Destinations Lifestyle

Visit Athens like a Pro – the Best and the Worst

March 31, 2018

The old folks say that one is free to leave this life once they’ve seen all of the World’s wonders. Luckily, some of them are situated in Athens and therefore exploring Ancient Greece’s rich culture would help you tick off few boxes at a time. But don’t be fooled by the promising appearance of this city because at the end the reality might not meet your expectations. We will reveal some of the well known spots for history lovers  in 360 degrees but we plan to also warn you regarding the clouds you might have not thought of.

Being proud Bulgarians by origin, the proximity to our neighbor country Greece has allowed us to visit some parts of the land – the Aegean islands and the Northern coastline but never the capital. Until now. So, after a week spent in Athens, we are presenting you the most attractive historical sites through our lens as well as making you familiar with the city’s positives and negatives. We are going to be more transparent than ever, as our experience has left us with mixed feelings.

The Positives

Like every other capital, Athens has a well developed infrastructure, ready to cover the big volume of leisure and business visitors. With generally mild climate throughout the year, you can effortlessly wear a skirt and a light jacket in mid December.

The Mediterranean vibe floats through the air – it’s the sense of olive and lemon trees popping out in the urban jungle and maybe the salty tinge coming with your Greek meal. That’s right – if you would prefer traditionally cooked meat + vegetable meals rather than over-flavored high-carb-saucy-dish, then you should like the Greek cuisine. A three-course meal for two people at a mid-range restaurant should cost you around 40€ , which would be a similar expense in Madrid or Lisbon. The cost of espresso varies from 1.20 to 2:20 in most local cafeterias, whereas for unknown reason, beer is expensive – expect to pay up to 4-5€ for bottle in a restaurant.

You simply can’t miss The Acropolis.  It is an ancient citadel, built by the world’s most advanced civilization and even though we have been studying it for centuries we are still not sure how they did it. The Acropolis contains the Parthenon and other notable buildings, mostly dating from the 5th century BC. Getting there is easy and it takes about 1h30 minutes.

The first thing you are going to see at the entrance is the Propylaea, which was completed in 432 just before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian wars. If you are looking down from the Propylaea towards Pireaus on a clear day you can see ships waiting outside the port of Pireaus, the islands and the mountains of the Peloponnesos beyond.

Now as we have mentioned in the beginning, we really want to show your around the historical sites as they are – in 360 degrees and without any imagery manipulation. A lot of the monuments are under construction or are not allowed to be entered at all. Plus, once you enter the Acropolis, you will find yourself surrounded by people from all over the world, each of them holding a two-meter long selfie stick, looking for their perfect photo spot. We suggest that you carry a tourist brochure or at least check the sites prior arrival as the ruins are pretty similar and could be easily confused, yet historically unique.

You can visit the ancient city and the Acropolis Museum (which contains some of Athens’ most valuable collections of ancient Greek art)  in about 4 hours combined, but you will be exhausted when done in summertime – keep in mind that temperatures can reach over 40 in August.

The ancient theater on the next photo is called Odeon of Herodes Atticus, named after Herodes Atticus of Marathon, who built it in memory of his wife Regilla in AD 161. The theater was designed with an auditorium fitted into a natural hollow. Semicircular rows of seating could accommodate nearly 5,000 people.

It is the Erecthion that is the real religious temple on the Acropolis. It sits in what was the northeast corner of what was the original temple, that was burned and destroyed by the Persians. Built from 421 BC to 395 BC, the Erechtheion complex contains a number of ancient sanctuaries, as one of its most famous features  is the Porch of the Caryatids (on the next photo) – six columns sculpted as figures of maidens in place of ordinary columns.

It’s good to know that the fourth-century-BC Theater of Dionysos is the oldest of the three architectural complexes built on the southern slopes of the Acropolis. The great Greek tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides were performed here.

Found immediately south of the main Erechtheion sanctuaries, The Old Temple of Athena was built in the early sixth century BC  and destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC along with all the other buildings of the Archaic period. It was not until the 19th century that the foundations of the temple were uncovered by archaeologists. The two kissing figures in front are travel junkies. Legend has it that they spend a huge part of their lives in search of new destinations.

Back on our walking tour, we are reaching The Temple of Olympian Zeus, located south-east of Athens’ acropolis near the River Ilissos. It would become the city’s largest. The site shows evidence of habitation from the Neolithic period. Though the temple was considered one of the best examples of the Doric design because of its style and the quality of the workmanship, it was decided the temple alone was too simple to be worthy of the King of the gods. 

As we love keeping the best for last, here is the story of our most favourite part about Athens – the Panathenaic Stadium.

Created under the supervision of orator Lycurgus, it was an appropriate venue for sporting competitions held during thePanathenaic Games, one of the city’s great celebrations.

The stadium would be used for the first time in 330/329 BC.  However, after centuries in the blue, the stadium was refurbished in 1896 when it was decided to host the first modern Olympic Games. The entire cost was taken on by the Greek benefactor, Georgios Averoff , on the condition that it would be rebuilt exactly on the foundations of the ancient monument, and so the architect Anastasis Metaxas  started working on the project. The reconstruction work became a race against time as it had to be completed in less than a year. In the summer of 1895, the stadium became a construction site, filled with stacks of marble slabs, wooden scaffolding, stone masons, laborers and sturdy horse-drawn carts. Now it’s a gorgeous monument, in fact one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions that also hosts cultural and sporting events.

The Negatives

As good as it might be, Athens is by far not a perfect destination. We often found ourselves feeling insecure walking by the streets.

Apparently, on the day of our arrival there was a revolution around the city. Police officers were placed on every street and it gave a feeling of something big and bad was about to happen. We literally was suggested not to go out at that night since things can get really serious out there. On that day , many years ago, a tank went inside a school and killed dozens of young children. Since then, every year on that day, people go out on the streets and form a revolution to show that they have not forgotten. It is an honorable way, however, mark the date (17.11) and do not plan to go there then.

And another major point – do not expect to see beautiful alleys around the central neighborhoods to take pictures of. Most likely you will end up framing yourself with a bunch of litter on the ground. There was plenty of trash and people didn’t even bat an eye. The air was also heavily polluted and apart from that, Greece has this fame of inefficient canalization system, which means that you will be kindly asked not to throw the toilet paper in the toilet. Poverty is also a thing with the political events from the past ten years that have causet high unemployment and generally lower income for many Greeks. So, if you are an environmentalist or generally concerned about social rights, Greece’s capital probably is not your destination.

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