Athens is still a big noisy, dirty city, although it has improved since I was here over thirty years ago. I assume the Olympics in 2004 probably helped. Still, with the temperatures right around 100 degrees, everything required an effort. We checked into our hotel, the Athens Gate, which was a large modern hotel with excellent air conditioning, thank goodness. It also turned out to be in a good location, near the Acropolis and The Plaka, both of which are major tourist centers.
Breakfast at the Athens Gate Hotel with the Acropolis at the left and the new and efficient Athens subway system
The hotel is located across a very busy road from two monuments - the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian's Gate (or Athens Gate) from which the hotel takes it's name. This is the same Emperor Hadrian who built the famous "Hadrian's Wall" between Roman England and Scotland. The temple was started in the 6th century BC and finished by Hadrian in 132 AD - some seven hundred years later.
Temple of the Olympian Zeus -you can see the hotel hehind the two pillars on the right
The same temple from the roof of the hotel and Hadrian's Gate / Athens Gate built to thank Hadrian for finishing the temple
That evening we explored the very busy and touristy "Plaka" area, where we were accosted every few feet by touts for the many restaurants which line the streets. Eventually, we succumbed and had the first of many Greek Salads.
"The Plaka" lined with shops and restaurants and Paul finally seated and waiting to order dinner
The next day, we took a walking tour of the city, which finished with a climb to the top of the Acropolis, where the Parthenon is located.
Our first stop was the Greek Parliament Building to see the "Changing of the Guard". This is a pure show for the tourists and has no significance at all, but the costumes are traditional and it's a great honor to be part of the guard.
The guards "pause" in mid-stride as they change over and Kris wonders if she's tall enough.
She has the shirt, but not the height - or the shoes
Then on to the National Gardens, adjacent to the Parliament Building (which was the Palace of the King until Greece abolished the monarchy.)
Our tour guide tells us about the National Gardens (behind) and the fountain, built when the Roman aquaduct system was replaced IN 1926 !
And so on to the Acropolis, which is the huge rock in the center of Athens, on top of which is built the Parthenon, which dominates the Athens skyline, day and night.
The Parthenon, constructed in 432 BC and still being renovated 2,500 years later, dominates the Athens skyline\
The Theatre of Dionysus on the lower slopes of the Acropolis and still in use today,
The top of the Acropolis is a mish-mash of small temples, bits of the Parthenon lying around in heaps and hundreds of hot, sweaty tourists (including us) who have struggled up the side of the hill in 100 degree heat to wonder at this pile of stones. No question, though, even in it's partly destroyed condition, the Parthenon does have majesty and style. When you think Roman Emperors like Caesar came to see it over 500 years after it was built (and it was in better condition then) you realize this has been a tourist attraction for a VERY long time.
The Temple of Athena Nike, a smaller temple at the top of the Acropolis
The Erechtheum and the famous Caryatids (the originals are in the Acropolis Museum) and the Parthenon
The Parthenon undergoing major reconstruction but still an awesome structure
All of the artifacts collected from the site are in the brand new Acropolis Museum which is immediately below the Acropolis. We visited the museum later in our stay, but photographs aren't allowed (unlike every other museum we visited) so we can only show you the exterior. It's been built to hold not just the remains that the Greeks already own, but all the pieces removed (stolen, they would say) by the Germans, Americans and especially the British (Lord Elgin) in the nineteenth century. They may have to wait a long time.
The brand new Acropolis Museum, just below the Acropolis
The next day we visited the National Archaelogical Museum, which houses all the "good stuff" from finds all around Greece. After a delayed entry due to a bomb scare, we finally had our chance to see the wonders inside. We were expecting an old fashioned, dry and dusty museum, but it was superbly laid out and diplayed. There was, as always, too much to take in, but the highlights were spectacular. Here are just a few of them. Although the pieces shown here come from different time periods, remember they were all made hundreds and in some cases, many hundreds of years BC - they are all at least 2,500 years old.
Bronze statue of a warrior throwing a spear and a statuette (it's less than six inches high) of a nude ithyphallic (!) Silen dancing ecstatically. Note he has a horse's tail !
Bronze statue of a horse rider and a close up of the rider's face
Wreath made of gold and a pottery mask
Marble statue of a Satyr seducing Venus and a bronze statue of a Roman Nobleman
Gold Funerary Masks
Gold Headband and ring
The museum was fascinating if a little overwhelming and was our last major stop before our next adventure, a four day bus tour of the major archaelogical sites of Southern Greece.