After a minor crisis at the Athens Airport involving a detached haversack from my backpack, we made our way to Athens city centre… by bus. We were lucky that we did not miss the last bus, since the flight from Santorini – Athens was delayed!
And so we made it to Syntagma Square, where our accommodation Athens Backpackers was located at. A series of misinterpreting directions (my fault, I’ll admit), me made it to the backpackers in, checked in with little fuss and soon tucked into bed.
The next morning, after a quick breakfast of toasts and coffee, we took part in the Downtown Walking Tour (5 Euros), which was organised everyday from Athens Backpackers. It’s not just a walk around, but a complete orientation of the city centre, a must on your first day in Athens. The very chatty guide, a local Greek girl named Paula who spoke perfect English, took us to some of the must-see sites and museums, shopping tips, interesting out-of-the-way places, and of course show you where the great cheap tavernas’ (traditional Greek restaurants) are.
In the two hours walk, Liping and I learned more about Athens and the Greek way of life, more language and culture. I won’t put the photos taken during the walking tour here as we visited some of the key landmarks in the same day.
We ended our walking tour in the middle of Plaka. Liping and I opted to head out for lunch… and after walking around the area (and subject to some minimal touting, a relief compared to Istanbul), we had some simple sandwiches at a nondescript cafe. Right after, we hurriedly made our way to the majestic Acropolis, site to many ancient Greek monuments, including the sentinel Parthenon. However, our first stop was the Theatre of Dionysos.
The importance of theatre in the Athenian city-state can be gauged from the dimensions of the enormous Theatre of Dionysos on the southeastern slope of the Acropolis.
During the golden age in the 5th century BC, the annual festival was one of the major events on the calendar. Politicians would sponsor dramas by writers such as Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, with some light relief provided by the bawdy comedies of Aristophanes. People come from all over Attica, with their expenses met by the state.
I took a great many photos here, because the place was simply too grand for just a cursory glance. We climbed up and down the seats to take in the feel. It was a good thing we did – turn out that this is the only site in Acropolis that we can actually get close to. The remaining were cordoned off, out of reach of tourists.
Next up – Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which was built in 161. Herodes Atticus was a wealthy Roman who built the theatre in the memory of his wife Regilla. It was excavated in 1857-58 and completely restored between 1950 and 1961. There are performances of drama, music and dance here during the Hellenic Festival. The theatre is open to public only during performances.
Not very far from here was a series of stone steps to go up to the top of Acropolis, where my breathe was literally taken away.
To get into the main site, you will pass through the grand entrance of Propylaia. The Propylaia formed the towering entrance to the Acropolis in ancient times. Its architectural briliance ranks with that of the Parthenon. It consists of a central hall, with two wings on either side.
The Panatenaic Way, which cuts across the middle of Acropolis, was the route taken by the Panathenaic procession – the climax of the Panathenaia festival held to venerate the goddess Athena.
Erechtheion was built on the part of the Acropolis held most sacred. It was here Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and where Athena produced the olive tree. Named after Erichthonius, a mythical king of Athens, the temple housed the cults of Athena, Poseidon and Erichthonius.
The Erechtheion is immediately recognisable by the six larger-than-life maiden columns that support its southern portico, the much-photographed Caryatids. They are so called because the models for them were women from Karyai (modern day Karyes) in Lakonia.
The Parthenon is the monument that more than any other epitomises the glory of ancient Greece. It means “virgin’s apartment”. This is the largest Doric temple ever completed in Greece, and the only one built (apart from its wooden roof) of Pentelic marble.
Built on the highest part of the Acropolis, the Parthenon had a dual purpose – to house the great status of Athena commissioned by Pericles, and to serve as the new treasury. It was built on the site of at least four earlier temples dedicated to the worship of Athena.
We were lucky that during our visit, the weather was sunny and bright, if not a bit too windy. To be at the Acropolis on that day was like a dream come true for me. Standing on top of the hill, the white buildings of Athens stretched everywhere you look. It’s like the God drop a whole load of (white) candies on top of the Acropolis, and they rolled in every direction.
Right after the majestic Acropolis, we descended from the hill to visit the Ancient Agora.
Ancient Agora was Athens’ meeting place in ancient time. It was the focal point of administrative, commercial, political and social activity. All roads led to the Agora, and it was a lively, crowded place. The main monuments are the Temple of Hephaestus, the Stoa of Attalos and the Church of the Holy Apostles. The site is bounded by Areopagus Hill in the south, the Athens-Piraeus metro line to the north, Plaka to the east and Apostolou Pavlou to the west.
I was looking forward to see the Temple of Apollo. Little did I know it will be just like the rest of the “remains” in Ancient Agora – just foundation stones on the ground. What a disappointment!
Of the entire Agora, only Temple of Hephaestus was in tact. This temple, on the western edge of the Agora was surrounded by foundries and metalwork shops, and was dedicated to Hephaestus, god of the forge. It was one of the first buildings of Pericles’ rebuilding programme and is the best-preserved Doric temple in Greece. Unlike the Parthenon, the monument doesn’t evoke a sense of wonder, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
On the way from Ancient Agora to Roman Agora, we bumped into a couple of riot polices hidden at a corner of the main road. We looked around in alarm and saw that indeed some kind of a crowd was gathering at the square of Makriyanni. Of all things, a riot on Christmas Eve! I hurried away, but Liping found the time (and courage!) to snap a couple of photos first. LOL.
Soon we arrived at the Roman Agora, and immediately one monument attracted our attention. The well-preserved Tower of the Winds was built in the 1st century BC by a Syrian astronomer named Andronicus. The octagonal monument of Pentelic marble is an ingenous construction that functioned as a sundial, weather vane, water clock and compass. Each side represents a point of the compass, and has a relief of a figure floating through the air, which depicts the wind associated with that particular point. Beneath each of the reliefs are the faint markings of sundials. The weather vane, which disappeared long ago, was a bronze Triton that revolved on the top of the tower. The Turks allowed dervishes to use the tower.
The rest of the Roman Agora appears to the layperson (like me) as little more than a of rubble. In the southern area are the foundations of a propylon and a row of shops. To the right of the entrance are the foundations of a 1st-century public latrine.
In fact, I almost had a little incident at the said public latrine. After a full day of walking about, I was understandably high-tide. So I was scrambling around looking for a toilet. Was told by the nice lady at the ticketing booth where the toilet was, which was at a corner of the Roman Agora.
As I walked to the said corner, I can’t help but notice the said site of the ancient public latrine. Of course, by now, the latrine was reduced to mere rubbles on the ground. I was puzzled and momentarily considered if this was where I was supposed to relieve myself. But it couldn’t be… I mean, should I be tainting a national monument with, err, human waste?
After a couple of puzzled seconds, I finally noticed the actual public toilet, which is actually built into the ground. No wonder I couldn’t see it! Haha. For a moment I almost made a fool out of myself. LOL.
Click here to view the galore of photos I took that day.
Finally we went back to the hostel to rest. My poor, overwalked feet! It was also then we met Kevin Yum. He was originally from Hong Kong, but now studying in the States. Came to Athens enroute to Italy for an end-year holiday. Lucky bastard. If only I was that fortunate when I was a student!
I couldn’t remember what I did that night… I have a shrewd suspicion that it consisted nothing more than an elaborate dinner at a restaurant nearby and then more drinks at the hostel bar.
Cheap drinks galore! For EUR2, I get a beer. EUR3 for a housepour. And despite not being that well equipped, the bartender was surprisingly apt at producing the most delicious drinks. He also had a penchant to dish out free shots of raki at us the Asian guests. I am not complaining of course, but it also meant I was dead by the time midnight came around, and off to the bed I went.