Greece Vacations - Athens, the Capital City of Greece
Are you planning to visit Athens, the Capital City of Greece or Greece vacations with your friends or family to any of the wonderful Greek islands?
Then this is the best place to be and get all the information you need before you get there, from this great online guide.
The traveler's Athens revolves around a small area of a city whose greatness extends over time rather than space. To understand the layout of Athens, imagine the part of main interest as a sailing ship: On the bridge you will find the Syntagma Square, which is as it should be, Syntagma being the center of most travelers' activity. Directly north, at the tip of the mast, rather like a flag, unfurls one of the world's greatest sculpture collections, the National Archaeological Museum spanning some 5.500 years of Greek civilization.
Just northeast of Syntagma you will find fashionable Kolonaki, like colour in the jib, the boom of the boat being the two main streets, Panepistimiou and Stadiou, which lead from Syntagma to Omonia Square. The bow points east up Vassilissis Sofias Avenue, or embassy raw, and farther on bends north to the swank suburb of Kiffisia on the gentle slopes of Mount Penteli.
The real treasure the hill of Acropolis, is stored in the hold, along with the ancient Agora and the old town, Plaka. The anchor chain dangling south is Syngrou Avenue, a freeway-like stretch that leads to beaches, seaports and airports.
Parthenon: The most Holy Temple
Most famous of all buildings of the Golden Age of Greece, the Parthenon is not so much marble as idea. It shows how true, alive and balanced thought can be. In ancient times the temple was dedicated to Athena the Goddes of wisdom and the virgin protector of Athens. Kallikrates and Iktinos, both architects, designed the Parthenon under the supervision of Phidias, who was is charge of public works. Kallikrates also designed the Temple of Athena Nike. The Parthenon was built in the austere Doric style but was lighter and slimmer than earlier Doric temples. In the midst of the modern city's asphalt and concrete, the Acropolis, with its Parthenon, stands as a shining citadel to an ideal.
The New Acropolis Museum
Located at the foot of the Acropolis, the modern museum's five-stories of exterior glass walls reflect images of the Parthenon and surrounding ruins. The museum is the new home for hundreds of statues from the Archaic and Classical eras The museum was built to house every artifact found on the rock and on its feet, from the Greek Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece. It contains some very important sculptures and it is well worth a visit. Among the sculptures not to be missed are the early-sixth century B.C. pediment depicting Herakles wrestling, probably with Achelous, the river God, from an earlier Parthenon; the sixth century B.C. Moschophoros, a man carrying a calf; the loping haund, the korai, statues of maidens dedicated to Athena, metopes from the Parthenon interior frieze depicting the Panathenaia, left over from the Lord Elgin's grab; slabs from the parapet of the temple of Athena Nike, including the famous image of Nike fixing her sandal; and the caryatids, the 22 foot tall columns in the form of women carrying baskets, which once upheld the Erechtheion's porch.
It opened to the public on June 21, 2009. Nearly 4,000 objects are exhibited over an area of 14,000 square metres.
The Ancient Agora of Athens
In the ancient agora the ruins of which occupy the flattish area below the northwest slope of Acropolis, you'll find the dusty but magnificent traces of the Western world's political childhood. It was here, in daily, heated discussions, that political shape was given to the concept of individual freedom. The history of this area can be traced back some 5000 years to Neolithic times. The central, flat area of facing the Stoa of Attalos was once bounded on three sides by stoas, porticoes arcades fronting covered market stalls. In between there are the foundations of gymnasia, council chambers, law courts, and other civil and commercial buildings.On the west side, looming over the Agora proper, stands the somber Temple of Hephaestus, the best-preserved Classical Temple in Greece. Hephaestus, god of the forge, overseer of technology and crafts, was the son of Zeus and Hera. He is said to have tried to rape Athena, the virgin Goddess of reason herself, but she repulsed the attack. Another legend says that Athena married Hephaestus and that the fine arts grew from their union.
The changing of the Presidential Guards
From the top of Syntagma, the Parliament building looks down majestically upon the ever-changing scene. Completed in 1842, the building was originally built as a royal palace for the Bavarian king Otto(Othon), first monarch of Greece, who reigned for almost 30 years, from 1834-1862.
Otto will be remembered for at least one thing: He instituted the bizarre changing of the guard that still takes place on Syntagma in front of Parliament every hour. With guns at hand, dressed in white skirts, pleated blouses, and pompom-decorated boots, two strong young men, specially selected for height, high-step in a jerky yet rhythmical fashion across the usually scorching pavement to replace two others high-stepping out of the shade of two wooden sentry boxes. The ceremony recalls the mating dance of very eccentric ostriches.
The National Garden
The National Garden is a peaceful, green refuge of 15.5 hectares in the center of the Greek capital. It is located directly behind the Greek Parliament building and continues to the south to the area where the Zappeion is located, across from the Panathenaiko or Kalimarmaro Olympic Stadium of the 1896 Olympic Games.The Garden was once the private garden of the palace - a project of Queen Amalia in the 1840’s. For the kids there is a small zoo housing domestic animals, a few ostriches and a playground.
The Royal Garden was commissioned by Queen Amalia in 1838 and completed by 1840. It was designed by the German agronomist Frederick Schmidt who imported over 500 species of plants and a variety of animals including peacocks, ducks, and turtles. Unfortunately for many of the plants, the dry Mediterranean climate proved too harsh and they did not survive; animals continue to thrive. The upper garden, behind the Old Palace, was fenced off and was the private refuge of the King and Queen.
The entry is free to the public.
Plaka, the old town, is just east of the agora an any after dark pleasures are concentrated here. It is the oldest quarter of Athens, a fascinating and colorful hodgepodge of 19th-century houses, Greek and Roman ruins, and Byzantine churches, all spilling down the northern slope of the Acropolis. There are dozens upon dozens of tavernas in Plaka. Many serve good fresh food, and you can't go wrong if you order a simple Greek salad or the like for a snack.
Located on the corner of Koumbari Street and Vas. Sophias the Benaki Museum, this wonderful house and all its contents are Antoine Benaki's legacy to the state. The collection offers the traveler a fascinating, if puzzling and jumbled, rundown of Greeks and Middle Eastern history through pictures, documents, clothes, and everyday utensils. The colorful display include objects from Persia, Byzantium, Turkey, Thrace, Macedonia, and other parts of Greece, some pieces dating back to 3000B.C.
Note the evidence they give of the differences as well as the remarkable similarities between the cultures of Asia Minor and Greece. The visit provide a good overview of Greeks artifacts that will enable you to better judge objects offered for sale in antiques shops. The museums itself sells replicas of some of the works exhibited.
The Byzantine Museum
The Byzantine Museum occupying the Villa Ilissia at 22 Vas. Sophias, used to be one of the most important small museums of the world. Sometime the entire museum is open, sometime only part of it. It houses some very fine mosaics and Byzantine sculptures plus a dazzling iconostasis, or altar screen, and what was once the most beautiful icon collection anywhere.
Masses of marvelous jewel-like paintings once gleamed in ill-lit rooms, but now bright lights and scientific cleaning have shined the icons up to the glossiness of a magazine page. There are fashions in museum conservation as there are in artistic styles; it seems these days you need to become a connoisseur of both. The museum is closed on Mondays.
The National Gallery of Art
The Gallery was initially housed in a small area of Athens in the Technical University main building, where it remained until the outbreak of war in 1939. Substantial donations by Greek patriots as well as purchases continued to enrich the collections of the National Gallery. Its merger with the Alexandros Soutzos Estate in 1954, through the initiative of the then director Marinos Kalligas, contributed decisively to its development.
The National Gallery, however, remained in effect homeless until 1976, leading a nomadic life, when the current building, begun in 1964, was completed and inaugurated, based on the designs of the architects professors Pavlos Milonas and Dimitris Fatouros.
Monastiraki is the place that most of all represent tradition and tourist sightseeing at the same time. It’s placed under the shadow of Acropolis at the South West section of the magisterial Sacred Rock and next to the Ancient Market and Attalos loft.
Monastiraki is famous for the flea market and it is a great place for a Sunday morning walk in Athens. An early visit in the morning will help as later on the crowd becomes impossible and there are tables available at the many cafes and restaurants for a drink or a snack.
The museum contains an interesting copy of the lost Athena from Parthenon, the captivating bronze Boy on a Horse, and some amusing Pan figures. There is also a collection of small Greek bronzes that have been cleaned and shine to look as if they could be on sale in a tourist shop.
The finds of the 7th century B.C. are numerous and proove the existence of organized cult on two points of the promontory: at the southern edge where the temenos of Poseidon was situated, and about 500 m. to the NE of it, where the sanctuary of Athena was established.
View from the Lycabettus Hill
The Lycabettus Hill, this charming destination, just northeast of the city, shouldn't be missed. The tallest hill in central Athens, Lycabettus is only 910 feet high and makes for an easy outing. You can climb up through Kolonaki, or you can take a cab to the funicular and ride to the top in comfort. At the top there is a 360-degree panorama of Athens and Attica.
To the north you can in the distance splendid Mount Penteli, which gave its rosy marble to the Parthenon, Mount Parnis to the north and Mount Hymettos to the east. Looking south toward the sea you'll see the Acropolis and farther along to the right is Piraeus, the busiest Mediterranean port. In the distance, like two sunbathing turtles, float Salamis and Aegina Islands.
At the top of the Lycabettus, visit the tiny 19th-century church of Aghios Georgios, where Georgios Nikolakopoulos, an artist steeped in the Greek Orthodox spirit, has repainted the interior, with that elusive, rather mystical quality that you can sometimes still find among contemporary Greek crafts people. There is also a cafe-restaurant with a panoramic view some steps down from the church.