Athens: The Top Ten Attractions Not to Miss
Despite Greece’s current economic pressure, Athens still remains to be one of the major tourist destinations in the world. In her book, Athens Top 50 Places to visit, Interesting stories that bring them to life, Tatiana Mandis describes in great detail the culture and customs of Greece. She explains a brief history, then goes through her list of top sites and things to do. Her excitement for travel is very evident throughout. She makes her reader very comfortable. She explains the elaborate history of Greece that keeps people coming from all over.
I will examine the top ten attractions that anyone visiting Athens today should visit. The Author of the book is only eleven years old. She lives with her parents and younger sister in New York City. The benefits from her book will help need-based financial-aid programs at the Spence School and the Komansky Center for Children’s Health at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
Alright. Everyone has heard of the Acropolis and digested information about it during history class. However, you simply can’t even say you visited Athens (or Greece for that matter) without seeing the monumental collection of structures. The Acropolis which means “high city” was built during the (fifth century BC) Golden Age of Ancient Greece under the leadership of Pericles). It is 490 feet above sea level. It is a great location to evade enemy attack. The most biggest and most famous building of the acropolis is the Pantheon. The place for a view of the city of Athens below is at the Flag post or Belvedere Terrance which was constructed for the Greek Royal family in the 19th century.
It has been said that when the Germans occupied Athens during the second world war, the flag post guard, Kostandinos Kaukidis was ordered to remove the Greek flag and replace it with the Nazis flags to show that it showed that the Nazis now controlled Athens. The guard removed the Greek flag, wrapped it around himself and jumped off the Acropolis to his death. This is just one of the many fascinating facts about the great landmark.
Evzones, or the Greek soldiers whose origins date back to ancient times (Kaukidis was one of these), are a noble group. They are noble soldiers that fight in the Greek Army and this wear the same uniform from the days of old. They were described in the Iliad as an elite infantry soldier. In the past they guarded the Greek-Turkish Border and the Greek countryside. Nowadays, they are used as ceremonial. They mainly guard important landmarks that are important to the ancient Nation. The decorative uniforms help symbolize the struggle they had leading up to the War of Independence.
Ernest Hemingway, American author an journalist was in Greece reporting on the Greco-Turkish War he exclaimed at how shocked he was to see “dead men in white ballet skirts and upturned shoes with pom-poms on them.
The barracks are located on Irodou Attikou Street. They are specialized buildings for soldiers to train,work and live. The uniforms were handmade in the barracks. In 1994 the square outside of them where they drill was named after Kaukidis.
This stadium was one of the greatest stadiums the ancient world. It is located at the base of two hills (Ardittos Hill and Agras Hill. During classical times the stadium had wooden seating which was replaced with marble in Herodes Atticus’s renovation of 140 AD. In Roman times it was used for gladiator fights. It seats 60,000 spectators and is the largest stadium made entirely out of marble. It was restored again in the 1850s for the first modern Olympics which Greece hosted in 1896.
The stadium was first used to host the athletic competitions of the Panathenaic Games. These were part of the Panatheneaea Festival which was Athens’ most important festival lasting twelve days. It honored the goddess Athena and was celebrated in July the beginning of the Athenian calendar. A Spyros Louis, a poor boy who helped his father deliver water to makemoney, entered the race and won first place. Being so overjoyed, King George offered Louis anything he wanted. However, Louis simply asked for a donkey-drawn carriage to help carry water for his father back home.
In 478 BC general Themistocles built defensive walls around Athens. He also built to large city gates–the Dipylon and the Sacred Gate. The main road called the Sacred Way ran throughout the Sacred Gate on the southern side. On the Northern side, a wide road, the Panathenaic Way ran through Dipylon, past Plato’s Academy, through the Ancient Greek Agora and straight to the Acropolis. The main building, the Pompeian, was mainly used for a the once-every-four years parade and festival of Panathenaia.
Outside was the area for the official cemetery of ancient Athens from the eleventh century BC to the second century AD. Pericles, “the first citizen of Athens” and Cleisthenes, “the father of democracy” are said to be buried here. This graveyard was where notable Athenians were buried at the public’s expense. When people were buried, a ritual wasperformed in which liquids were poured on the ground to honor their dead.
Academy of Athens
Theopile Hansen designed the Academy of Athens and it was finished in 1887. It is the most beautiful neoclassical building in the world. Inside the main assembly hall there are paintings by Christian Griepenkerl that are painted in a style similar to that of Michelangelo. The artist used the myths of Prometheus to show that wisdom and reason will win out over tough problems and hard times. In Greek Mythology, Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to the humans. The academy was inspired off of Plato’s ancientacademy of philosophy that was closed in 589 AD. It focuses on the humanities, sciences, ethics and fine arts.
Mitropoli or Metropolitan Cathedral
The Greek Orthodox cathedral, Mitropoli, is the largest church of Athens and the main church of the archbishop of the city. Construction of the building began on Christmas day in 1842. King Otto and Queen Amalia laid the first stone. Workers used marble from at least 72 different churches that had been demolished by the Ottoman Turks during the war. It took three architects and twenty years to finish.
When entering a Greek Orthodox Church you should donate money to get a candle. Greeks kiss or bow to an icon and make the “sign of the cross”, saying a prayer, lighting your candle with another already lit one and places your lit candle in the sand. It is said that a lit candle standing upright symbolizes those who have been educated about the truth by Christ.
Ancient Greek Agora
The Ancient Greek Agora was a large social gathering area. Many social and cultural events, religious festivals, open-air theatrical events and athletic competitions took place here. Starting in 600 BC it was the center of Athenian government and life. It had shops, temples, a theater, springs, trees and statues. People would gather to discuss politics.
There were many buildings in the Agora. The largest one was the Middle Stoa, which dominated the central area. It was built in the second century BC and was used for stores and business. North of this was the Theater of Agrippa, built in 15 BC. The Temple of Hephaestus, Stoa of Attalos, the Church of the Holy Apostles are the other buildings still standing.
Plaka is one of the oldest areas of Athens and is in very close proximity to the Acropolis giving it the name “Neighborhood of the Gods”. This is one of Athens’ main tourist areas. It is a very trendy area with historic buildings and stone roads. Many artists and musicians receive inspiration from the ancient place. Archaeologists were able to work on the sites of the buildings that were burned down on 1884. Some of the buildings still standing dated back before the thirteenth century. The main street of Plaka and the most popular street among tourists is Adrianou Street. It starts in Agora Square in the heart of Plaka.
Lord Byron, romantic poet, philhellene, and Greek Hero lived in Plaka where he wrote the poem “Maid of Athens”.
Mount Lykavittos is more of a giant hill than a mountain is made of limestone rock and is about 910 feet high. The mountain is also known to locals as Agios Georgios (“Saint George”) after the small white church that resides on the summit. The church was built in the seventeenth century over a previous Byzantine church (Prophet Elias). There is a flag post near the church and the bell tower and every day at sunset a short ceremony his held. Two cannons fire 21-gun salutes on national holidays and special occasions.
There is a beautiful view of the city of Athens at the top. To get there you either walk or take the tele-ferik (railcar) that leaves from Kolonaki Square (an expensive shopping district). Taxis can only go up halfway. The rest of the way you will have to walk up the stairs.
In Greek mythology it is said that Athena dropped limestone rock at its location on her way to heighten her temple on the Acropolis.
National Archaeological Museum
The museum was completed in 1889 by Ludwig Lange. The National Archaeological Museum contains the largest collections of Greek art in the world. The collection of over 20,000 objects range from the seventh century BC the fifth century AD. There are many sculptures, some more life-like than others. There are many interesting artifacts one can find such as Nestor’s Cup, the golden mixing cup of Nestor, King of Pylos of Homer’s Iliad. You can also find the Mask of Agamemnon. There is also many great Egyptian finds such as mummies, a 3,000 year old loaf of bread with a bite taken out of it.
In the early 1990s a ship-wreak was found off off the Greek island of Antikythera near the island of Crete on the edge of the Aegean Sea. There were many interesting objects including the Antikythera Ephebe, a gorgeous bronze statue of a young man, and the Antikythera mechanism. This looks like a bronze wheel with complex gears and dials. During World War II all of the museum’s artifacts were put into special boxes and buried so they Germans wouldn’t find them.
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