Athens, Greece


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Our next stop was the sprawling capital of Greece: Athens. While researching about the city, we saw that strollers weren't allowed on the Acropolis so due to that, and a few other factors, we decided to leave the kids on the boat and explore Athens just Paige and Chris.

We hopped on a bus at the port and got off at the start of Rick Steves' self-guided walk, Syntagma Square.
At the head of the square is the Greek Parliament Building with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of it. The parliament building was originally built as a palace by Prince Otto of Bavaria in 1832, but since 1935 the palace has been the home of Greek democracy.

The tomb is guarded by the Evzone, an elite infantry unit of the Greek army. These soldiers are clad in traditional pleated kilts called fustanellas, white britches, and pom-pom shoes. They do a slow, high-stepping march as they change positions and I caught some of it on video.

On the north end of Syntagma Square are high-end hotels including the opulent Hotel Grande Bretagne which dates from the Bavarian Prince Otto's Neoclassical makeover of the area in the first half of the 19th century.
Leaving the square we started walking down Mitropoleos street and saw this old Orthodox church with a modern building built right over the top of it. 
Chris stopped for a quick snack of koulouri, a pretzel-like sesame ring. Yummy.

After we crossed over to the pedestrian Ermou street we saw the Church of Kapnikarea. After Athen's ancient Golden Age and before the Ottomans, Athens was part of the Byzantine Empire. As the city boomed again in the 11th and 12th centuries, many Eastern Orthodox churches like this were built. The Church of Kapnikarea is a classic example of an 11th century Byzantine church with a symmetrical Greek cross floor plan and a domed cupola toping the building. It was fun to run into these hundreds-of-years-old structures in the heart of a big, modern city.
In front of the nearby cathedral stands a statue of Archbishop Damasinos which was erected by Athens' Jewish community in honor of this leader who stood up to the Nazis during the occupation of Greece.
The cathedral was built in 1842 and is the most important church in Athens.

In the shadow of the bigger modern cathedral is the little Church of Agios Eleftherios. It dates from the 13th century and is a jigsaw-puzzle hodgepodge of decorations and adornments including bits from the ancient market place called the Agora. 
Could this little snack cafe be any cuter? It's called Cookie Land and has mint tables and chairs in front. You know we had to stop and grab a snack here.

We continued on to Adrianou street, the center of the Plaka neighborhood.

An excavated area nearby shows where street level was 2,000 years ago.
Pretties.

We turned left down Lysikratous street and reached the Arch of Hadrian. Built in A.D. 132, the arch celebrated the completion of the Temple of Zeus which lies just beyond it and served as a gate into the Hadrian's new "Roman" city. 
The HUGE (notice the people in the picture so you can get a sense of their size) Corinthian columns behind the arch are the remains of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. This was the largest temple in ancient Greece and took almost 700 years to finish.
Hiking back uphill we got a great view over the city on Stratonos street. The hill in the background is Lykavittos and is the highest hill in Athens at just over 900 feet above sea-level. 
Leaving Stratonos street we seemed to enter an entirely different place. Did we somehow end up on one of the Greek islands? This charming "village" within Athens is called Anafiotika and was built by people from the tiny island of Anafi who came to Athens looking for work after Greece won its independence from the Ottomans. The islanders recreated their home in the heart of Athens.
It's a transplanted Cycladic world complete with the blue and white colors so characteristic of Greek islands.

While some ancestors of the original islanders still live here, Anafiotika is slowly becoming a place where wealthy locals keep an "island cottage" in the city. 
The area even has its own collection of cats, just like you find all over the Greek islands.
Through this maze were little signs directing you towards the Acropolis so we followed those as we wound our way through.

Then it was time for the big enchilada gyro (when in Greece!): the Acropolis! 

Before entering the Acropolis proper, we climbed Mars Hill for views over Athens.
Bright, sunshiny day!
Okay, on to the Acropolis! This is one of the most important ancient sites in the world. It's where the Greeks built the mighty Parthenon, the most famous temple anywhere and an enduring symbol of ancient Athens' Golden Age. 

Before reaching the summit of the hill, we saw the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. This theater was mainly used for musical performances rather than plays. It was built during the Roman era in A.D. 161 and seated 5,000 people. 
Then it was up onto the Acropolis proper. The entrance is called the Propylaea and is a fittingly grand entrance. The Propylaea is u-shaped with a central building that once looked like a mini-Parthenon. In the left wing there was the Pinacoteca, or painting gallery, which in ancient times housed artwork and visiting VIPs. In front of the right wing is the Temple of Athena Nike done in the Ionic style.
Passing through the Propylaea.
And then there it was! The Parthenon!
The views from atop the Acropolis were divine.
The Parthenon was the finest temple in the ancient world and stands on the highest point of the Acropolis. The temple is now largely in ruins, partly from the ravages of time, but mostly from a freak accident in 1687 when it suffered bomb damage during a war. The building served the cult of Virgin Athena and functioned as both a temple and as the treasury of Athens.
The rocks on top are super slippery from thousands of years of feet trodding across them. | Greek flag on top of the Acropolis. | Shady grove of olive trees just outside the Acropolis gate.

Another fine view from the top.
There are numerous structures on the hill, including the Erectheion. While it is overshadowed by the more impressive Parthenon, the Erectheion was perhaps more prestigious. It stands on one of the oldest sites on the hill where the Mycenaeans had once built their palace. Inside, there used to be a life-size wood statue of Athena in her role of Athena Polias, or "Protector of the City."
The famous Porch of the Caryatids is a balcony with six beautiful maidens functioning as columns. This was the first time that the Greeks combined structural architectural elements and sculpture. 
A broader view of the hilltop. 
Near the Porch of the Caryatids is an olive tree, a replacement for the one that Athena planted here in her face-off with Poseidon in Greek mythology. 
After marveling at the wonders of the ancient world, we left out through the Propylaea.
We walked down through a different neighborhood.
Down below the Acropolis are some ruins from Roman times, the remains of the Forum. It was the commercial center of Roman Athens and centuries later, the Ottomans made it their grand bazaar. 
Nearby is the octagonal, domed Tower of the Winds. Built in the first century B.C., this building was an ingenious combination of clock, weathervane, and guide to the planets. 
Eventually we spilled out onto Monastiraki Square with the 12th century Byzantine Church of the Virgin in the center. 
We were starved after all of our walking and exploring so we ducked just off the square onto what's called "Souvlaki Row." This little lane is chock full of cafes and restaurants serving up the sausage shaped, skewered meat grilled up spicy and tasty known as souvlaki. We got one each with all the fixings including sauce, tomatoes, onions, paprika powder and french fries all wrapped up in pita bread for just 2 euros each. Deelish! 
That evening we took the kids up to the top deck to enjoy the sunshine and look out over Athens. And what do you know, we could see the Acropolis. So cool.
Chris & Paige in Athens, Greece on Friday August 26th 2016.

Then we walked around the port town of Piraeus with the kids - recap coming next!

2 comments

  1. Picture it ... me clapping my hands in GLEE when I read the title of your post today!! :) I was so excited to see Athens!! Thank you for all the fabulous photos!!! Brookie receives monthly magazines for kids for countries around the world, and when we got Greece, we read and read and read all about it!! Thanks for this post!!!!!!!!! :)

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  2. We did the "Mediterranean Empires" cruise in 2014 on the Nieuw Amsterdam. Thanks for bringing back great memories!

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