remember the romantic who loved Greece.
Located in the middle of the National Garden was the Zappeion, a Conference and Exhibition Center used for meetings and ceremonies. Opened in 1888, it was originally built as part of the revival of the Olympic Games and was used as the main fencing hall.
To get back home, we walked through the longest shopping street in Athens, Ermou, beginning at Syntagma Square. The most famous and important square of modern-day Athens, it was named after the Constitution that the first King of Greece, Otto, was obliged to grant after a popular and military uprising in 1843.
We got dinner at a touristy restaurant on Ermou and got some groceries before walking back to the Airbnb. It was a very long and busy day, but worth it for all the sites we got to see.