We landed in Athens from Rome and took the metro to the Athens Gate Hotel. The hotel was in a perfect location just below the Acropolis and across the street from the Zeus Temple. We spent the first day walking around the town and finding a place for dinner. We located a small restaurant and enjoyed the wonderful food. After dinner, we enjoyed a glass of wine on the roof of our hotel. The view of the lite up Acropolis was just spectacular!
Across from the hotel was The Arch of Hadrian, a monumental gateway resembling – in some respects – a Roman triumphal arch. It spanned an ancient road from the center of Athens, to the complex of structures on the eastern side of the city which included the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It has been proposed that the arch was built to celebrate the arrival of the Roman Emperor Hadrian to honor him for his many benefactions to the city of Athens on the occasion of the dedication of the nearby temple complex in 131 or 132 AD.
The next morning we joined the Athens Walking Tours. We met the tour by the Gardens; our guide, Stavos Stavroulakis was wonderful; he had a great perspective of the history of Athens and a great sense of the story of the area. He was raised in the Greek islands and came to Athens to become a guide; while not his first choice in jobs with the economy in Greece, it was what he had to do, and he does very well!
We met the tour company in the Metro station at Syntagma Square. While it seemed like an unlikely place to start, it had many historical artifacts that were found during the building of the Athens metro system.
Teams of archeologists worked alongside the metro engineers for years in what became not only Athens’ first subway but also the largest archeological excavation in the city’s history. They uncovered tens of thousands of artifacts in the process (estimates range from an impressive 30,000 to a staggering 50,000), and the end result is both a greater knowledge of Athens’ buried history and metro stations that double as museums! Since subways, by definition, provide a great cross-section of the substrata beneath a city, they’ve displayed this behind a glass wall. Visitors can see clearly the myriad layers of human history at this site, starting with Byzantine times, moving down through Roman, ancient Greek, and finally prehistoric, including the open grave of the ancient necropolis which originally existed here.
The next stop on tour was the changing of the guard in front of the Parliament Building at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Syntagma Square.
These guards are called Evzones, or Evzoni. These are the hand-picked troops of the presidential guard and the tabloid subject of numerous romantic entanglements with male politicians. Requirements for the Presidential Guard include: being under the age of 25, being taller than 6 feet, 2 inches, and having an outstanding and unimpeachable character. They are also good-looking lads!
Each soldier mounts guard for one hour at a stretch 3 times every 48 hours. They work in pairs in order to perfect the coordination of their movements. Originally founded as a royal guard in 1914, this elite corps has about 200 members.
We then walked to the Zeus Temple. The Temple of Olympian Zeus, also known as the Olympieion, is a Greco-Roman temple in the center of Athens, southeast of the Acropolis, across from our hotel. This temple was begun in the 6th century BC; it was not completed until the reign of Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD. It was, at that time, the largest temple in Greece. There were originally 104 Corinthian columns, each 17 meters high; 48 of these stood in triple rows under the pediments and 56 in double rows at the sides. Only 15 columns remain standing today, with lovely Corinthian capitals still in place. A 16th column blew over in 1852 and still lies where it fell.
We started our long walk to the Acropolis, which is located on a flat-topped rock that rises 490 feet above sea level in the city of Athens.
The Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus is a major theatre in Athens, built at the foot of the Acropolis. Dedicated to Dionysus, the god of plays and wine (among other things), the theatre could seat as many as 17,000 people with excellent accoustics, making it an ideal location for ancient Athens’ biggest theatrical celebration. It was the first stone theatre ever built, cut into the southern cliff face of the Acropolis, and supposedly the birthplace of the Greek tragedy.
Looking up, it seemed like we might not make it, but our guide led the way with stops so we could catch our breath. We approached from the back side, where you can see the ruins in their original form. While the original buildings in this area are from the Archaic Greece period, little is known about what they looked like. The Archaic Greece period was from the eighth century BC to the second Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. The walls around the hill were already in place but were damaged through many wars over the centuries. The Acropolis as it is today is mostly a restoration of the buildings as described in history.
The restoration began in 1975 and is nearly complete. There are original rocks that have some carvings from their original placement; this may be a simple cross, but it says volumes about the history of this site; WOW!
One can only look and imagine what this site was like. Here are a few pictures of the Acropolis.
Having completed the tour, we headed to lunch in the Plaka district. There are many restaurants, cafes, and small stores along the way. This area of Athens is bustling and is the old historical neighborhood of Athens, clustered around the northern and eastern slopes of the Acropolis. After walking around Plaka, we headed back to the hotel for a little rest before dinner.
We decided on a small family-owned restaurant off the beaten path in Plaka called Aspro Alogo. Dinner here was like eating at home with the family. Everything was excellent including the Greek wine and shots after dinner.
We were fortunate to sit next to a couple from the United States, Cathy and Dino. We had a great dinner sitting next to them, drinking wine and trying the local Greek food. Dino and Cathy both met as doctors in the U.S. Army. Cathy has since gone into private practice as a trauma specialist, while Dino, a cardiologist, is active and stationed in Germany. We met them again for a few drinks the next night. We will definitely see them in the future, either in Germany or Florida.
The next day, keeping to our rules of no taxis (broken a few times!), we found out we could take local bus 40 to the port where we would catch our last cruise. It was a pretty easy bus ride of about 45 minutes, and we only had to walk about a kilometer to the cruise shipbuilding. We laughed along the way, saying this was our last “dragging the luggage event” from now on, we would stay unpacked for the next 12 days.