Greece begins in and revolves around this city, one of the most ancient capitals of the Western world. Cupped in a bowl on the west coast of Attica, with the mountains Aigaleo, Parnitha (Parnes), Pendeli and Hymettus on three sides and the Saronic Gulf on the other, it forms one continuous city with its seaport Piraeus and the suburbs. Together they have a population of about three million. New and ever expanding, the modern part of Athens has largely been built In the past forty years or so. The urban sprawl of high rise buildings reaches green suburbs as far as the surrounding mountains and the western coast of Attica. In almost every direction *nere is something to see: sparkling sea, lofty and delicately shaped mountains, the inaelible imprints of an ancient past, and ail the sophistications of twentieth- century living.
Athens was first inhabited some 6,000 years ago by Pelasgians and later by Ionians, who found the great rock of the Acropolis, or Upper City as the name implies in Greek, a natural stronghold. As the city grew, it was dedicated and named after the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena.
It enjoyed its first flourishing period in the Mycenaean era (1600-1100 B.C.). At the end of the 6th century B.C. tyranny (rule by a king) was overthrown and the democratic form of government which followed led to unprecedented achievements in the history of mankind. In the 5th century B.C. — the “golden age” of Athens —, under the enlightened leadership of Pericles, Athens had its full development in the fields of culture, commerce and military strength.
During the Hellenistic and the Byzantine periods Athens was a secondary city. After the Greek liberation from the Turks in 1834 it was proclaimed capital of Greece.
But, there is a “very long story” here and the monuments are many. If you want to stay in Athens just 2 or 3 days, we have centralized the best of them in the Top 10
1. THE ACROPOLIS
Everything and everyone in Athens seems to be drawn irresistibly towards the Acropolis, the 156-metre high limestone rock that crowns the city. Clearly visible from any part of Athens, the delicately poised and dazzling white columns of the Parthenon stand out against the blue background of the sky, an immortal symbol of the spirit and genius of man. Archaeological excavations carried out on the slopes and on the flat summit of the Acropolis have disclosed that this great Sacred rock was first inhabited in the Neolithic Ages some 6,000 years ago. First the Pelasgians and later the lonians came to settle here living in the caves mainly along the northern side. In times of danger they sought refuge on its summit. Its natural springs attracted tribe after tribe to its slopes and with the passing of the centuries the small settlements spread to the neighbouring regions of Pnyx Hill, the Agora and Keramikos.
Uninterrupted occupation led to the growth of the city until by the middle of the 6th century B.C. Athens extended as far as the foothills of Lycabettus and Mount Hymettus. The first stone temples were built in the begining of the 6th century B.C., replacing wooden ones. The Parthenon was dedicated to the Goddess Athena. Some of the sculptures from its pediments are housed in the Acropolis Museum. During the Persian wars the Acropolis was sacked (480-479 B.C.). The splendid monuments we see here today date from the great era of reconstruction under Pericles, between 460-429 B.C. From that time, and throughout the Middle Ages, the Acropolis has remained almost intact.
Fortifications, embelishments and changes were made by its various conquerors. In 429 A.D. the temples were converted into Christian Orthodox churches and later, under the Turkish occupation, the Parthenon was made into a mosque.
During the Venetian siege of Athens in 1687, some of the buildings were partially destroyed by cannon balls and a fire which raged for two days .
2. THE PARTHENON
The apparent simplicity and design of the Parthenon, a building famous the world over for architectural beauty and harmony, is the temple of the virgin (in Greek “parthena”) Athena. It is built of Pendelic marble in the Doric Style on the same site as two previous temples. It took 15 years to build (447-432 B.C.).
3. Temple of Athena Nike
The delicate and graceful structure to the right of the Propylaea (the monumental entrance to the Acropolis) is the small temple of Athena Nike, also known as temple of the “Wingless Victory”, built in the 5th century B.C. to commemorate the Greek victories over the Persians. Its frieze depicts scenes from the battles. In this small temple the Athenians paid homage to Athena Nike without wings, so that she might not fly away from Athens
4. The Erechtheio
The Erechtheio is distinguished for the stately magnificence of the Caryatids, the young priestesses who support the temple’s roof with their heads. The Erechtheio was a temple dedicated to the mythical hero-king Erechtheus (who was later identified with Poseidon). The Athenians were told that in this place Athena and Poseidon contested for the protection of Athens. Athena won, by producing from the earth an olive tree.
5. The Acropolis Museum
The Museum stands in tl southeastern corner of the Acropolis and houses priceless archaeological finds kept in chronological order, starting with the Archaic (800-600 B.C.), and going to the Classical (500- 400 B.C.), Hellenistic (300 B.C.) and Roman periods. Among other outstanding works of art housed in the Museum’s 9 rooms are sculptures and sculptured reliefs from the pediments, frieze and metopes of the Parthenon, the Erechtheio and the Temple of Athena Nike. Also on display is the unique collection of the «Kore» statues (young girls with the characteristic Archaic smile).
Room II exhibits the famous «Moschophoros», a man bearing a calf on his shoulders. This is an exceptionally fine work, noted for its composition and elasticity of form.
In Room V are pedimental figures of the «Gigantomachia», or Battle of the Giants from the old Temple of Athena, built by the Peisistratids. More works of the so-called «Severe Style» are on display in Room VI, among them a sculptured relief showing a Athena» who seems absorbed in her thoughts as she is resting her head on her spear. The most characteristic of works belonging to the «severe» style are the «Kritias Boy», and the “blond boy”, so called because of the yellow colour of the hair.
In Room IV are the majority of the «Kore» statues, among them the «Peplos Kori», so called from the girded Dorian peplos (mantle) she wears over her chiton. The statue is famous both for its facial expression and its original colours.
6. Theatre of Dionysus
A theatre of ancient Greek drama where the plays of the great dramatists (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Menandrus) were first presented. It lies at the foe of the Acropolis, to the south, next to the ‘‘Sanctuary of Dionysus”. Originally the theatre had wooden seats whicl were replaced by seats of stone in 342-326 B.C., much in the form we see today. It could accommodate some 20,000 spectators in 78 rows of seats. The first row consists of 67 marble «thrones», where the high officials sat (priests, leading citizens, notables).
The orchestra, the open semicircle between the stage and the audience, was rebuilt by the Romans. They organized gladiatoral performances as well as mock naval battles in this theatre.
7. Odeum of Herod Atticus
This theatre at the foot of the Acropolis was built in the 2nd century A.D. by Herodus Atticus as a memorial to his wife Pegilla. It is in the typical form of an ancient Roman Theatre with a seating capacity today of 1000.
8. Athens Museums
The main museums of Athens are the National Archaeological, the Byzantine and the Benaki Museums. There is also the Acropolis Museum, the National and Historical Museum, the Museum of Greek Popular Art, the National Picture Gallery, the Theatrical Museum, the Geological and Paleontological Museum and others.
9. The National Archaeological Museum
It is one of the most important museums for ancient
Greek art internationally. Unique in the world is its Mycenaean collection (gold jewelry, precious stones), the collection of Cycladic art (statuettes and idols), its collection of Archaic art (the famous statues of young men named “Kouroi” and pottery) and the recently discovered superb frescoes and other finds from Thera (Santorini). The rich collection of vases covers the periods from the pre-Geometric era to the 4th century B.C. There is also the Epigraphical Collection as well as the Numismatic Collection.
10. The Byzantine Museum
It is housed in what was once a mansion of Florentine architecture, built in 1848. It displays the features of Byzantine art and objects for use in churches, including works of art from Byzantine and post-Byzantine sculpture, paintings, small handicrafts, icons and frescoes. Many of the exhibits come from churches which formerly stood in Athens or its surrounding regions.