The city flourished in classical antiquity and was the birthplace of Socrates, Pericles, and Sophocles. More than a relic of the glorious past, today Athens is a busy and modern capital. A completely different holiday experience from the idyllic Greek islands, Athens may feel ‘turbulent’ and full of people, but it compensates with amazing cultural attractions that are worth a visit. The Acropolis is one of the most impressive ancient ruins in the world. Other hidden charms awaiting discovery are the dazzling Byzantine churches located throughout the city.
Below find the 10 historical monuments that you must take the time to see when you visit Athens.
Enjoy getting lost in time!
Few sights in the world can compare to the Acropolis of Athens, with the Parthenon temple perched high on a rocky slope that will catch your eye, just as it has been doing over the millennia. A reminder of the glory of ancient Athens, the Acropolis was the center of the ancient city and functioned as a citadel in its protected location at the top of the hill. The most emblematic building is the Parthenon, the largest temple of the classical period of antiquity dating from 447 BC. until 338 BC. With its monumental rows of Doric columns and stunning sculptural details, the temple is a spectacular sight. In the frieze on the east side, reliefs depict the birth of the goddess Athena. Other ruins of the Acropolis include the Erechtheion, a complex of ancient shrines built between 421 BC. and 395 BC. The most famous feature of the Erechtheion complex is the Caryatid Veranda, with six statues of women instead of Doric colonnades.
You cannot miss the Herodion, the famous Roman conservatory (160 AD) that hosts every summer some of the most important performances of the Athens Festival. It has the shape of a semicircle, an imposing facade 28 meters high, and a capacity of 5-6 thousand spectators. It also has excellent acoustics.
The ancient Agora was the market and the center of daily life in ancient Athens. For a spectacular view of the Agora from afar, head to the north wall of the Acropolis or the streets from Areopago. The best place to enter the Agora is at the north gate of Adrianoú Street. The Greek word "Agora" means to "gather and speak", indicating that this place was a place of public speaking. The Agora was a place of administration and trade, as well as the meeting place of the Agora of the Municipality, a group of political decisions. Sports events and theatrical performances also took part. A particularly interesting feature of the Agora is the 18-meter-long Royal Loggia, the seat of the King Archon, who undertook the cultural functions of the older kings. This gallery of the 6th century BC. may have been the scene of Socrates' trial in 399 BC.
From the Agora, you can take a pleasant walk along the path that leads to the hill of the Agora. At the top of the hill is an awe-inspiring spectacle, the Temple of Hephaestus. This Doric temple of the 5th century BC. is one of the best-preserved ancient Greek temples, thanks to its conversion into a Christian church, which saved it from destruction. The temple was designed in a classical design with six rows of 13 columns and the Ionian friezes appear to be designed based on the Parthenon.
Next to the Ancient Agora, a new market was created with a joint donation of Augustus and Julius Caesar, exclusively for commercial purposes, the one we now call Roman. Its most famous monument is the Tower of the Winds, the Clock of Andronikos Kyrristos. It is an octagonal tower made of Pentelic marble, which is kept in excellent condition. At the top was a weather vane, pointing to one of the eight winds pictured at the top of each side, hence its name. Other important buildings of the area are on the other side of the marble courtyard, the western propylon, or the Gate of the Archangel Athena, and the Fethiye Mosque, or Mosque of the Conqueror, built in 1456 AD.
The largest building in Ancient Athens, the Panathenaic Stadium, has a capacity for 60,000 spectators. Built around 335 BC. during the time of Herodes Atticus, the venue hosted the Panathenaic Games where runners competed in races around the track. The 204-meter route was designed with four double land ways, where runners will return to the races. Around 140 A.D, the stadium was updated with new marble seats by Herodes Atticus. The structure that you see today is a replica of the original stadium, which was rebuilt for the 1896 Olympic Games. This modern Olympic Stadium was created in the same way as the Panathenaic Stadium, with 47 layers of seats and a rounded southeast end.
Dedicated to Zeus, the Olympian was the largest temple in ancient Greece. Although the Parthenon is better preserved, the Temple of Olympian Zeus was an even more monumental structure in its time. The church dates back to the 6th century BC. but was not completed until the 2nd century AD. by the emperor Hadrian. It is easy to imagine the great impression that this temple made in its full form. More than a hundred huge marble columns supported the famous sanctuary. Only 15 columns remain stationary and another surviving column is on the ground, but the monumental presence of the ruins gives the impression of the enormous size of the original building. The giant structure was an amazing sanctuary to Zeus, the most powerful God of the ancient Greeks, known as the King of the Gods. Nearby, north of Olympia, there is a small park with the ruins of Themistocles wall and the ancient Roman baths.
One of the most recognizable monuments of the city, on Amalia Avenue. It is the honorary arch built in 131 BC. the Athenians in honor of their emperor-benefactor. It bears two inscriptions, the first to the side of the Acropolis says: "Here is Athens the city of Theseus" and the second to the Olympian states: "This is the city of Hadrian and not Theseus".
The Metropolis Cathedral of Athens is located in Metropoleos Square, on the homonymous street that connects Syntagma Square with that of Monastiraki. The majestic church that was completed in 1862 has the form of a cruciform three-aisled basilica with a dome and is dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin. Many important religious ceremonies such as weddings and funerals of important people have taken place here. Inside the church is kept the relics of Patriarch Gregory V and Agia Filothei of Athena.
With a small square opening on Ermoú Street, the church of Panagia Kapnikarea is a wonderful place to visit. This beautiful little church was saved from demolition in the 19th century with the intervention of King Louis of Bavaria. The church is a wonderful example of architecture from the Byzantine era of the 11th century. During this period, vaulted cruciform churches like this were typical. In the 12th century, the church was fortified with an elegant entrance and a narthex with four gables (built at the west end). Inside, the church is decorated with 19th-century paintings created in the iconographic style of the mid-Byzantine period.
The Neoclassical Trilogy of the city of Athens, exquisite examples of 19th-century architecture. The Academy was created with a donation from the benefactor Simon Sina and is considered the most complete work of the Danish architect Theophilos Hansen in Greece. In the middle, the University, in designs by Christian Hansen, with the impressive frescoes on the facade, depicting the rebirth of science in the country. On the right is the Library built to the designs of Theophilos Hansen under the supervision of Ernest Ziller and stands out for the impressive, double, elliptical staircase at the entrance.
Feature Image by Luke McKernan