The city surpassed my expectations. Everyone knows about the issues Greece is currently going through and I had read the city was dirty and overrated- but I feel differently and enjoyed my time in Athens.
I stayed in the old town called Plaka. I had a view of acropolis and it was a cute, touristy area with lots of stores and restaurants.
Of course the big show is the ruins and it took me three days to see them all!
Acropolis is amazing. Built up on a mountain, it provides an amazing view of everything from the Aegean Sea to the mountains. When it's sunny, the city shimmers. Literally. It was gorgeous. As for the acropolis, I can only imagine how amazing it would have looked back in the day.
The Acropolis has been around for 2500 years. In the Mycenaean period from the 15th to 12th centuries BC, the king lived there, then a small wood temple was built. After some demolition and abandonment on acropolis, the Parthenon was built between 450-429 BC in honour of Athena. What I saw was a massive temple, quite worn down, only remnants of what once was. They are currently doing another renovation so there was a crane and scaffolding blocking some of the view. Part of the reason for its state is that Lord Elgin, a British ambassador to the Ottoman empire, took some of the parthenon's remains with him in the 1800s. He even took a Caryatid statue (female statue supporting the roof) from the Erechtheum. It is in the British museum, while the other 5 originals are in the Acropolis museum.
The best way to get an idea of what the Parthenon looked like is to go to the Acropolis museum. On the 3rd floor, in a recreation of the Parthenon, they position friezes and pediments in their appropriate places. The pediments (mounted on top of the columns) told the story of Athena's birth when she sprung from Zeus' head and the contest between Athena and Poseidon for Athens.
Erechtheum is to the left of the Parthenon. The east portion is for Athena and the west to Poseidon, who lost to her in their bid for Athens. The 6 Caryatid statues are quite famous and the most recognizable part of this temple.
The Propylaea was one of my favourite parts. It is the gateway to acropolis and must have been incredible. It was recently renovated and although it is a shadow of what it once was, walking up the marble steps, through the columns, trying to imagine what it was like... It was great. To the right of the Propylaea is the temple of Athena Nike, a cute temple that looks like it was completely redone. It's much smaller than the others. An explosion ruined much of the original temple, as well as some of the Propylaea.
The theatre of Dionysus (Ancient Greek God of dance, wine and all good things) is on the south side of the acropolis, carved into the hill. It's quite well preserved- there are even several marble chairs in the first rows. Plays by Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes were performed here in honour of the gods.
Below the Acropolis is the Agora, the ancient city's marketplace and administrative centre. Socrates, Aristotle and St. Paul discussed democracy here. There are altars, civic office ruins, prison ruins, a church and the best preserved classical temple in Greece called the temple of Hephaestus. Built from 460-415 BCE, it is dedicated to the Greek god of metal working. There are also turtles. Well, I saw one. It tried to go down a few rocks and ended up falling on it's back. Or shell or whatever lol. I tried to help it but it turned over on it's own- eventually.
Near Agora is Filopappou, which features several interesting ruins like hill of the Pnyx, where many speeches took place. The speech pedestal consisting of white rock remains in ruins, while the amphitheater is gone. The Filopappou monument is at the top of a hill which provides another great view, this time of the Acropolis as well. It is now half a monument, but it is large, white and you can still see parts of statues that were once part of the monument (well you can see their bodies. As with most old statues, their heads and extremities have been broken or lost).
There is an ancient road in this area, as well as a tomb of an Olympian. Finally there is the so called "prison of Socrates," which are rooms carved into the side of a hill. They don't know what the rooms were used for, but popular belief is that it held Socrates. One really interesting fact is that, during WWII, the Greeks held important items from the national archeology museum and the acropolis museum here! It was sealed shut with cement- anything to protect the valuable items.
Yes- more ruins. Hadrian's arch and the temple of Olympian Zeus, an amazing collection of columns- 16 which remain, including one destroyed in a storm that now lays on the ground in pieces.
Roman Agora- includes two propyla, one which was given by Julius Caesar. At the far end is the Tower of the Winds, a beautiful and well preserved tower built by an astronomer.
Hadrian's Library- a library and apparently a pool and garden. There was a sort of amphitheater for students, and one staircase remains.
Keramikos- a 1000 year old cemetery and ruins of the ancient walls of Athens. I have never seen so many funerary statues than in the museum here, along with the archeology one.
That's it for the ruins! Phew.
oh... Wait. I took a day trip to Sounio to the temple of Poseidon, 1.5 hours down the coast. Dedicated to the Greek god of the sea, this temple is in the perfect place on a hill almost surrounded by ocean. The temple itself is fairly well preserved and features lots of ancient graffiti carved into the stone- even some from lord Byron! The view is amazing. Apparently, so is the sunset, but I had to leave before it got really good.
Because i apparently did not see enough ruins and artifacts, i went to the Archeology museum. It was very good. The coolest part was seeing huge statues (male kouros and female kore) that were found at the temple of Poseidon, funerary reliefs from Keramikos, as well as amazing bronze statues (of a boy on a horse and Zeus throwing a thunderbolt) found in the ocean! They even displayed marble statues found in a shipwreck, partly worn down from the water. There was also some jewelry, pottery, gold, as well as wall frescos found in a well preserved area of Thera (Santorini).
I mentioned the issues Greece has been having. There is a constant demonstration set up in Syntagma Square, at the parliament buildings. Some people camp out, some come after work to protest. They have funny signs, most criticizing certain people and organizations, like the IMF. At night there was hundreds of people sitting, listening to whoever stepped up to tell their story. The people are suffering - high taxes, lack of jobs... I was told there just aren't enough exports. I think the country may depend too much on tourism. Their debt is massive and the people are paying for it. It's strange- seeing the birthplace of democracy, where it all started, and then seeing the trouble going on now in Greece.
I specifically went to the parliament building to watch the changing of the guards. Every hour, 2 guards come to switch, and they all have to do this funny march, lifting up their arms and legs, flicking the pom-poms on their shoes lol.
Athens was quite an experience but I'm ready for some island hopping!