GREECE / Athens TOP 10

GREECE / Athens TOP 10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATHENS

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Cradle of the European Civilization

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At the edge of  the Attica Peninsula, lies a large metropolis which bares a nickname – the Cradle of the European Civilization. Two to three days of your stay in Athens would usually be enough to visit the most important places of interest, which makes this capital city ideal for a „city-break“, an escape during an extended weekend. Here is the list of places you shouldn’t miss, while in Athens…

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Panorama of Athens and Lycabettus Hill from the Acropolis Hill © Ivana Dukčević

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Evzoni parade in front of the Hellenic Parliament © Ivana Dukčević

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Acropolis of Athens © Ivana Dukčević

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Anafiotika, at the slope of the Acropolis Hill © Ivana Dukčević

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Evzoni parade in front of the Hellenic Parliament © Ivana Dukčević

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Stavros Niarchos Cultural Centre, near the Piraeus Port © Ivana Dukčević

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Graffiti of Anafiotika

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*The text and photographs are parts of the published book on Athens (ISBN 978-86-7722-339-7), protected by copyright and related rights: Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia, Nos. 104/2009 and 99/2011.

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1) Acropolis of Athens / Filopappos Hill / Ancient Agora
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In the centre of Athens, on a top of the historical Acropolis Hill, lies Parthenon – the temple of the goddess Athena the Virgin (Athena Parthenos), the oldest example of the golden section in architecture and the most outstanding of all ancient Greek temples. Built in the 5th c. BC, with the outer colonnade which numbers 17 x 8, it has been rebuilt for years now in order to put parts of columns in a proper place. Together with other temples on Acropolis Hill, it is a part of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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Except for Parthenon, half-centuries younger Erechteion is well renowned for its columns in the shape of female figures – Caryatids. The story says that while conquering Asia Minor, ancient Greeks were stunned by the beauty of local women from Caryae whom they used to bring to Athens and marry, and later magnified their beauty in this way.

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In the south-east, next to the Acropolis, there is a green Filopappos Hill. It is named after a monument of an ancient Asian prince who lived in Athens and liked it so much. Filopappos Hill is a place of the first assembly ever – Ecclesia, and the place where Socrates was imprisoned and died having drunk a poison. From a certain part of the hill, you can experience a beautiful view of Acropolis.

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Beneath Acropolis, at the place where once the ancient city centre – Agora, stood, the only building still in its place is the Temple of Hephaestus (the god of blacksmith and merchants). Although the market, court, prison, and other ancient public buildings no longer exist, a half-century ago the Stoa of Attalos, an ancient „shopping mall“ was reconstructed. Inside, there is a museum of everything that was found in Agora, starting from an ancient ballot-box, dice for games, a baby’s potty, urns of deceased, coins, and finally „ostrakas“ – pieces of broken pottery with name inscriptions, votes for people who were supposed to be expelled from the city.

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Acropolis of Athens © Ivana Dukčević

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Parthenon, Acropolis of Athens © Ivana Dukčević

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Ancient Agora – Stoa of Attalos, ostrakas © Ivana Dukčević

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Plaka © Ivana Dukčević

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2) Plaka and Roman Agora
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Beneath the Acropolis, from its northern and eastern slopes, you will enter a bohemian quarter – Plaka. Except for taverns with sirtaki (gyros and tzatziki), this is the place to buy your souvenirs, T-shirts, or perhaps a rather cheap but a good quality hand-made leather sandals with long strips, typical footwear of ancient Greeks.

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Between the alleys with taverns and souvenir shops, there is a Roman Agora, the centre of the city during the ancient Roman occupation of Athens (from 2nd c. BC), with the remains of Hadrian’s Library and fascinating Tower of the Winds – a place where they used to measure time by the amount of water that ran from a spring (from the Acropolis Hill).

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Not far from there, next to the Vironos alley, named after the British poet Lord Byron – a great admirer of the ancient Greek civilization and a supporter of the independence of Turkish rule, settled the Monument of Lysicrates, one of the first public monuments in the world (4th c. BC). 






Ancient Agora © Ivana Dukčević

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Plaka © Ivana Dukčević

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Plaka, Monument of Lysicrates © Ivana Dukčević

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Roman Agora, Tower of Winds © Ivana Dukčević

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Roman Agora, Emperor Hadrian’s Library © Ivana Dukčević

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3) New Acropolis Museum
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At the end of the 18th century, when the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin, requested permission from Turkish authorities to pick up the scattered pieces of columns and relief decoration of the Parthenon from the Acropolis, no one could guess that a few years later, his collection would be sold the newly established British Museum, in London. Even today, there is a silent war between the British and Greek governments, where the former claims to have bought and fairly paid for the objects in the museum a long ago, and the latter tries to return to their country the taken cultural heritage.

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For years, the main advantage against returning the “Elgin Marbles” (as the collection is called), was the fact that the old Acropolis museum is small and without adequate conditions for keeping such a historical treasure. For this reason, the new, modern museum was built and opened in 2009 – right next to the Acropolis. Entirely made of glass, with a large exhibition space on three levels, the top floor of the museum is set to the original Parthenon frieze, or more precisely – slightly more than its one-third. The remaining parts are left empty, as a sort of notice to visitors that less than two-thirds of the strips/relieves are still in the British Museum.

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Apart from the Parthenon frieze, in the New Acropolis Museum you can see various Archaic statues (“kouros” and “korai”), original Caryatides, remnants of pottery, jewellery, and other everyday objects that have been found on the Acropolis.

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New Acropolis Museum © Ivana Dukčević

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The oldest in the world – Theatre of Dionysus, with New Acropolis Museum © Ivana Dukčević

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New Acropolis Museum © Ivana Dukčević

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New Acropolis Museum, Caryatids © Ivana Dukčević

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4) Monastiraki and Kerameikos
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Although it may sound weird to someone that a cemetery could be one of a tourist attraction, in this case, it is what it is. However, it is not a “regular” cemetery, but the ancient one – from the 5thand 4th century BC. Tombstones with interesting relief depicting the life and desires of the ancient Athenians, their professions and family members, as well as decorative ceramic urns (lekithos) at the museum nearby, will introduce you to another world where, once upon a time, death had a different meaning.

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On the east from the Kerameikos Archaeological Site, on the way to the centre, you will pass through a part of the city named Monastiraki. Antique shops of forgotten crafts, brass coffee pots and bells, a chess figure or shadow puppet theatre Karagoz, and pieces of coconut on small stalls, as in the East, may give you an idea of buying some less usual souvenirs of Greece.

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Ancient cemetery of Kerameikos © Ivana Dukčević

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Monastiraki © Ivana Dukčević

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Monastiraki © Ivana Dukčević

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Monastiraki, Taverna Bairaktaris © Ivana Dukčević

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Monastiraki market © Ivana Dukčević

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Monastiraki flee market © Ivana Dukčević

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5) Panathenaic Stadium
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The first ancient Olympic Games were created a few hundred kilometres southwest of the present capital, in Olympia, in the 8th c. BC, and the first modernin Athens, thanks to the French historian Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who invested his money and reputation in the birth of the idea of Olympism at the end of the 19th century. He was the one who founded the International Olympic Committee and eventually succeeded to convince a large segment of the European society and politicians, that the Olympic Games should be revived. 

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For this purpose, near the centre, on the remains of the ancient Panathenaic (“all-Athenian”) stadium, the new one of the same name was built. In 1896, it was the host of the first modern Olympic Games. The only marble stadium in the world was used during the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, for the finish of marathon race. In addition to sporting events, the stadium has been also used for holding rock concerts and those of classical music.

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Panathenaic Stadium © Ivana Dukčević

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6) Hellenic Parliament and Syntagma Metro Station
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The central Athenian metro station – Syntagma, is located on the square with the same name, right under the Parliament building (the old royal palace). After photographing the guards (Evzoni) dressed in interesting costumes, descend into the underground to see what archaeologists found when the metro station was built. Everything was left in the place where it was found, only the glass window was installed as protection. The remains of tombs, pottery and ceramic water pipes, are among some of the artefacts that you will see on the way to the subway station platform.
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Hellenic Parliament – evzoni guardian © Ivana Dukčević

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Hellenic Parliament © Ivana Dukčević

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Syntagma Metro Station – beneath the Hellenic Parliament © Ivana Dukčević

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7) National Archaeological Museum of Athens
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North of the very centre of Athens, stands a large edifice – the most important of Greek national museums. The remains of almost all of the crucial archaeological sites, from all parts of Greece, are located in this place, arranged in separate rooms. From the Cretan (Minoan) culture that was not of the Greek origin, the Cycladic culture – the prehistoric culture of the Greek islands (of the same name), the oldest Doric – Mycenaean culture (e.g “Agamemnon’s” death mask and cups of Vafi), through the Greco-Persian and Peloponnesian wars, Sparta and Athens, to the Roman occupation, in this museum you will see some of the most important exhibits of the history of the ancient Greece.

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National Archaeological Museum – ancient statues of kouros © Ivana Dukčević

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National Archaeological Museum © Ivana Dukčević

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National Archaeological Museum – Zeus or Poseidon? It is still unknown © Ivana Dukčević

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National Archaeological Museum – ancient footwear © Ivana Dukčević

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National Archaeological Museum – Antikythera mechanism © Ivana Dukčević

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8) Lycabettus Hill
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Northeast of the city, if you go on foot or by underground funicular, in a few minutes you will find yourself at the top of the Lycabettus hill. In addition to a little church and a restaurant, the most common reason for going to the top is a famous view to the southwest of Athens – a panorama that you have to experience. In front of you, in a plain view, you can see not only the centre of the entire city (e.g. Acropolis on the hill) but also the Port of Piraeus, in the distance. For the best photos, come in the morning, when the sun is in the east. 

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A view of Athens from the top of  Lycabettus Hill © Ivana Dukčević

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A view from the top of  Lycabettus Hill © Ivana Dukčević

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The ancient legend is written in the Lycabettus Hill funicular © Ivana Dukčević

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9) Piraeus Port
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Once an inhabited island near Athens, during the 5th c. BC earth filling and wall construction made Piraeus a part of a town and it’s port. One of the largest ports in this part of the Mediterranean, as far as passenger and cargo transport are concerned, has experienced popularity with a famous Greek movie „Children of Piraeus“ („Ta pedia tou Piraia“) and its song „Never on Sunday“, sang by Melina Mercouri. You’ve probably heard and maybe hummed the song which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song back in 1960, at least once, while travelling through Greece.

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Even if you do not intend to go to one of the Greek islands by ferry, in Piraeus you will need to get at least two or three hours. Sit on the shore and watch the comings and goings of ships, loading and unloading of people and cars, and even briefly feel and smell the harbour atmosphere.

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Piraeus Port © Ivana Dukčević

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Piraeus Port © Ivana Dukčević

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Piraeus Port © Ivana Dukčević

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10) Cape Sounion 

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According to an ancient legend, more than two and a half thousand years ago, wrongly interpreting black sails aboard a ship of his son Theseus, the more saddened king of Athens, Aegeus threw himself from the cliff in a big blue (so the sea was named after him – Aegean). Near the spot from which this happened, there are the remains of the Temple of Poseidon, dating from the 5th c BC. Although not of particular importance, many Greeks consider this place as one of the most romantic in Athens and around, as for sitting on the cape and looking through the pillars of the temple, one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world can be seen.

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Perhaps the popularity of this benefited from the fact that in one part of the temple, an engraved signature in marble was found, assumed to belong to the greatest English romantic poet, Lord Byron. In his poem „The Islets of Greece“, in the three short verses full of emotion, he described Cape Sounion.

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Agora, Temple of Hephaestus © Ivana Dukčević

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