If you like history or philosophy, or better yet, both, then Athens is a city that will make your little intellectual mind sing out in observance of and reverence for humanity’s magnificent past. The home to what arguably were the greatest philosophers who ever lived, or at the very least, the place where philosophy really began taking off more than 2500 years ago, Athens is the kind of city where you can be out for a leisurely stroll in search of nothing in particular and find yourself standing in front of ancient ruins where the people and pivotal events that have helped shape society (and many of the belief systems still present today) lived and took place so long ago.
Monuments to check out around Athens:
The Acropolis, one of the most famous ancient cities in the world, is a towering representation of what our ancestors were capable of 2500 years ago. Literally translating to “High City,” from the Greek ‘Akro’ = High and ‘Polis’ = City, the Acropolis is definitely that, you can see at least a portion of it from practically everywhere in the city of Athens.
The Acropolis is composed of many different structures, such as the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, all of which tell a story of a people with a passion for the arts and a deep devotion to their patron goddess Athena.
The Acropolis Museum is right below the Acropolis and it’s home to thousands of artifacts found at the Acropolis archeological site. It is definitely worth a visit and for only 5 euros you really can’t go wrong. They also have a wonderful restaurant that provides a great view of the Parthenon.
National Archeological Museum:
If you’re in a crunch for time and you really want to see Greek artifacts from pre-history to late antiquity then you should skip the Acropolis Museum and head straight to the National Archeological Museum in the Exarcheia area of Athens. Here you will find famous finds such as the Mask of Agamemnon, an extensive sculptures collection, vases and other ancient pottery, frescos from Santorini, metallurgy, ancient epigraphs and so many more items that will help you to discover more about the way the ancient greeks lived.
Filopappou Hill (Hill of the Muses)
Here you’ll find Socrates’ prison, essentially three caves carved out of a large stone hill in the midst of a peaceful pine covered park. Walk up the hill and find yourself standing before Philopappos’ Monument, an ancient Greek Mausoleum built for Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos who died in 116 AD. Not only is the carved monument breath taking with it’s magical white marble, but if you turn around you have a perfect view of the Acropolis!
Temple of Olympian Zeus
The Temple of Olympian Zues is across the street from Plaka, and although it’s towering columns are definitely incredible, there’s not a whole lot to see inside that you can ‘t see from outside the gates. Luckily I ended up there about 15 minutes before closing and they let me enter for free– and 15 minutes was all I needed in order to see everything.
About an hour and a half from the center of Athens, Sounion is a beautiful place to watch the sunset from the cliffs where the Temple of Poseidon magically overlooks the Aegean Sea. According to Greek Mythology, this is where King Aegeus lept to his death upon seeing his son Thessius’ ship return back from Crete where he was to battle the dreaded Minotaur with the ship’s black sail raised– as Aegeus had asked his son to raise the white sail if he had survived, but alas, Thessius had forgotten. While he returned home unscathed, King Aegeus perished non the wiser, and that is how the sea that stretches from the south of Athens to the west coast of Turkey became known as the Aegean Sea, at least according to Greek Myth.
Epidaurus Ancient Theatre
Wow. This is one ancient monument that is worth embarking on the two hour car ride from the center of Athens in order to check out. Located at the southeast end of the sanctuary dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek God of Medicine, this theatre is known for having the best acoustics in the world. If someone drops a coin in the center of the stage you will hear it hit the ground perfectly from every seat in the theatre. It’s incredible that the designer, Polykleitos the Younger, could create such an architecturally and acoustically perfect theatre as early as 350 b.c., what a grand representation of the knowledge that humans already had more than 2000 years ago.
Capable of holding between 13,000 and 14,000 spectators, the theatre was known to host music, singing and dramatic performances, which were considered to be ‘healing’ for patients, as observing dramatic performances were believed to bring positive physical and mental benefits to viewers. The theatre continues to host music and theatre performances, so make sure to check the calendar!