Athens Stories and Tips

The Ancient Stuff - Around the Acropolis

Temple of the Olympian Zeus Photo, Athens, Greece

There is plenty more to see in a big circle around the base of the Acropolis. My friend and I started on the north/northwest side at Monastiraki because this is where our hostel was. Monastiraki is a commercial zone, with small shops and restaurants. The main attraction is the Sunday flea market, and this is also the place to find jewelry vendors.

From Monastiraki, we entered the Agora, a site that preserves the main living area of Athens communities from 6th century BC to 5th century AD. The main flashy structure is the Temple of Hephaestus. Hephaestus was the son of Zeus and Hera, and is the god of "fire and crafts," or blacksmithing. Athena’s "close call" regarding her virginity was with Hephaestus. Poseidon had untruthfully told Hephaestus that Athena yearned for him, so when she visited, Hephaestus tried to rape her. She fought and he failed, but some of his sperm ended up on Athena’s thigh. She wiped it to the ground, accidentally impregnating Gaia (Earth goddess). Gaia rejected the baby, and Athena raised it as her own.

Less obvious but still intriguing inside the Agora are the ruins of bathhouses and ancient plumbing, administrative buildings, a jail, etc. There are only pieces remaining, but in using my imagination, I could almost see the people bustling about their business, with Athena looking down from above.

Directly to the west of the Acropolis is the Aerophagus, which is a small hill that was the site of the ancient criminal justice court. Nothing remains on the hill itself, but we climbed to the top anyway, and had some nice views before heading to the nearby entrance of the Acropolis (see separate journal entry). This would likely be a nice spot for sunset.

To the southwest of the Acropolis is Filopappou Hill. The hill attracted me mostly because it is covered in trees. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to venture into the green space, or to see the other highlights of the hill, such as the Filopappos (Roman senator) monument, the church of Ayios Dhimitrios, or the Hill of the Pnyx (was a meeting place for democratic assembly).

On the south side is the front view of the Theatre of Herod Atticus, which we had looked down into from the Acropolis. That is the better view. A little farther along, on the southeast side, is the Theatre of Dionysus. According to Rick Steves guidebook, this is where "the masterpieces of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes were first performed." Built originally of timbers in 600 BC, it was upgraded to stone in 342 BC. At one point it was used for gladiator fights, and most recently, in 2003, I guess it hosted a Jethro Tull concert (huh!?!).

There is plenty to see on the east and northeast side of the Acropolis. If you have more than 1 day in Athens, this area might be best tackled on a new day.

Hadrians Arch is a couple blocks east from the Acropolis, across a busy street, and is the starting point for a number of interesting sites. Next to the arch to the east, The Temple of the Olympian Zeus is impressive for a number of reasons. This was the largest temple built in Athens, and rightfully so, as Zeus is considered the supreme god of the Olympians, ruler of the universe, all-knowing and all-powerful… you get the picture. There are 16 standing columns, all that remain of the original 104. One bit of information that I read said it was likely ruined by an earthquake. Ironic, as Zeus was considered the god of earthquakes as well.

Because the columns stand in a wide-open flat area, the size of them seems more overwhelming than the ones I had seen on the temple remains of the Acropolis and Agora. I was able to walk up quite close to them as well, and there were only a handful of people there compared to the masses at the Acropolis. Also very cool was the two columns that were tipped over, allowing me to see exactly how they were made. I guess one of them blew down in 1852. Other large pieces of columns were scattered around the site for close examination.

Northeast of the entrance to the Temple of the Olympian Zeus is the Zappion gardens, the National Gardens, Pariliament building, Tourist Office, Syndagma Square, and numerous smaller museums. Just a block northeast of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, on Vasil Olgas, we found the tram stop to the coastal beaches and to Pireas, where the island ferries depart. This whole area could take up oodles of time. We didn’t have it, so we skipped it. I would have loved to have more time to explore.

Getting back closer to the Acropolis, on the northeast side, is the neighborhood called Plaka. The guidebooks that I looked at before my Athens trip all described Plaka as having "character"—whatever that means. It was a cute little area with narrow stone streets, interesting architecture, pedestrian friendly, flowers, and outdoor cafes. But it was also obviously a tourist zone, rather than an area for locals, but pleasant nonetheless. This is a great area to get a decadent sample of Baklava, a pastry dripping with local honey, said to be the sweetest in the world.

There is a single ticket to get into Agora, Acropolis, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Theatre of Dionysos, and Kerameikos. The price is 12 euro (6 for non-EU students and free for EU students).

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