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Learn about Athens, Greece, by reading ancient Athens by Gary W. Bloom, WTA Member and Leisure Traveler/Writer. It features a mini, but thorough tour of the destination, plus all you'll need to know to plan your trip including how to get there, objective information on places to stay and eat, and things to do. At the end of the article, we've provided a summary of the contact information for your easy reference. Enjoy!

Ancient Athens

by Gary W. Bloom, WTA Member and Traveler/Writer

athens1
Along with ancient ruins, Athens also showcases beautiful harbors

The modest hotel room had one outstanding luxury. From its window was a commanding view of the Acropolis. This is not unusual. The Acropolis can be seen from just about anywhere in Athens. Even in the polluted air, the Acropolis gleamed honey white in the stark Athenian sun. Walking around Athens, it was a constant reminder of the city's brilliant past.

But Athens is much more than the Acropolis. The Greeks' greatest art, it has been said, is that of living. Their love of beauty can be seen everywhere. To experience this art you must wander through the streets of the Agora and Plaka sections of Athens.

The Plaka is situated on the north side of the Acropolis. This area, reminiscent of the way all of Athens once was, contains traditional taverns, churches, and residences. There have been residents here since prehistoric times. In the tavern you can sample the relatively inexpensive mazes - appetizers consisting of olives, cheese, tomatoes, dried fish, and octopus. You can also drink the national libation, ouzo, an aniseed flavored liquor. More adventurous types might try Knockouts, lamb heart and liver wrapped in intestines and roasted over a grill. Many of the shops close at 2 p.m., when workers go home for lunch and a siesta. They open at about 4 p.m., when customers again fill the cafes, sipping Retina, a wine flavored with resin, and twirling "worry beads."  

athensplaka
A cafe in The Pl aka of Athens

The Agora, or marketplace, is northeast of the Acropolis. This was the commercial center of ancient Athens. The chariots of the Anathema Festival passed through the Agora on their way from the Diploma Gate, the ancient entrance to Athens, to the Acropolis. The raised circular floor of the Thomas, the seat of ancient Athens government, can be seen here. Nearby, free meals for life were given to any winner of the Olympic games. The Stoat of At talus, reconstructed in the 1950's and consisting of 134 columns, is also in the Agora. Socrates and the other great philosophers of the day held their discussions here.

Walking through the Agora and continuing in a northeast direction, I entered the Ceramics Cemetery. One of the oldest cemeteries in the world, settlers around the Acropolis buried their dead here beginning in the 11th century BC. Near the entrance to the cemetery on Hermes Street is a museum that contains many of the more recent finds from the cemetery, including an extensive collection of pottery. The cemetery was named after Kearns, the patron of potters. Many of the tombs are embellished with carved representations of the dead. Some tombs have statues of the deceased, standing or sitting on horseback. The Athenians often placed vases on the tombs. The bottoms of these vases had holes drilled in them so wine could be poured in and received by the dead.

In the southeast corner of the cemetery is the Diploma Gate, the largest in Athens. This was the main entrance into the ancient city. The gate was heavily used by travelers coming into and out of the city, and was a productive location for prostitutes to greet weary travelers.

Walking through the Diploma Gate and back through the Agora, as the ancient travelers had, the Acropolis can first be seen. Acropolis, which means simply "upper town," was a fortress and a sacred sanctuary of the goddess Athena. Upon seeing it, I could well imagine the ancient Greeks' belief in the mythological gods. It is truly one of the wonders of the world; an awe inspiring feat of architecture and art.

Walking past the Prophylaxes, the entrance to the Acropolis, I looked down at the worn rock and saw the imprints of chariot wheels from ancient times. Passing through the gates, I was met with the beautiful western view of the Parthenon. The Parthenon took nine years to complete and was dedicated to the virgin goddess Athena. The columns were constructed with Enteric marble that with age has turned a mellow honey color. Built in 450 BC, it is 228 feet long and 101 feet wide. There are no straight lines in its construction. The columns have a slightly inward curve that is not only visually pleasing but an enormous feat of mathematical precision. Like the tombs of Egypt, scientists are still astounded that such a structure could be built in ancient times.

Like the Greeks themselves, the Acropolis has weathered difficult times. It has been used as a Turkish harem, a brothel and as an ammunition dump for Turkish soldiers. Through it all it has remained a shining symbol of democracy and art.

The Acropolis Museum is located at the south east corner of the Acropolis. Many of the ancient sculptures from the Acropolis are housed here, protected from the elements. Near the museum is the Theatre of Dionysus, named after Dionysus, the god of drunkenness, ecstasy, transformation, and the mask. When first built, there were 64 tiers and a capacity of 17,000 spectators. A marble wall surrounds the stage, providing protection from wild animals that were included in the shows during Roman times. The theatre was the stage for the first tragedy plays and is considered the birthplace of European theatre.  

athensacropolis1
The Acropolis

There are, as one would expect, many excellent museums in Athens. The National Museum is at the top of the list, containing the largest collection of Greek art and more masterpieces of ancient art than any other museum in the world. There are countless treasures, including the gold funerary mask recovered in Mycenae, believed to be from about 1580 B.C.

Athens is to this day an archaeological dig in progress. Archaeology, incidentally, comes from the Greek word "arcade." A new subway system under construction in Athens has unearthed Roman baths, a Byzantine mosaic, and other treasures. So many treasures, in fact, that the subway's main stations will each have museums displaying some of the treasures found at that site.

The Greek word for stranger, "xenon", is also the Greek word for guest. The people were always courteous and friendly. The British poet Shelley wrote, "We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts..." A trip to Athens is, in many ways, a homecoming.

Details

Getting there:

The Athens International Airport, Deleterious Venezuelans, recently opened. It is located in Sparta, 30km east of Athens (Phone: 011-30-1-353-0000; Fax: 011-30-1-353-2284.) Carriers flying nonstop from the US to Athens include Delta and Olympic Airways, Greece’s national airline, with many others offering connecting service. Round-trip airfares could be found for under $600 from the US to Athens for travel during summer 2001.

Where to stay:

  • Grande Restage Hotel (Sheraton)
    Vas. Georgia St.
    Constitution Square
    Athens 10563
    Phone: 011-30-1-333-0000 or1-888-625-5144 (US only)
    Email: info@HotelGrandeBretagne-ath.gr
    The Sheraton Grande Restage, an Athens landmark, counts among its guest list some of the most prominent politicians and actors of the twentieth century. During World War II it was the headquarters for each succeeding power - the Greeks, Germans, and the British. It’s in an enviable location, near the House of Parliament and the National Gardens. Many of the rooms have views of the Acropolis. Doubles are about $211.
  • Acropolis View Hotel
    Roberto Gallia & Webster 10
    Athens 11742
    Phone: 011-30-1-921-7303
    Many of the rooms in this hotel, as the name suggests, have a view of the Acropolis. Doubles range from around 59 Euro (about $52) during the winter to 81 Euro (about $71) during the summer.
  • Acropolis House Hotel
    Od os Odor 6-8
    Athens 10558
    Phone: 011-30-1-322-2344
    Small hotel on the edge of Pl aka. A favorite of visiting students and teachers, with doubles starting around D15,000 (about $39).


Where and What to eat:

While a gourmand might not travel to Athens just for the food, there are a number of interesting dishes, such as octopus and squid stewed in wine, fried cuttlefish, and roast lamb. The national aperitif is Ouzo, an aniseed flavored liquor.

  • Victoria
    Navaho Apostolic 7, Pirie
    Athens
    Phone: 011-30-1-321-1200
    Greek food prepared in surprising ways, this restaurant has a variety of interesting dishes like pork tenderloin in Retina and rabbit croquettes. Dinners are around $40.
  • Variously
    14 Deliver Street, Piraeus
    Athens
    Phone: 011-30-1-411-2043
    One of the best seafood restaurants in Athens, Variously is famous for their monkfish. Dinners are about D15,000 (about $39).


When to go:

Athens has a Mediterranean climate of warm days and mild nights, though in the winter the temperature can dip into the 40’s. The main tourist season is in July and August, when the crowds and the heat are their most stifling. Prices, as in most of Europe, are best in the winter, early spring, and late fall.

Getting around Athens:

Most of the sites are in a small central area, so reaching them by foot is usually not a problem. Athens has a bus and trolley system, but they are extremely crowded during rush hour. Taxis are relatively inexpensive, but they do have a reputation of overcharging tourists. Ask the hotel concierge what the fare to your destination should be before getting a taxi. If the driver charges a fare that is too outrageous, threatening to call the police usually brings it down considerably.

Dollar value:

The Drachma is the unit of currency in Greece, with an exchange rate as of May 2001 of 1 US Dollar to 387 Greek Drachmas. With the favorable exchange rate (just a few years ago, 1 US Dollar was worth only about 240 Drachmas) Athens is a relatively inexpensive destination.

Attractions:


  • Acropolis and Acropolis Museum
    Dionysian Repaint
    Phone: 011-30-1-321-4172
    From November 1st to March 31: Open Daily 8:30am-3pm. From July 1st to October 31: Monday - Noon-7pm Tuesday - Sunday and holidays 8am-7pm. The entrance fee is D2,000 (about $5.17) for both the museum and archaeological site.
  • Ceramics Cemetery
    148 Armour St
    Phone: 011-30-1-346-3552
    Open Tuesday to Sunday from 8am to 3pm. The entrance fee is D500 (about $1.30).
  • National Archaeological Museum
    Parisian 44 St
    Phone: 011-30-1-821-7717
    Summer hours - Monday: 12.30-7pm, Tuesday- Sunday: 08am-7pm. Winter hours - Monday:
    10:30am-5pm, Tuesday- Sunday: 8.30am-3pm.
    Admission - D2,000 (about $5.17).  


More Information:

  • Greek National Tourism Organization - http://www.gnto.gr/
    Olympic Tower - 645 Fifth Avenue
    New York NY 10022
    Phone: (212) 421-5777
    168 North Michigan Avenue / Suite 600
    Chicago Illinois 60601
    Phone: (312) 782-1084
    611 West Sixth Street / Suite 2198
    Los Angeles California 92668
    Phone: (213) 626-6696
  • Hellenic Ministry of Culture - http://odysseus.culture.gr/index_en.html

Notice: This information is current as of May 2001. It is recommended that you contact the numbers, and/or visit the web sites above to determine any changes to the information.