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The sun setting behind the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion.
Map of Greece highlighting the position of the administrative region of Attica.

Exploring the Past in Athens – Attica

From the sanctuary of Poseidon on the southern tip of Attica, to the Acropolis in Athens, Attica has some of the most well known archaeological sites in Greece. But there is much more to the archaeology of this region than the Greco-Roman era. The administrative region of Attica includes the city of Athens and the Port of Piraeus. At the historic centre of Athens is the Acropolis, occupied since prehistory to the Ottomans. The region should not be confused with the historic region of Attica, the Attic Peninsular. Modern-day Attica is much larger than the historic ancient Athenian state, including a part of the Peloponnese peninsula and the islands of Salamis, Aegina, Angistri, Poros, Hydra, Spetses, Kythira, and Antikythera.

The Principal Archaeology Sites in Athens

The following seven attractions are the main archaeological sites in Athens. Most of them are sizeable areas, with notable features for visitors to see. They are sites that are part of the established history of archaeology in Athens, and continue to be excavated by archaeologists. Such as the German Archaeological Institute at Kerameikos and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in the Ancient Agora. They are grouped by a combination ticket provided by the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sport, which surely helps make these the more popular sites visited. Together, they do not give an outline of the histories of Athens. Rather, they celebrate the Classical period of Athens – often at the expense of other periods, other histories.

Looking at the Acropolis from nearby Pnyx Hill.

The Acropolis

Arguably one of the world’s most iconic archaeological sites, it is certainly the most popular stop for visitors to Athens. Although there is evidence of some 5,000 years of activity on the citadel, it is the ruins of ancient temples and sanctuaries, the most famous being the Parthenon, from the fifth century BC to the Roman period that are highlighted, and the focus of restoration work. Anything post-Roman has been all but obliterated, and this period of the Acropolis’ history receives only passing mention – with a negative slant.
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The Hephaisteion Doric temple in the Ancient Agora archaeological site.

Ancient Agora

The Ancient Agora was the civic centre of the ancient city of Athens. A large open square, where various public activities took place, was surrounded by administrative buildings and temples. Overlooking the Agora is the best preserved temple in Greece, the Hephaisteion, dedicated to Hephaistos. The Panathenaic Way passed through the Agoora to the Acropolis. Entry to the archaeological site includes the Museum of the Ancient Agora, housed in the restored Stoa of Attalos, which displays the artefacts recovered from excavation in the Agora.
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Excavated ruins of Aristotle's Lyceum in Athens city centre.

Archaeological Site of Lykeion

The remains of the legendary Gymnasium of Lykeion, the location of Aristotle’s school of philosophy, were discovered during rescue excavations in 1996. The name comes from the sanctuary of Apollo Lykeios, built before the gymnasium; sadly the temple was not found. For visitors today a surface area of 0.25 hectares has been exposed, revealing part of the palaestra where athletes trained in wrestling and boxing. The school was founded in 334 BC and continued to function as such until it was destroyed by the Roman general Sulla 86 BC.
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Tombstones with ancient Greek inscriptions at Kerameikos ancient cemetery in Athens.

Kerameikos Archaeological Site and Museum

A walkable distance from the main concentration of ancient sites north-west of the Acropolis is the oldest and largest ancient cemetery of Kerameikos. This was one of the largest districts of ancient Athens, and it was here that the potters who made the iconic ‘Attic vases’ lived and worked. Besides funerary features, visitors can also see part of the Themistoclean Wall, the Dipylon Gate and Sacred Gate. An onsite museum houses artefacts from the site, mostly dealing changing customs and rituals associated with death and burial.
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The gate of Athena Archegetis at the entrance to the Roman Agora.

Roman Agora

The site of the Roman Agora, built between 19 and 11 BC, was the first commercial centre of Athens. Here a large courtyard is surrounded by shops and other commercial buildings. Just beyond the agora, are the remains of the public toilets and the octagonal Tower of the Winds, built for astronomical purposes. The tower has exquisite carvings that depict the ‘eight winds’, and during the Ottoman period was used by Turkish Dervishes. In 1458 the Fethiye Mosque was built by the Ottomans on the site of a Byzantine basilica.
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The entrance to Hadrian's Library at the Pentelic marble façade in Athens, Greece.

Hadrian’s Library

Built in 132 Ad, the Library was a gift from Emperor Hadrian to the people of Athens. Hadrian was a committed Hellenophile, and he did much to leave his mark here. Today we enter the site at the imposing Pentelic marble façade, with its monumental Corinthian gateway. A small onsite exhibition room houses a colossal statue of Nike and some other artefacts recovered on the site.
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The imposing, remaining columns of the Temple of Zeus in Athens, Greece.

Olympieion – Temple of Olympian Zeus

Although the colossal Temple of Olympian Zeus can be seen from the street (it is one of the largest Classical temples), this is a monument that definitely should be experienced up close. When completed by Hadrian in the 2nd century AD 104 columns made up the temple. Of these, only 16 remain standing today. There are many other features on site, including a Roman bath house, a basilica and the remains of the city’s walls.
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Skip-the-Line Entry Tickets for the Main Sites in Athens

More Archaeology and History Sites in Athens

Choragic Monument of Lysicrates near the Acropolis of Athens.

Choragic Monument of Lysicrates

Not far from the eastern base of Acropolis is a monument erected by the choregos Lysicrates. It was built to celebrate a prize won during the Dionysus festival in 335/334 BCE. The frieze depicts the adventures of the god Dionysus, with him turning pirates into dolphins. In 1669 AD it was incorporated into a Frankish monastery of Capuchin Monks. Lord Byron is believed to have been accommodated in the monastery. During the Greek War of Independence it was destroyed by Ottoman forces, and subsequently restored in the 1880s by the French government.
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The stone carved speaker's platform at the Pnyx.

The Pnyx

Besides giving visitors one of the best views of the western end of the Acropolis and its Propylaea, the Pnyx was the meeting place of the Athenian Assembly. This is where Athenian citizens would gather every ten days or so to vote on legislation. You can still see the curved retaining wall, with its massive trapezoidal blocks – the biggest ever quarried in Athens, which supported the open air auditorium. Also, still surviving is the rock-cut speaker’s platform in the middle of the stone ridge. The Pnyx is free to enter.
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The House of the Roman Mosaic in the Stenopos Kollytos archaeological area, Athens.

Stenopos Kollytos Archaeological Area

Walking along the road beyond the Odean of Herodes Atticus are the remains of the ancient municipality of Kollytos. In the 1890s archaeologists uncovered a 4 metre wide road that ran between houses, workshops and shrines. The buildings date between the 4th century BC and the 4th century AD. Although the remains are behind railings, there is an informative panel and the mosaic floor in the ‘House of the Roman Mosaic’ is clearly visible.

The information shelter at the Archaeological Park of Plato's Academy in Athens.

Archaeological Park of Plato’s Academy

The Archaeological Park of Plato’s Academy, about 3 km from the historic centre of Athens, might not be the most visually impressive site in Athens, but it is certainly significant. There are remnants from the prehistoric to archaic periods, but perhaps most substantial remains are those of a 6th century BC gymnasium – one of the three gymnasia of ancient Athens. The school was established by Plato in 387 BC and was destroyed in 86 BC by the Roman dictator Sulla in his attack of Athens. Entry to the park is free.

Hadrian's Arch with the Acropolis directly behind it.

Hadrian’s Arch

Unlike many other comparable Roman arches, the Arch of Hadrian appears to be a much more slight and slender construction. A single arch spanned a road that would have lead back to the Acropolis. Two inscriptions on the architrave seem to suggest that the arch marked the boundary between old and new Athens. When in 1778 the Turkish governor Hadzi Ali Haseki built a wall to enclose the lower city, Hadrian’s Arch was incorporated as a gate in this wall. Unlike other monuments which were destroyed in this process.
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The door to what was a Madrasa in Ottoman Athens.

Ottoman Madrasa

One of the few remnants of Ottoman Athens is this beautifully decorated doorway. Built in 1721, this was the doorway to an Islamic school, or madrasa. Like all madrasas it was a rectangular building where a large central courtyard was surrounded by the scholars’ living quarters. Following the liberation of Athens during the uprising of Greeks against the Ottomans, the school was used as barracks for the Greek army for the remainder of the war. Later, during the reign of the Bavarian King Otto I it was converted into a jail.
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Archaeology and History Sites in Attica

The temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, Attica.

Cape Sounion

At the Cape of Sounion, with breath taking panoramas of the Saronic Gulf, are the remains of a fortified settlement that was once a deme, or suburb, of ancient Athens. The hilltop site, a popular day trip from Athens particularly for watching the sun set, is known for the spectacular Doric Temple of Poseidon; a major monument from the Golden Age of Athens. Other remains include walls, a bastion, a port and ship shed. One a lower hill are the much more meagre remains of an earlier, Ionic order sanctuary, dedicated to Athena.
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One of the many burial mounds on the plain of Marathon, Greece.

Marathon

Marathon is best known as the site of the battle where the heavily outnumbered Athenians defeated the Persians in 490 BC. According to legend Pheidippides then ran to Athens to report the victory, and so the origins of the sporting marathon. Besides the battlefield, of which remains of the trophy still stands, the Marathon plain was densely inhabited during prehistoric times. A number of Helladic tumuli and a cemetery can be seen, as well as a museum that displays the artefacts recovered during archaeological excavations.

The temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, Attica.

Thorikos

The archaeological site of Thorikos covers a large area that centres on a hill about 145 m above sea level. The earliest evidence of human occupation is from the end of the Neolithic. The site continued to be occupied throughout until it was abandoned in the Roman period during the 6th century AD. The most impressive feature is the stone theatre – what we see today dates from the mid 5th to mid 4th centuries BC, the oldest stone theatre in Attica. This was a mining settlement and an ore washery next to the theatre has been restored.
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