According to the ancient myth, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, competed against Poseidon, the god of the seas, for the patronage of the unnamed city. The deal was that whoever gave the Athenians the better gift would become their patron. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and provided a salt water spring for the people, and Athena offered the first olive tree. Athena was declared the patron goddess of Athens
Arriving in Athens, it is completely different from the Greek islands. It is the most populated city in Greece, and the residents live in apartment buildings that fill the whole city. You can see in the picture above that the bulk of buildings in Athens are apartment style. We decided to stay in an Airbnb during this segment of our trip, but I will admit that I wouldn’t recommend doing this in Athens. Unless you are SURE that the location of the Airbnb is close to Acropolis Hill, the Ancient Agora, or other popular tourists sites, you will probably end up staying in a Greek neighborhood that is not an easy spot for tourists to get around. There was one really great restaurant next to our place, so we got lucky that we could stop by there for dinner each night. Other than that, we needed ubers to get us to the area we wanted to be. This also proved difficult when we were trying to get an uber to take us to the airport on our last day in Athens. The day we were leaving there were not enough uber drivers in our area, we had to eventually try flagging down a taxi. In the tourist areas of town, this wouldn’t have been a problem. Also, beware of the conflict between taxi drivers and Uber drivers when traveling in Athens!! We did a combination of both based on convenience, but uber is much more affordable. We were told stories of fights between taxi and Uber drivers, and one of our uber’s even took a few shortcuts on our ride to avoid being seen by taxi drivers!
Our first full day in Athens was spent doing a walking tour that we booked through Athens Walking Tours. We had such a great experience with this tour, our tour guide was so knowledgeable about the area, and he spoke three different languages. Our tour covered Athens city, Acropolis Hill, and the Acropolis museum. It was a small group tour given by a licensed tour guide that allowed us to bypass all of the lines waiting to purchase tickets to the best sites in Greece. This is seriously the way to go, we even paid a little bit extra to get the Multi-site ticket which is good for 5 days and gives you access to 6 more archeological sites. It was probably the best decision we made when exploring Athens because we saved money and skipped lines.
The first part of our walking tour introduced us to the history of Athens, beginning with the Temple of Zeus, and teaching us all about the neighborhoods in the city.
We made our way to Acropolis Hill, home to the famous Parthenon which sits upon the hill overlooking all of Athens. The Parthenon is still being restored by the Greek government, with the help of funding from the European Union.
Built in mid-5th century BC, the temple was dedicated to Athena. Over the years the temple has lost much of its sculpture that decorated the interior and exterior due to changes in culture, religion, and different foreign occupation. First, the temple was transformed into a Christian church, in which huge statues were removed and destroyed. The Acropolis was then seized by the Turks, turning the Parthenon into a mosque. During a battle between the Venetians and the Turks, the center of the building was destroyed. Its basic structure has stayed intact, and all sculptures that remain are housed in different museums from the British Museum in London to the Louvre in Paris. Many sculptures from the Parthenon still reside in Athens, at the Acropolis Museum.
The Acropolis Museum is so well done, modern, simple, and minimal. It really allows the artifacts to speak for themselves. Photography is not allowed in most places in the museum, so you are really able to just admire these things in the moment. It was great having the museum included as part of our walking tour because we learned so much more about what we were looking at. Above, there is a photo of the Parthenon frieze, which adorned the exterior of the Parthenon. The frieze depicted Great Panathenaia, the greatest festival of the city in honor of the Goddess Athena. The festival took place every four years and included rituals, sacrifices, as well as athletic and musical contests. Our tour ended here at the Acropolis museum, but we still had so much to see.
If I had to recommend one area in Athens that would be ideal to stay in, it would be the neighborhood called Plaka. It sits directly below Acropolis Hill in the heart of Athens. It is a picturesque hillside village with shops and restaurants (and cats) everywhere. I mentioned in an earlier post how it is sometimes hard to find authentic handmade products/souvenirs, and this is even truer in Athens. We went through so many shops looking for something unique and not mass produced and we only found one art shop that had made-in-Greece products. The shop was on a corner in the Plaka neighborhood, and we ended up buying a small piece of pottery. We loved that this particular piece was made with the same materials used in ancient Athens, and it made the struggle of going in and out of shops for a few hours worth it.
The Ancient Agora of Athens is another must see. The word “agora” applies to an assembly of people, in modern Greek the term means “marketplace.” The Agora played an important role in all aspects of public life, there are remains of council chambers, magistrates’ offices, mint, and archives. It is also indicated the area was used as a marketplace by the discovery of numerous shops where potters, cobblers, bronze workers, and sculptors made and sold their products. The Stoa (pictured above) was originally used as a marketplace but was completely destroyed. It was later rebuilt and now serves as a museum for artifacts found in the Agora.
On the grounds of the Ancient Agora stands the Temple of Hephaestus, the best preserved ancient temple in Greece.
Overall, Athens was a great city that is so full of rich history. On our final day in Greece, we decided to book a last minute bus tour to the town of Delphi located on Mount Parnassus. It was a full day packed with a museum tour and walking tour of a famous archeological site that was once home to the Oracle of Delphi. I’ve already written so much about Athens so I’ll write about Delphi next time.
During our time walking around the Agora, we spotted several tortoises on the grounds. The tortoise below was my favorite because from his spot you have a perfect view of Acropolis Hill and the Parthenon!