Things to see and do - Athens
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Athens - a city (re)discovered :
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Athens - a city (re)discovered
Athens - a city (re)discoveredPedestrian, 16 km, 3 days
Athens has often suffered from a reputation as a dirty and polluted capital, noisy, tiring...In reality, the enormous work undertaken for the 2004 Olympic games gave the city a new shine. Around the Acropolis is a lovely walk that enables you to enjoy the unique light and flavours of this legendary city. Even the brand new underground system that has freed the city from some of its road traffic is like a beautiful museum! The Monastiraki market, the tavernas, the lanes of Plaka, so full of life, and the chic boutiques situated at the foot of Lycabette are all worth a detour...Customise this route and add it to My travel book
Plaka is the tourist area in Athens, forming a picturesque web of narrow streets and alleys, little squares and terraces connected by flights of steps. A few small Byzantine churches alternate with old houses with round-tiled roofs and wooden balconies, some with hidden gardens. Views of the town, where the Acropolis can be seen here and there. At night Plaka comes to life. The taverns light up, inviting you to taste their Greek cuisine, washed down with retsina, and dance the sirtaki.
An enormous stone vessel dominating the plain, the Acropolis, whose name means "upper city", occupies an exceptional site. Its flat summit, nearly 300m by 156m, forms a vast esplanade covering 3ha, looming 115m over the lower city. The first inhabitants built a fortress there (including the famous Parthenon and Erechtheion) which became the most powerful city of Ancient Greece: Athens.
Jewel of the Acropolis and masterpiece of Ionic art (406 BC), the Erechtheion served various cults before becoming a church, a palace, a harem and then a military magazine. The famous Porch of the Kores is named "Porch of the Caryatids" because six statues of young women, in a noble stance and clad in tunics with parallel folds, support its architrave. The eastern porch leads to the sanctuary that housed the oldest statue of Athena. The western façade was modified during the Roman era.
The Parthenon, a Doric temple, was built in the era of Pericles by Iktinos, under the direction of Phidias. His statue, dedicated to Athena, decorated the sanctuary. In Byzantine times this statue, having been taken to Constantinople, was destroyed during the siege of the city by the Crusaders. The building remained almost intact until the bombing of the Acropolis by the Venetians, in September 1687. It successively served as a Byzantine cathedral, then a mosque, and underwent major restoration works in the 19C.
This graceful Ionic temple (late 5C B.C.) juts out in front of the Propylaea, overlooking the Sacred Way. According to the legend, Aegeus, the father of Theseus, believing his son to be dead, threw himself from the rock where the temple is built.
When visiting the Acropolis, don't miss Dionysus, the most prestigious Antique theatre, where all the masterpieces of the classical repertory were staged. In the 6C BC, a first stage was built in the sacred enclosure dedicated to Dionysus, where the famous Dionysian festivals were held. These installations gave way at the start of the 5C BC to a genuine theatre. Modified by the Romans and abandoned after the barbarian invasions, it was restored at the end of the 19C.
Athens Central Market, a noisy and colourful affair, is open from Monday to Saturday. Early in the morning, night owls gather in its restaurants to sample the famous patsa, a tripe soup that soothes drinkers' stomachs. Their seats are later taken by speculators from Sofokleous Street, home to the Stock Exchange with its pompous Doric colonnade.
In the heart of a working-class district, the perpetually congested Omonoia Square is devoid of charm. The former heart of the capital in the 1930s, it used to vie with Syntagma Square in terms of elegance.
The Lycabettus, or Wolves' Hill, 278 m high, is crowned by Saint George's Chapel. From the neighbouring terraces, a wonderful panorama embraces the city of Athens, the Acropolis, and the Piraeus coast, together with the main surrounding peaks: Hymetus, Pentelikos, dotted with marble quarries, and the massive silhouette of Parnis.
Kolonaki Square is lined by luxury boutiques, restaurants and cafés. The square, named after a small column in the garden, is the centre of the modern and elegant Kolonaki neighbourhood, which meets the slopes of the Lycabetus. Here, the Benaki Museum, Museum of Cycladic Art and Byzantine Museum, to name but a few, occupy remarkable old villas.
Boasting one of the finest collections anywhere, this museum was founded in 1834. Devoted to ancient art from the Neolithic to the Roman era, its revamped interior displays the main works of art from the major Greek archaeological sites. Admire the famous golden mask of Agamemnon, the Sounion Kouros, the Artemision Bronze, the Jockey of Artemision, the Cycladic idols, the great Eleusian relief, the polychrome frescoes of Akrotiri, the Antikythera mechanism, to name but a few.