Archaeological Sites in Athens

ACROPOLIS: For thousands of years the Acropolis has been the symbol of Athens, the sacred rock, the link that connects the magnificent ancient civilization with the modern. The Acropolis and its monuments, its history and the myths that are connected with it, are rightly the pride and the glory of this city, the envy of all other cities in the world. These is no Greek or foreign visitor who does not want to make the pilgrimage to the sacred rock and absorb its magnificence and beauty. If you have never been to the Acropolis, I assure you it is a unique and memorable experience. The first habitation remains on the Acropolis date from the Neolithic Period. Over the centuries, the rocky hill was continuously used either as a cult place or as a residential area or both. The inscriptions on the numerous and precious offerings to the sanctuary of Athena (marble korai, bronze and clay statuettes and vases) indicate that the cult of the city’s patron goddess was established as early as the Archaic Period (650-480 B.C.).

During the Classical Period (450-330 B.C.), three important temples were erected on the ruins of earlier ones: the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Nike, dedicated to Athena Parthenos, Athena Polias, and Athena-Apteros Nike, respectively. The Propylaea, which is the monumental entrance to the sacred area, was also constructed in the same period. The monuments on the Acropolis reflect the successive phases of the city’s history. Some of them were converted into Christian churches, houses of the Franks and later on, of the Turks. After the liberation of Athens from the Turks, the protection, restoration and conservation of the monuments was one of the first tasks of the newly-founded Greek state. This major effort is continued until today, with the large-scale restoration and supporting of the monuments, which started in the 1970′s and is still in progress. The first excavations on the hill were conducted between 1835 and 1837. More systematic work was carried out in 1885-1890 by Panagiotis Kavvadias.

PARTHENON: It is the unique masterpiece of the world. You will realize it yourself the moment you will stand in front of it and learn a little of its history and the secrets of its construction. The beauty, harmony and grace of this monument make a really lasting impression on everyone who sees it. Today admission to the Parthenon is prohibited due to the restoration work that has been taking place there since 1983. This will not prevent you from admiring this unique temple dedicated to the goddess Athena and built of white marble from Penteli. Under the Parthenon of the Classical Times there are remains of the monumental Ur-Parthenon, an archaic temple dated in late 6th century B.C. The architects of the classical temple, which was constructed and decorated between 447 and 432 B.C. during the Golden Age of Perikles, were Iktinos and kallicrates. The Parthenon housed the golden-ivory statue of Athena, work of the famous sculptor Pheidias. This statue was the final destination of the Great Panathenaea procession, depicted on the frieze of the temple.

THEATER OF DIONYSUS: Pass through the entrance to the archaeological site at the southern slope of the Acropolis in Dionysiou Aeropaghitou Street and start climbing. On your left you will see the oldest of all known theatres in the world, the theatre of Dionysus. Here, the four greatest ancient Greek poets, Aeschylos, Aristophanes, Euripides and Sophokles, saw their plays being performed for the first time, in the 5th century B.C. The koilon (cavea) and the proskoinion (stage) were originally of wood. They were reconstructed of marble during the 4th century B.C. Today only parts of the stone koilon have survived. Experts estimate that the theatre could accommodate 17,000 spectators.

AREOPAGUS: It is the most ancient court of law, a place that must be respected in ancient times. Here was the seat of the first aristocratic parliament of ancient Athens. In time this parliament started to lose its political power and from the second half of the 5th century B.C. it had only judicial responsibility and particularly that of trying murderers. In this court, as is described in Oresteia, Orestes was judged for the murder of his mother Clytaemnestra and her lover Aegisthos. It was from this spot, as we learn from the bronze tablet at the base of the rock, that Saint Paul delivered his first sermon to the Athenians, in AD 51.

MONUMENT OF PHILOPAPPUS: [Filopapou, 114-116 AD]. This was erected as a monument to Gaius Julius Antiochus Philopappus, a benefactor of Athens, on a hill opposite to the Acropolis with a splendid view over the entire basin of Attica.

PNYX HILL: The Pnyx is situated between the Hill of the Muses, upon which stands the Monument of Philopappou, and the Hill of the Nymphs, where the tomb of Kimon was found and where the Observatory stands today. This semi-circular area was the place of gathering for all the citizens of ancient Athens. They gathered here in order to hear the famous orators who spoke from the stone-cut tribune in its middle. It is believed that it could accommodate up to 10,000 people at a time.

ANCIENT AGORA: was the civic, religious & commercial center of the Athenian life set with appropriate buildings. Among these was the Stoa of Attalus erected by Attalus II, king of Pergamum [159-138 B.C]. Now, since its restoration, is used as a Museum housing interesting findings.

ROMAN MARKET: It is located at the beginning of Eolou Street. The clock of Andronikos Kyrrhestes. This is an octagonal marble tower near the west gate of the Roman Market. Its sides are adorned with reliefs representing the winds [thus tower of winds].

HADRIAN’S LIBRARY: [2nd century AD] built by the emperor Hadrian.

CHOREGIC MONUMENT OF LYSICRATES: [on the corner of Lyssikratous and Vironos st.]. This carried the bronze tripod awarded as a prize to the winner of a drama contest.

HADRIAN’S ARCH: This was built by Hadrian to mark the boundary between the ancient city of Theseus and the new city [it is at the corner of Vassilissis Olgas and Amalias Avenues].

TEMPLE OF THE OLYMPIAN ZEUS: [also at the junction of Vassilissis Olgas and Amalias Avenues]. It is the largest ancient temple in Greece in the Corinthian order.

KERAMEIKOS CEMETERY: This was the ancient burial ground of the city of Athens.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES IN ATHENS SUBURBS

CAPE SOUNION [69km]: The temple of Poseidon, standing some 60m/200 feet above the sea at the edge of a cliff on Cape Sounion, in one of the most breathtaking and deeply moving sights in all of Greece. And Greece has many of them. The temple is an hour’s drive from central Athens and both the site itself and the route leading to it are worth every minute of the drive. The road runs along the Saronic coast and from the window of your car or bus you can enjoy the endless and brilliant blue sea. If you are traveling by car make sure you stop for a breath of sea-scented air and a walk on the beach. You will also find many coffee shops, fresh fish tavernas and ouzeri along the way.

BRAURON [VRAVRONA] [38km]: Temple of Artemis and the stoa of Arktoi [bears]: the little girls dedicated to the worship of the goddess. The local museum contains interesting findings.

MARATHON [38km]: The burial mound was raised in honor of the Athenian Warriors who fell in the battle of the Marathon in 490 B.C. There is also a museum on the site and the lake reservoir, with the allmarble dam, which supplies Athens with water. Finally, there is a tourist pavillion on the site.

RHAMNOUS [49km]: Temple of Nemesis [5th century B.C] designed by the same architect who built the temple of Hephaestus [Theseion] and that of Poseidon at Cape Sounion.

AMPHIARAIN [45km]: The sanctuary was dedicated to the healer good-soothsayer Amphiaraos.

ELEUSIS [22km]: This is one of the most important sanctuaries, dedicated to the worship of Demitra and her daughter Persephone. It is also associated with the Eleusinian mysteries cult. The museum house findings from the site itself and the surrounding countryside.

BYZANTINE MONUMENTS IN ATHENS AND ITS SUBURBS

The period from the 10th to the 12th centuries AD is marked by a resurgence of prosperity in the Byzantine Empire during which Athens acquired the elegantly designed small churches of Agii Apostoli, Kapnikarea, Panagia Gorgoepikoos [or Agios Eleftherios] which stands next to the Athens cathedral and Agii Theodori. These are some of the most notable monuments of their time as well as the church of Agios Nikodemos [11 century] and Omorfi Eklissia at the end of Patission Street {one of the finest 12th century Byzantine monuments}.

KAISARIANI MONASTERY [6km]: One of the most important monasteries, set amid beautiful surroundings. The domed, cruciform church is adorned with frescoes of the Cretan school, while in the narthex built later, there are frescoes painted by Ioannis Ypatios [17th century].

DAFNI MONASTERY [11km]: Built on the site of a shrine dedicated to Apollo Daphneios the monastery lies inside a fortified enclosure. It is an 11th century church with masonry of a high standard of workmanship. It is adorned with some of the best mosaics to be seen anywhere in Greece.

THE MODERN CITY OF ATHENS

TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER: A monument over which a guard of honor keeps vigil. The 11:00 AM changing of guard on Sundays is a picturesque small ceremony.

GREEK HOUSE OF PARLIAMENTS: This is a neoclassical building overlooking The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier. Formerly used as the residential palace of Greece’s first king, Otto [1832-1862], it houses since 1933 the Greek Parliament. Adjoining the building is the National Garden stretching as far as the Zappeion exhibition and Congress Hall, which stands in its own park.

HILL OF LYCABETTUS: Clad in pinewoods and crowned by the picturesque white chapel of st. George the hill provides a fine panoramic view over the entire city. There is a restaurant and pastryshop on the top. Access is by funicular or footpath.

SYNTAGMA SQUARE: Below the tomb of the Unknown Soldier stretches the most central square in Athens lined by a large number of pastryshops, which are usually filled with a lively crowd of Athenians and foreigners.

PLAKA: As soon as you start walking around Plaka’s stone- paved, narrow streets, you will have the feeling that you are traveling back in time. This is Athens’ oldest and most picturesque neighborhood. You will be delighted by the beauty of the neoclassical colors of its houses, their lovingly tended little gardens, the elegance, and the total atmosphere of the area. In Plaka, even the air is different; lighter, clearer, scented, like a gift from the gods. When you decide to take a walk around it be sure to bring a map along, because Plaka is a labyrinth and you may get the feeling that you are lost in its maze of narrow streets and alleyways. No need for alarm though. It is easy to orientate yourself: uphill is the Acropolis and downhill are Syntagma and Monastiraki.

MONASTIRAKI: This is in reality an extension of Plaka. It is the part of the city with the greatest number of antique dealers and gift shops of every kind.

ILIOU MELATHRON: Formerly the home of the celebrated archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, it is one of the most beautiful buildings in Athens and stands at the upper end of Panepistimiou Street. On the same street, a little further down, are the neoclassical buildings of the Academy, the University and the National Library.