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Athens, Greece - Ancient and modern Athens - 29th March 2002

Posted by Edmond on Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Syntagma Square, the central square of Athens, and a walk in the National Gardens. The Ancient site of Acropolis, Porch of the Caryatids at the Erechtheum, the Parthenon and the Acropolis Museum. The Tower of Winds at the Roman Angora. Temple of Hephaistos and the Agora Museum at the site of Ancient Agora. A walk of Monstriaki area, Omonia Square, Ermou Street and the Plaka.

1. Syntagma Square and Greece Parliament
2. The National Park
3. Acropolis and the museum
4. The Roman Angora
5. The Agora
6. Monstriaki
7. Ommonia Square and Ermou Street
8. The Plaka
Acropolis Museum
The Ancient City of Athens

My sister and I headed for Syntagma Square early in the morning, which was just a few stops away via Metro. Syntagma square is in the centre of Athens, lodged within the busy shopping district of Ermou Street, the Parliament and the quieter region of Plaka. At the Parliament, guards take their positions at the tomb of the unknown soldier amid the bustle of traffic around Syntagma. To escape the noise and pollution, the National Park was the ideal place, ancient trees line each pathway in the park. Animals and bird species are kept here in the park to provide more natural surroundings amid the traffic and pollution outside.

After a while walking in the park, we hopped on the next metro from Syntagma Square to Acropolis. This is just another stop on the new red line of the Athens metro. On leaving the metro, we walked along the wide cobbled street of Dionissou Areopagitou towards the entrance to the Acropolis, passing the theatre of Dionysius, and later, the Odeon of Herod Atticus. From the ticket office, there was a steep, and sometimes slippery, stair climb up towards the Acropolis. Thus it pays to have good walking boots here, some paid the penalty by slipping along the pathways.

After walking through the Baileu Gate and the Propilea, I could see the ruins of the famous Parthenon and the Erechtheum, both very far from the beauty and grandness that reflected the vast wealth of Ancient Athens. Littered around the site are marble boulders, possibly remains of the ruins, mixed with sheds and lifting equipment possibly used to haul any artefact found around the ruins. Walking along the north side of the Parthenon, a clear view of the Porch of the Caryatids could be seen. Along the edge of Acropolis, a view of the urban sprawl of Athens, which seems to continue endlessly around the hills surrounding the city.

Behind the Parthenon and built partially underground, is the Acropolis museum. Inside are eight rooms, some containing artefacts while others displaying copies of metopes, freizes and pediments of the temples at the site. There are copies of the pediments and freizes of the Temple of Athena Nike (on the west side of the Acropolis) in Room II, while in Room VIII, copies of the metopes that formed the freize of the Parthenon that is now housed in the British Museum. Plaster reproductions of Poseidon on the Parthenon pediments is another highlight that can be seen in Room VII.

We left behind the Acropolis, and walked towards the Agora, via the street of Panos. Panos is just north of the Acropolis and is easily accessed by turning right from the exit of the Acropolis. Panos ends at the Roman Angora, which is easily spotted by the cylindrical shape of Tower of the Winds. Then we walked along the narrow street of Polygnotou to the Agora.

As it was about 2pm, only one hour was left before the Agora closes. With such a short amount of time, we headed first for the Angora museum. Utilising the space of the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos, the museum contains artefacts and statues recovered from the site which gives a good idea of what life was like in the Agora during the times of Ancient Athens.

We then headed for the Temple of Hephaistos via the ruins of the Middle Stoa and the Metroon. Very little remains of all the structures around the Agora, which is apparent when we arrived at the hill of the Temple of Hephaistos. So it is surprising that such an old structure still survives nearly intact to this day.

The last stop before leaving was the Odeon of Agrippa. This is easily distinguishable by the four large statues rising from the ground, exactly east from the Temple of Hephaistos. Like many of the buildings, not much remains of the theatre, making it difficult for us to imagine what the original building may have looked like. Despite this, the statues at the old entrance are still well-preserved.

In contrast to the peaceful surrounds of Agora, just north was Monstriaki. Buzzing with activity, the tiny shopfronts, market stands and cheap restaurants were surrounded by tourists and locals alike. The whole area, including the metro station and the trains, looked like it grew too quickly, leaving no room for any of the modernisation seen in Syntagma or Acropolis.

After lunch at Monstriaki, we caught the metro back to Syntagma Square and explored the shopping area of Ermou Street, Mitropolis square where the churches Little and Great Mitropolis stood, before walking north along Aiolou Street into the more grimier and polluted areas until arriving at Omonia Square. Unusually enough, the Town hall and the square we passed was clean compared to the central market and Omonia. With renovations progressing for the olympics, Omonia Square looked much smaller and dirtier than it should.

By the end of the day, we escaped to the more peaceful and touristy area of the Plaka, a few minutes walk south along the streets of Filellinon and Kydathinaion. The Plaka still retains the integrity of Ancient Athens, and is ideal for a relaxing stroll away from the hustle and bustle of the city. In the heart of the Plaka is the main square, where we and the other tourists had our dinner. Touting is common practice - choosing the restaurant with the most customers seemed to be the best option.

We had covered a lot of ground in the first day at Athens and experienced quite alot of the city and its ancient ruins. It is quite interesting to see that, after the fall of Ancient Athens and what is left of the ruins, there is still immense activity within the city as evident by its traffic, pollution, urban sprawl and continuing modernisation. Such progression seems to have diversified the culture across Athens, the peacefulness of the Ancient world mixes in with the ever-continuing growth of the modern world.

Edmond, 2002