After a late night arrival into Athens, we were welcomed with open arms into the hotel where we would be spending the next 6 days of our trip. We entered our room and quickly tore open the curtains to find a huge balcony, set with table, chairs, and lounges, overlooking our cute little street, a Byzantine church, and to top it off, we had an amazing view of Lycabettus Hill, all lit up in the night sky! At that point, within the first 20 minutes of arrival, we were already mesmerized by this beautiful city.
Athens, we learned the next day on our double-decker hop-on/hop-off bus tour, is a city named for their goddess Athena. As the myth goes, Athena (the goddess of wisdom, courage and inspiration) and Poseidon (the god of the Sea) were dueling to see who would take reign over this great Grecian metropolis. Athena struck the ground and an olive tree appeared. Poseidon also struck the ground with his trident and a water spring appeared. The decision was made that the olive tree was a much more useful product for the people of Athens and with that, Athena was crowned goddess of the city and has been watching over this great city ever since. The symbol of the olive tree is also very significant in the city, and in the whole country of Greece, because olive oil production is one of their biggest exports. And so, the myth lives on…
The first day we were in Athens, we were advised by hotel reception to check out Lycabettus Hill at sunset. So, from Syntagma Square, we walked down one of the main streets, Vasilissis Sofias, meanwhile passing by all of the exclusive embassy buildings, and finally ended up at the street that would take us up to the cable car station. As we turned down the street, we were greeted by a plethora of stairs heading straight up. Like troopers, we climbed to the top, and even still were only halfway up to the top of the hill.
We sure did enjoy the views from there though and the neighborhood too! The houses and apartments that surrounded this part of the city were very elegant and kept up perfectly! We then took the cable car the rest of the way up to the top and arrived just in time for sunset!! How beautiful! Our first views of the city and it could not have been more perfect! From one side of the hill you could see the sunset setting over the entire city of Athens and from the other side you could see night setting over the city as the Acropolis began to light up and the pink skies rested over top of the Grecian islands in the distance. Wow!!
We took the cable car back down the hill and decided that we liked this neighborhood so much that we would stop for dinner in one of the many patio restaurants enjoying the beautiful weather that we had been longing for all winter long!! We sat outside on a bustling little street with many restaurants and bars and we enjoyed live blues music playing at the bar next door as we ate! Perfect end to our first day in Athens!
The next morning we had our sights set on the Acropolis. After a great Grecian breakfast provided by our hotel, that was filled with green olives, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, and of course feta cheese, we headed off again on the double-decker bus and hopped off at the Acropolis. Acropolis, Jorge informed me, literally means ‘acro’ – high and ‘polis’ – city in Greek. So interestingly enough the Acropolis is a ‘high city’ on a hill.
As we climbed to the top to enter, we first passed the Theatre of Dionysus which is located on the southwest side of the Acropolis. We then climbed a few more stairs and passed through the Propylaea, the main entrance to the Acropolis. The columns are so mammoth that it is a bit overwhelming to pass under them or stand next to them. It really makes you wonder how they could have been constructing these types of buildings, temples, and statues so long ago?! Incredible, is really all I can say!
The Parthenon, the temple dedicated to the goddess Athena and the oldest building on the Acropolis, was constructed of pure white Pentelic marble in the 5th century B.C., making it over 2500 years old. The propylon, (the grouping of the rows of columns) has eight columns on the ends and seventeen on the sides. On the outside the metopes (the design within the large triangles at either end of the Parthenon) are carved with many different battle scenes. Also the two pediments (the actual two triangular forms at either end of the building) were scenes depicting important events of the life of their goddess Athena. The walls were also encircled with a relief frieze(the border mural) illustrating the Panathenaic procession- the yearly ritual of bringing a new cloak to adorn the statue of Athena.
Although the Parthenon is the most well-known structure in the Acropolis, my favorite building was the Erechtheion which was also built in the 5th century B.C., but the interesting thing about this building is that on one side instead of the normal columns that were so popular during this era, the architects decided to use maiden forms to support the building. These famous ‘lady statue columns’ are known as Caryatids. There are six of them total and they are all located on the south porch of the building. I found it really innovative and refreshing to mix a new kind of decorated ‘column’ that also supported the structure.
From the top of the Acropolis we also had great views of the city, especially the famous rock, the Areopagus, where the Apostle Paul preached the gospel to the people of Greece. We headed over to the top of the rock to take a closer look after we climbed down from the Acropolis, and from there we then had perfect views of the majestic Acropolis reigning atop the city of Athens!!
Museum of the Acropolis
The Museum of the Acropolis was recently moved from the inside of the Acropolis to a new
site more centrally located in the neighborhood of Plaka in 2009. We really enjoyed this museum commenting that the architects really ‘gave you the feeling that you were still walking in the ruins of the actual Acropolis’! Although all of the important artifacts found in the Acropolis have been extracted from the actual site, they have all been safely preserved and are displayed in the Acropolis Museum. Because of this, the architects of the new building had to give the sensation to the visitors that they are still walking within the old ruins and they executed this idea perfectly!
As you walk towards the front of the museum the first thing you see are flat glass floors, both outside and inside, displaying the ancient ruins of the city that were found below the site of the new museum. They wanted to preserve the ruins and so the entire museum is supported by concrete beams, sure not to disturb these ancient remnants of the classic Greek civilization. As you start your journey through the museum you feel as though you are walking through the different parts of the Acropolis as they have it set up in the same order as the tour that you take inside of the actual Acropolis.
My favorite part of the museum was the amazing views of the Acropolis that were displayed from the inside. The top two floors of the museum are constructed of floor-to-ceiling windows, giving the sensation that although you may be distanced from the actual site, you still feel that you are right their digging through the ruins!! Also it was very interesting to find out that the real Caryatids
(lady statue columns) are all displayed within the museum and because they are so important and unique, they are not even moved to do restorations, they are always kept in their same place within the museum. We really enjoyed this visit and appreciated the thought that went into the construction of this new museum!!
Plaka is the old neighborhood that surrounds the area just below the Acropolis. It is filled with older beautiful houses, not apartments, and gives a small town feeling in the middle of Greece’s biggest city. This soon became our favorite part of the city as you could see different views and angles of the Acropolis from anywhere you were in Plaka. Also it was filled with great restaurants that offered beautiful views as well as delicious authentic Greek food! We spent most of our nights in this part of the city as it was filled with all different kinds of people enjoying the parks, restaurants, bars, shops, ice cream stands, cafés, and so much more!
One morning we headed over to Plaka to see what it was like during the day and decided to take our lives in our hands by renting a tandem bicycle to ride our way around Plaka and the Acropolis! We loved riding all around and I think everyone in Plaka, visitors and locals alike, enjoyed the ‘show’ that we gave as we rode through the pedestrian streets, up and down hills, and even crossed busy streets in attempt to find the Temple of Zeus! So. Much. Fun.
Although Athens was our home base for the first 6 days of our trip, we also had some day excursions planned for our last couple of days there. We crammed as much as we possibly could into our first days in Athens and enjoyed every minute! The next day we were off to visit Delphi to check out what some of the other parts of the Grecian peninsula had to offer!