Athens - the land of democracy and intellect.
Enter Athens - The city is almost 8000 years old and is all inspiring to any one who visits this beautiful, magical place. To get to Athens is not difficult - many airlines with loads of tourists visit this city of light every day. When you enter the airport, it suddenly bears semblance to an Asian country and you have to pat yourself to be convinced that you are in a corner of Europe.
When we talk about Greece, two things that strike our minds are Olympics and Democracy - the latter being the essence of modern day society. It is mind boggling to think that man's consciousness of his rights was aroused as early as 5th century BC. People then understood their freedom and understood their uniqueness was not to bow down to any man. They understood law and to avoid violence.
Athens gets its name from Athena the goddess of wisdom. Myth has it that when Poseidon, the sea god and Athena lay claim to the town the sea god struck the rock of Acropolis with a trident and a horse sprang out. And when Athena struck the rock, there came an olive tree. Thus Athena became the protector of the town.
Acropolis is the heart of Athens and the most important sight for any tourist. The rock of Acropolis rises in the middle of Athenian basin, almost 156 m above the sea level. Because of its strategic positioning, it is believed to have been inhabited even in the pre-historic times. This huge rock also offers a good view of all the surrounding areas. There were many temples on Acropolis but everything was reduced to ruins in the Persian war. What you see today are works from classical period believed to have been erected around 447 BC by Pericles. The beule gate in Acropolis has two towers of which one is used for issuing tickets to enter the Acropolis. The Propylia, which was never completed, has its importance for its advanced architectural and artistic plans. Of the four chambers intended to be built here, only one was ever built.
The temple of Athena Nike on the south west of Acropolis is believed to have been built around 427 BC. This monument with monolithic columns is quite small. However, the Parthenon is the highlight on the Acropolis. At first, the Athenians decided to build a Doric temple but it was never completed. Later Pericles built the Parthenon in the highest sacred point of the rock. Here today stands one of the most marvelous structures of Greek architecture. This was build to project Athens' glory and truly even today it is a classical beauty. The temple has 8 columns on each fašade and 17 columns on the side. The statue of Athena, though, does not exist today and is supposed to have been made of valuable metals - gold and ivory. The function of the Parthenon, though controversial, is believed to have been that of a treasury.
To the north of the Parthenon is the second large temple on the Acropolis and that is the Erechtheion. This temple has 2 parts, which do not communicate with each other. The best part of the temple is the statues of six kores. These are the most famous surviving group of sculptures and are believed to be standing guard over the tomb of the mythical founder of Athens - Kekrops.
Of the six statues, five of them have been replaced by plaster casts. The originals are in the Acropolis museum and one in the British Museum. Also in Acropolis, you can find the temple of Rome and Augustus, the temple of Zeus, the house of Arrephorai and many more.
The Acropolis museum on Acropolis is beautiful. It houses essentially all the things from Acropolis. The main attractions are the calf bearer, the Horseman, the Kore from the Erechtheion and the Lion's head from the Parthenon. But, my favorite is the view of the theatre of Dionysos from Acropolis. This is one of the amazing sites because of the sheer style and perfection with which it was built in 5th century BC. It looks like a modern day stadium! This is beneath the Acropolis. Here in the theatre was performed some of the well-known tragedies and comedies. There is also a temple of Dionysos next to the theatre. Here on a rectangular surface of the temple was supposed to have been the gold and ivory statue of the God. Another favorite site of mine is the Odeon of Herod Atticus. This is beautiful because of its shape and size. This is in the shape of a theatre with circular seating arrangement for at least 5000 people. This was used for theatrical and musical presentations and even today during summer it is used for concerts during the Athens festival.
There are other noteworthy sites in Athens like the ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, the hill of the Muses (Philopappou), the Olympieion, the stadium and the National Gardens. The ancient Agora is of importance because the concept of democracy is believed to have taken birth here. Agora means to assemble and so this was the center of social, economical, political and judicial activity of ancient Athens. The entire area is in ruins. A good guide will give you a better understanding of these ruins.
The Olympieion is another site worth visiting. This is the temple of the Olympian Zeus. This used to be a huge temple because of the 108 columns only 16 columns exists today. A gold and ivory statue of the God used to adorn this temple and it was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was so beautiful that a Roman sage once remarked that the statue was as majestic as God!
Having come to Athens, you don't want to miss the Panathenaikos stadium. This was originally built in 330 BC and was renovated in 140 AD. Panathenaic games were held in the stadium and it included all the contests. The winner's trophy was an 'amphora' which contained olive oil from Athena's olive tree. However, the Romans converted this into a gladiator's arena. In 1896, this was renovated and the first Olympics were held here!
Plaka - the old Athens and the favorite place for any tourist is in the neighborhood of Acropolis. This is now the area of restaurants, shops and cafes. Although this area is commercialized, it is really a good place to eat. This is crowded and you can find more tourists than locals. Here you can treat yourself to some mouth watering Greek food and Ouzo - the Greek alcohol.
In the center of Athens is the Sytagma Square where you will see the Greek Parliament buildings. All Greek distances are measured from here in kms. Near the square is the National Gardens. Also here is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A lot of people come here to witness the change of guard ceremony.
Tourism is incomplete in Greece if you do not visit at least one of the many islands. The Saronic Gulf has many islands like Salamis, Aegina, Poros, Hydra and Spetses. You can take a ship to these islands. We went Aegina - an hour's travel by ship. This is a beautiful island and people here cultivate pistachios. You can buy some here. You can take long walks and also visit the temple of Afaia! Some restaurants serve you some good seafood! This is a good place to relax.