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Athens Travel Guide - Things to See
Transportation: The subway is good and very cheap. There are also buses and trolley buses. Drop the money in the box or give it to the conductor.

Tourist information: Inside the National Bank on Syntagma Square, you can get free maps, boat schedules and any kind of tourist information.

Syntagma (Constitution Square): The major square in city center. Most tourists prefer staying in this area. Whether you stay in this area or not, you'll invariably come into contact with it several times during your stay.

The Acropolis: This mountain/hill towers over Athens, 515 feet above sea level, and dates back to the Mycenean age... 1500 BC. It was not only a palace and a fortress, but also a whole city. At the end of the 6th century BC, the Acropolis was sanctified as a Holy Place, and the building of the temples began. During many later invasions, the Acropolis was captured and its temples were destroyed. What later came to be known as the "Golden Age of Greece" dates from 450 BC, when the Athenians, under Pericles, devoted much energy to making the Acropolis as beautiful a site as it was possible to create. Most of what is really admired about the place dates back to that time. To reach the Acropolis, take bus #16 from Syntagma Square. It will stop at the steps where one begins to climb to the top.

Theatre of Herod: As you climb the steps to the Acropolis, you'll see this ruin on your right, below. Built in 160 AD by the Roman Herod, it was planned as a memorial to his wife Regilla. It is now the site of summer events. Further over toward the city is the Theatre of Dionysos from the 4th c. BC.

Propylaea: The building at the entrance to the Acropolis... built in 482 BC by the architect Mnesicles. The building was never finished because money ran out.

The Parthenon: Built in honor of Athena, this is one of the most skillfully conceived pieces of architecture in existence. Despite its impressive symmetry, there is not a single parallel or straight line in the whole building. It is all curves... partly because of the necessity to curve the building over the irregular surface, and also to give an impressive look to a structure that was mostly admired from below... but, more importantly, because the ancient Greeks believed that curves were more objectively beautiful than straight lines. For proof that the curves do exist, stoop down to the eye-level of the steps of the Parthenon. You will immediately see a bulge in the center of the steps. The Parthenon is built in doric style, with the usual proportion of 8 columns on the east and west, and 17 columns on the north and south. It is important to remember that no mortar or cement was used in its construction. It really staggers the imagination. Entrance to this structure is now forbidden because of the wear on the marble floor. Restoration has been going on, seemingly forever. Because the area is visible from all over Athens, the tall cranes are lowered each evening. This structure is a magnificent sight! It is open daily 9 - sunset. Free on Thursday and Sundays. Sunday hours are shorter.

Temple of Athena Nike: To the right of the Propylaea, this structure still contains some of its original friezes depicting battles with the Persians and the Gods of Olympus. The temple is dedicated to the Wingless Victory. Other carvings from this temple are now in the Acropolis Museum.

Erechtheum: The only other building still standing on the Acropolis which is located across the open space against the north wall. It is an IONIC Temple that was placed on the most sacred spot where legend has it that the Goddess Athena (Minerva) caused a Sacred olive tree to grow. There is an olive tree on the spot today. Against one wall of this structure stands 6 marble maidens... the Karyatides. The second from the left is a copy. Lord Elgin removed the original sculpture during his pillaging and placed it in the British Museum.

Acropolis Museum: A bit downhill from the Parthenon. Contains some of the relics and pieces of statuary found on the Acropolis...parts of friezes that adorned the temples, and the famous bas-relief Athena Nike Adjusting Her Sandal. Hours of the museum 8 - 7. Closed Tuesday. No photos unless you buy a pass. An excellent museum.

Phllopappus Monument... Socrates Prison Cell... Roman Forum... Lysikrates Monument are some of the ruins you'll see from the Acropolis, or that you will pass as you walk to the Acropolis. While you are at the Acropolis, if you hear a whistle, it means you, or someone is climbing on something that you should not. Rather than yell, the guard's blow whistles.

The Agora: The ancient Roman marketplace below the Acropolis, at the bottom end of The Plaka district. It is dominated by an immense building surrounded by columns, and named after Attalos who was King of Pergamon from 159-138 BC. The Stoa of Attalos contains a bronze plaque listing all the donors who contributed to its re-building. The colonnade is lined with statues such as the headless Aphrodite from 480 BC. The Agora Musuem, hours 8-7, Sun 10-4:30, contains objects as varied as an ancient glass bottle and a statue of a young satyr, his head resting on a kneeling goat.

Temple of Hephaestus: Erected in 450 BC, damaged by fire in 287 AD, now houses a Christian Church from the 5th century. Lots of ancient walls and slabs on which to sit beneath flowering trees while you rest.

Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian's Arch: The Temple was begun in the 6th century BC, but not completed until Hadrian came to Athens. People of that time described it as the most splendid building they had ever seen. Only 16 corinthian columns now remain. Hadrian's Arch, next to the temple, served as a marker between two cities... Theseus and Hadrian.

Sound and light show: Every night at 9 PM except Tuesday and Friday. You can gather on a small hillside, the pnyx, at the south side of the Acropolis and watch what the skillful use of 1500 lights can do for the impressive Parthenon. Lights flash on and off, revealing new aspects of this amazing building. The show lasts 50 minutes and begins to get repetitious after about 20 minutes. It's possible to see the lighting from any open area in Athens, but you won't get the music and the dialogue. Take bus #16 and get off one stop past the stop for the Acropolis... follow the crowds. Plan to walk back or take a taxi after the show is over, because the buses are re-routed during the performance and you won't know where to catch them.

Hellenic Parliament Building: This was once the Royal Palace. In front is The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded by the Evzones, who wear the traditional fez, ruffled skirt, and pompoms. The colorful changing of the guard takes place on Sundays 8 - 10 AM. Very crowded, and one must stand across the street from the Parliament Building. It's a good show!

Omonia Square: One of the most colorful and nosiest squares in Athens. The sounds add to the excitement of this square.

The Plaka: Colorful area where you'll find most of the tourist shops. Most tourists prefer to shop in this area. Many excellent restaurants also.

Archaeological Museum: Daily 9-7, Sun 10-6:30. Closed Monday. Take bus #12 or #2. The Museum is located at Patission and Tositsa Streets...is an enormous place, beautifully laid out, and has been completely renovated. It contains relics, statuary and other centuries-old objects from famous sites all over Greece... even a famous pornographic piece. The best museum in Athens.

Keramikos Cemetery: In the Monastiraki section (148 Ermou Street)... or a 15-minute walk from Syntagma Square. Hours, Wed-Mon 7:30-Sunset, Sun 10-6. Closed Tue. This is an ancient burial ground where some relics date back as far as the Mycenaean era. You'll see the most unusual gravestones in Greece. Its Sacred Way is lined with "bronze statues whose stories are glorious".

Piraeus: This is the seaport of Athens. To get there, the subway is the fastest. Take the subway from Omonia Square or from Monastiraki. You can also take Bus #165 from Filellinin Street... which takes about 30 minutes. The Port, itself is interesting... especially walks around the harbor. Piraeus is where all tours begin to the Greek Islands. There are one-day tours available which include the islands of Aegina, Hydra, and Poros... which leave Piraeus at 8:30 AM and return 5 PM. The longer Greek Island Cruises, on luxury ships also depart from Piraeus.
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Author of this article is Gene Gill. For more information visit his website: Gene Gill Miniatures.
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