Do you remember when we were on the Acropolis Hill and we cast a glance at its south-east slope in the distance? What did we see? Of course, the first thing we saw was the blue Aegean Sea and Piraeus. The view was really spectacular. Do you agree with me? But we also stumbled upon the New Town (i.e. Adrianoupolis) beyond the Gate of Adrianus. So, those “postcard photos” from above got stuck in our mind. But it is high time we visited (some of) them.
One of the biggest ancient temples of Athens was constructed at the place where Ilissos River flowed. It is the Greek-Roman Temple of Olympian Zeus (also known as Olympieion) whose remains have still been there attracting millions of tourists annually. As a matter of fact, the areas that flourished around the temple were once called the New City or Adrianoupolis. They were separated from the Old City by the Gate of Adrianus which was built by the Athenians in hour of Emperor Adrianus (Emperor Hadrian).
The building of the temple began in the 6th century and it was the period of the rule of the Athenians tyrants. It was left unfinished in the years of Hellenistic democracy. Later, in the 3rd century BC the work on the Temple of Olympian Zeus was resumed by Hellenistic King Antiochus IV of Syria under the Macedonian domination in Greece. Roman architect Cossutius was engaged to design the largest temple ever known in the world but the King died in 164 BC and the work was postponed again.
Greek cities fell under the Roman rule in 86 BC. General Sulla took two of the Corinthian style columns from the still unfinished temple to Rome. His purpose was to adorn the Temple of Jupiter with them on the Capitoline Hill. Later, in the 2nd century Hadrian, as a great admirer if Greek culture, resumed the construction works again and thus the temple was fully accomplished between 129 and 131 AD (or some 638 years after the start of the project).
The temple was originally built with 104 Corinthian style columns, each of them being 17 metres high. 48 of the columns were arranged in triple rows under the pediments and the rest 56 – in double rows at the sides. On the other hand, Emperor Hadrian commissioned a giant gold-and-ivory statue of Zeus which stood in the cella. Another statue of the Emperor himself which was of the same size was also placed inside the temple. Unfortunately, today we cannot enjoy anything of the interior of the temple as nothing has remained. The only thing we can see is the 15 columns with its lovely Corinthian capitals still in place. As to the 16th one, it’s still been there but not upright. It was blown over in an earthquake in 1852 and that’s why visitors can see it on the ground – fallen and broken.
The other nearby ancient Greek site of interest is the Panathenean Olympic Stadium (or Kallimarmaro). It is situated a little bit further from the Olympieion and it’s the only stadium worldwide which was built entirely in marble. This 600 feet was constructed by Athenian statesman Lykourgos (in 330 – 329 BC) for the athletic Panathinea Games (the greatest festivities in ancient Athens). Tiberius Claudius Atticus Herodes reconstructed it the form in which it was found at the excavations in 1870. The stadium was about 204 metres long and 33 metres wide with a seating capacity of 50 000 people. Kallimarmaro hosted the first modern-era Olympics in 1896. It was an Olympic venue in 2004. It’s also a finishing point of the Athens Classical Marathon every year.
You will reach another significant ancient Greek site if you walk a little bit from the Panathenean Olympic Stadium. It is the Lykeion (Lyceum) of Aristotle. Lyceum was a temple built in honour of Apollo Lyceus (or “Apollo the Enlighter” or “Apollo of aurora”). The Lyceum used to be one of the three oldest gymnasia in the ancient city of Athens (the other two are Plato’s Academy and Kynosarges). It was best known for Aristotle and his teaching there by walking around the temple.
Thus the great ancient Greek philosopher turned the temple and the quiet surroundings into his Peripatetic school (“peripatos“ means “walk around“) which followed the model of Plato’s Academy., actually. Advanced students would have their classes early in the morning. The main subject during those early morning walks would be philosophy. As to beginners, their classes would be late in the afternoon (and even early in the evening) and they covered lessons in rhetoric in the early evening classes and walks.
After all this antiquity in Athens, you might want to “pass through” other historic periods. If so, just turn to the right and head for the Villa Ilissia. The two-story Florentine style building was commissioned by Sophie de Marbois-Lebrun, Duchess of Plaisance, and it served as her winter residence. Today the building is occupied by the Byzantine and Christian Museum of Athens where the collection is organized in a very modern way and a very pleasant environment.
The other place that is worth a visit is the Athens War Museum which is next door. There you may see various exhibits of the Greek Armed Forces through the centuries starting from ancient centuries till present times.
The museum is quite interesting, especially the planes that are on display in the yard in front of the building.