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Arguably, one of the World’s most iconic archaeological sites – and definitely an attraction not to miss during any visit to Athens. The acropolis is a collection of ancient temples and sanctuaries, the most famous of which is the Parthenon, built on a flat-topped, rocky out-crop in the city centre. Evidence of occupation on the Acropolis goes back 5,000 years, but it was during the fifth century BC that the most recognisable structures were built.
The Ancient Agora was not just a market place it was also the political and judicial centre of the city. There are remains of many ancient temples, but it is the exceptionally well-preserved Temple of Hephaistos that catches everyone’s eye. Here you can get great views over the Agora to the Acropolis. Entry to the Agora includes the Museum of the Ancient Agora, the restored Stoa of Attalos, which has a vast collection of artefacts.
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.
A walkable distance from the main concentration of ancient sites north-west of the Acropolis is the oldest and largest Attic 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. The large archaeological site is complemented by an exceptional museum displaying changing customs and rituals associated with death and burial.
During recent rescue excavations the remains of an ancient palaestra were discovered. This was the legendary Gymnasium of Lykeion (Lyceum). Historical sources suggest this area was an idyllic grove, it is best known to us as the location of Aristotle’s school of philosophy. The name comes from the sanctuary of Apollo Lykeios, which was built sometime before the gymnasium. But sadly this temple was not found during the archaeological investigation of this site. For visitors today a surface area of 0.25 hectares (50 x 48 m.) has been exposed, revealing part of the palaestra where athletes trained in wrestling and boxing.
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.
Not far from the Ancient Agora is the 1st century BC Roman Agora, a large courtyard surrounded by stoas, shops and other commercial buildings. Just beyond the agora, but within the boundary of the archaeological site as it is today are the remains of the public toilets and the octagonal Tower of the Winds, built for astronomical purposes housing a hydraulic clock. The tower has some exquisite carvings that depict the ‘eight winds’.
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.
At the Cape of Sounion, with breathtaking panoramas of the Saronic Gulf, are the remains of a settlement that was once a deme, or suburb, of ancient Athens. The site, a popular day trip from Athens, is known for the spectacular Doric Temple of Poseidon; a major monument from the Gold Age of Athens. Other remains include fortress walls, the port and ship shed as well as another sanctuary – this one dedicated to Athena.
Opened in 2009, the museum displays over 4,000 objects from the Acropolis, from the Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece. One of the reasons for the construction of this state-of-the-art museum was the reunification of sculptures taken by Lord Elgin from the Parthenon. The museum itself was built above the archaeological site of Makrygianni, and so in situ features of Roman and early Byzantine Athens are also on display.
Opened in 1975, the War Museum was established to honour those who had fought for the country, to collect, research and display artefacts and memorabilia relating to the struggles of Greeks from antiquity to the recent past. Permanent exhibitions extend over four floors, beginning with antiquity on the ground floor. The museum has branches in the following cities around Greece: Chania, Nauplion, Thessaloniki and Tripoli.
Established in 1930 by the Benakis family in memory of Emmanuel Benakis and housed in the down-town family home in Athens, the Benakis Museum has an extensive collection of art and artefacts from prehistoric to more recent times. The initial core of the Benakis collection was 9,000 Byzantine and Islamic objects. Now the museum has over 40,000 objects telling the story of Greece from antiquity to the formation of the modern Greek nation.
Founded in 1914, the museum houses over 25,000 religious objects from all over the Greek world. The artefacts range in date from the 3rd century AD to the 20th century, covering Early Christian, Byzantine, post-Byzantine, Medieval as well as later periods. With rare examples of early Christian pictures, scriptures, frescoes, pottery, fabrics and manuscripts, this is one of the most important museums of Byzantine culture in the world.
Greece’s National Archaeology Museum in Athens is home to some of the most well known artefacts from all over the country. The museum has been in the current building with its spectacular Neoclassical façade since the 1889 and only closed during the Second World War, but has been expanded many times. With the richest collection of Greek artefacts anywhere in the world, this is understandably one of the finest museums in the world.
Established in 1986 in downtown Athens, the Museum of Cycladic Art houses Nicholas and Dolly Goulandris’ extensive collection of Cycladic and Ancient Greek and Cypriot art. The couple had been collecting prehistoric and ancient art since the 1960s. Exhibitions focus on three areas: Cycladic art from the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea (3200 – 2000 BC), Greek art (2000 BC to 395 AD), and art from Cyprus (3900 BC to the 6th century BC).