Being on the hill of the Acropolis, we are inevitably left breathless by the birds’ eye views from above. Whole modern and ancient Athens is in our palms and this awesome feeling of enjoying the picturesque ancient-modern view will remain in our minds forever and ever.
The whole city is dotted by the remains of ancient cultural and civil buildings which are visible either along the slopes of the Acropolis or in the distance.
If you look down at the southern slopes of the Highest Town your eyes will be focused on some very ancient cultural buildings and archeological sites. Let’s start with the Herodion. Tiberius Claudius Atticus Herodes was a very wealthy Athenian citizen from the Municipality of Marathon who lived in the 2nd century AD. He was a very popular orator and tutor of lots of sophists. Moreover, he sponsored the construction of a great number of monuments as well as the execution of various welfare projects throughout Greece. The Odeon Herodes Atticus was one of them. It was built in 161 AD and its sponsor dedicated it to his wife – Aspasia Annia Regilles. It accommodated 17 000 spectators on 64 tiers of seats, about 20 having survived up t now. The Odeon was restored in 1955 and since then it’s been used regularly for various performances of ancient drama, opera, music, concerts, ballet and dances.
The Theatre of Dionysus is next to the Herodion. It’s the first theatre ever built in the history of civilization. It possessed wooden rows of seats plus a wooden stage. Today visitors can enjoy its ruins which are well preserved.
The next focal point of every tourist’s visit is the Acropolis Museum which is home to various ancient artifacts even though some important ones have been brought to the British Museum.
Before moving to the northeast slope we cast a glance in the distance to the south-east. Of course, the first thing we see is the blue Aegean Sea and Piraeus. The view is really spectacular, believe me. But we also stumble upon the New Town (i.e. Adrianoupolis) beyond the Gate of Adrianus. Just enjoy the beauty of this ancient-modern blend from above for a little while because our future stop will be namely there.
Now it’s high time we moved to the northern and north-eastern slope of the Acropolis where we dive into the oldest historical district of Athens – Pláka. Its name is of uncertain origin and it’s supposed to have derived from Arvanite “Pliak Athena” which meant “Old Athens“.
The neighbourhood was built on the top of the residential complexes of ancient Athens. Although it was a residential area, it was known as the “Neighborhood of the Gods” owing to its proximity to the Highest Town. A very interesting fact is that once it housed the first University of Athens. Nowadays you can have a very nice walk in the maze of winding and tiny streets and among neoclassical buildings. You could do the shopping in plenty of souvenir shops or stop for a dinner and lunch in one of the numerous Greek tavernas offering traditional Greek dishes.
After your short visit to Pláka, we are ready to head to the northwest slope of the Acropolis where the Ancient Agora is. It was the heart of the public life and the focal point of civic, political and commercial activities of Ancient Athens. Moreover, a lot of outdoor theatrical and athletic performances and contests were held there. But above all, it was the most major place where Athenian democracy was born.
The Agora was fully completed in the 2nd century AD. All of the significant administrative and judicial functions were executed and political assemblies were held here. The place was dotted by administrative public buildings, stoas, fountains, portraits, statues as well as temples and altars along the Panathenaic Way that separated the Tholos from the Stoa of Attalos. This procession way started from one of the city gates through the market place and it led to the Propylaia of the Acropolis.
Unfortunately, the Ancient Agora was destroyed several times by the Persians, the Romans under Sulla and the Herulians (a Gothic tribe from Scandinavia). Later a Byzantine neighbourhood flourished in the area of the Agora and the Church of the Holy Apostles was erected in the early 10th century to commemorate St. Paul’s teaching at the focal point of ancient Athens. There were some other periods of devastations of the ancient heart of Athens. The first excavations started in the 19th century while the first organized ones began in 1931. Since then most of the site has been excavated and the artifacts have been kept in the Museum of the Athenian Agora.
Now let us imagine being in Ancient Greece in the Hellenistic period of time. For sure, all roads would bring you to the Ancient Agora since too many important roads ended there such as the Piraeus Street (the road between Piraeus and Athens), the Areopagus Street, etc. When entering the Agora, you will be amazed with the Temple of Hephaestus (Theseion) on the Kolonos Agoraios Hill. It dominates the Agora and it is the best preserved temple from the Classical period in Hellas. It was dedicated to the God of forge – Hephaestus, and Goddess Athena.
Then, you can see the remains of the circular structure and the foundations of the Tholos. It was the place where the executive committee consisting of 50 members lived and worked there. Or in other words said, this was the headquarters of the administration of Ancient Athens. The New Bouleuterion was located to the north of the Tholos while the Metroon was nearby. The Metroon was home to the Sanctuary of the Mother of Gods (Rhea) and state archives were kept there. Then you can see the remains of other temples and arcades as well as the Basileios (Royal) Stoa of the Agora. The latter was built in 500 BC and it housed the office of legal affairs concerning ancient cults.
Moving forward you reach the very heart of Athens – The Altar of the Twelve Gods, which was built in the 6th century BC and it was the point from which all distances were measured. Having passed by the other three Stoas (the Middle, the Eastern and the Southern), you come to the Eliaea (the main Court of Justice). I should also mention two other interesting sights. The first one is the 15th-century AD Odeon of Agrippa. The second one is the Great Drain which has still been collecting the runoff from the Acropolis, Areopagos and Agora and all this is led to the Eridanos River.
Our last sight in the Agora is the Stoa of Attalos. It was fully reconstructed in the 50s of last century. It’s a two-storey covered walkway with Dorian and Ionic columns. It was built by King Attalos II of Pergamum. People gathered here to watch the Panathenaic Procession every fourth year. Nowadays it houses the Museum of the Athenian Agora. Ten of the Stoa’s ancient “shops” were gathered together and various finds from the excavations in the Agora are on display in a chronological and thematic order.
Here you can get acquainted with the objects which ancient Athenians used in both their daily and political life. The most interesting exhibits are these related to Athenian democracy. Here you can find clay public measures, official bronze weights, parts of a marble ballot-box, jury’s ballots, a clay klepsydra-water clock (it measured the time of speeches) and so on. Ostrakon (sing.) / ostraka (pl.) is like today’s ballots and is also displayed in the Museum. This was a piece of pottery (very often a broken part of a vase or another vessel) on which the name of an ancient Athenian politician was written.
In Ancient Roman times it was enlarged and additionally decorated with two other monuments – the Library of Adrianus (Hadrian’s Library) and the Horologion of Andronikos Cyrrestos (the Tower of the Winds). Hadrian’s Library was built in 132 AD and it stored papyrus “books”. There were reading rooms and lecture halls within its premises.
As to the Tower of Winds, it is an octagonal marble structure built by Andronicus of Cyrrhus around 50 BC in Athens which is, actually, the oldest, 2000-year old meteorology station. The tower was erected to measure time, to define seasons through the year as well as to define astrological dates and periods. That’s why it was supplied with sundials and a compass outside, a wind vane above and water clock or clepsydra inside. The latter was used to record time when the shine wasn’t shining. The wind vane was in the form of a bronze Triton which disappeared in an unknown direction many, many centuries ago. The Ancient Greeks invented a weather vane to measure time while the Ancient Romans used it as an instrument for foretelling the future.
Fortunately, the top friezes and reliefs of the tower are still preserved. They depict each of the winds blowing from the respective direction: Boreas (N), Kaikias (NE), Eurus (E), Apeliotes (SE), Notus (S), Livas (SW), Zephyrus ( W ) and Skiron (NW). That’s why the tower was called the Tower of Winds. It was used as a bell tower in the early Christian centuries. Then it was used by dervishes in the Ottoman period of time. By the way, the tower was so popular so that other towers and observatories were modelled after it.
There were two districts on the northwest side of Ancient Athens which were called Outer Kerameikos and Inner Kerameikos. In the course of time the outer district turned into a cemetery of the ancient town. Nowadays it is open to visitors and there you might see some marvellous tombs as well as you can visit the adjacent museum.
You, “the tourist-conquerors” of Ancient Athens are probably already tired. Well, have a last stroll in Monastiraki. You can find crowds of people, numerous artisan and antique shops where you can buy souvenirs, clothes and poscards from Athens. Or just choose one of the restaurants to have dinner or cafés to drink a cup of coffee or tea here. Just a quick note here. The market of Monastiraki is really vivid and interesting on Sunday morning. So, if you are in Athens on Sunday, I advise you not to miss it at any cost.
Okay … It’s enough for today. 🙂 Go to have a rest and sleep like a true ancient Greek god because we are going beyond the Gate of Adrianus soon in order to visit Adrianoupolis.