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Ten Ancient Sites You Must See While in Athens

monastiraki square acropolis athens history
Monastiraki Square in the city of Athens. Credit: C Messier /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

The city of Athens has seen a dramatic transformation towards modernity over the last several years. It has now turned into one of the most trendy cities of Europe, offering endless cultural events, exhibitions, and concerts every single day and night. Street artists perform everywhere, and some have even left a personal touch of color on different walls around town.

However, Athens is, or at least should be, better known for the impressive temples and other archaeological sites that are all around the city. Here are ten ancient sites to see in Athens.

1. The Temple of Olympian Zeus

Not far from the Acropolis stands one of the greatest temples ever erected to honor the greatest of all the Greek gods, Zeus. Works to build the Temple of Olympian Zeus started around 520 BC. Double the size of the Parthenon, it once had 104 Corinthian columns. Today only 15 remain, as one fell during a storm in 1852 and now lies broken on the ground. But it is still a an awe-inspiring sight and one that is not to be missed.

2. The Arch of Hadrian

Also called Hadrian’s Gate, this Arch dates back to 132 AD. It has stood dividing the ancient city and the Roman city of Athens since that time. Two inscriptions on the arch, facing opposite directions, are still visible. The inscriptions name both Theseus and Hadrian as founders of Athens.

3. The Theatre of Dionysus

This major theatre at the foot of the Acropolis is dedicated to not only Dionysus, the God of wine, theatre, but also to transformation. It seats up to 17,000 spectators and has perfect acoustics. It’s the oldest Greek theatre and it was here where many famous ancient Greek plays were performed for the first time. Some even consider it the birthplace of Greek tragedy.

4. The Temple of Asclepius

According to mythology, Asclepius, son of Apollo, is the God of medicine. His cult started about 350 BC; he became very popular with pilgrims, and patients who underwent different types of healing. There was a purification stage and an incubation stage, or dream therapy, during which the patients slept overnight in the temple.

5. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus

The Odeon was built in 161 AD by the Athenian Herodes Atticus, in memory of his wife Regilla. It is an impressive structure that used to be covered with a roof of cedar wood from Lebanon. It was destroyed in 267 BC, and underwent restoration in the early 1950s. Since then, the theater has hosted concerts and other performances, mostly during the annual Athens Festival.

6. The Temple of Athena Nike

This small temple is on the Acropolis, on the right of the gate leading to the Parthenon (Propylaea). It is a good example of classical architecture that has been restored several times. Nike means victory in Greek, and it is here that Athena was worshipped as the goddess of victory in wisdom and war.

7. The Propylaea

The Propylaea was a monumental gateway to the Acropolis. Its construction began around 437 BC, and the columns have the same perfect proportions as those on the Parthenon. This gate used to function as a checkpoint to control the entrance to the Acropolis, playing an important role in terms of security.

8. The Erechtheion

One of the most beautiful buildings in the Acropolis is the Erechtheion, the temple honoring Athena and Poseidon. It is better known for its “Porch of the Caryatids,” six beautiful female figures that function as supporting columns. Five of the original statues can be seen in the nearby Acropolis Museum.

9. The Parthenon

Through the centuries, the most famous symbol of Greecethe Parthenon, has endured war, fire, revolutions, misguided restorations, and pollution. It has even functioned as a church and a mosque, and many parts today are either missing or were taken by other countries. But it stands as a symbol of the enduring greatness of the Greek people and civilization.

10. The Ancient Agora of Athens

Not far from the Acropolis, down the slopes going through the neighborhood of Plaka, one can easily reach the Ancient Agora. Here, the restored portico known as the Stoa of Attalos is home to the Museum of the Ancient Agora.

Not far from this building, it is possible to visit the Temple of Hephaestus, one of the best-preserved temples in Greece, which allows one to easily imagine just how temples once looked in ancient times.

 

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