Most of modern Athens dates back only to the 19th century- so not much history there; but if you’re the kind who likes to explore, you’ve come to the right place. Athens has dozens of monuments which are just the thing for all those photographs you’ve got to take to show the folks back home. The pedestal upon which some of the most astounding landmarks are mounted is the flat topped Acropolis , which was constructed in the 5th century as a tribute to the goddess Athena (after whom the city is named).
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Visible from almost every place in the city, the Acropolis is adorned and dominated by the graceful Parthenon - one of the architectural masterpieces of all time. The Parthenon has been used (and abused) by different dynasties over the years for different purposes. Turned into a swarming brothel by the Romans and revered as a mosque by the Ottomans, the Parthenon has certainly served its historical purpose- and still continues to do so.
Designed by Ictinus, this elegantly proportioned temple was completed in 438 BC and was originally colored in blue and red with a roof of pure marble. Today, the colonnaded remains are a golden-whitish hue, yet as arresting as the younger Parthenon must once have been.
A must-see exhibit tucked into one of the corners of the Acropolis is the Museum of Akropolis . The museum houses an impressive collection of Greek artifacts, including caryatids (statues of traditional Greek priestesses) and other treasures. The Ancient Theatre of Dionysos , where every Athenian citizen took his turn in the chorus of Greek tragedies, is on the southern slope of the Acropolis. Also on the slope below the Parthenon is the Temple of Hephaistos , a solid structure which lacks much of the beauty of the Parthenon itself.
Cluttered around the hillock are the Propylaia , the majestic entrance to the Parthenon, the Naos Athenas Niki - the Temple of Athena Nike - and the Erechtheion , the tomb of Erectheos, who ruled Athens.
Once you’ve done the mandatory round of the Parthenon and its surrounding monuments, head for some of the lesser known but equally fascinating archaeological ruins at the National Archaelogical Museum or the Goulandris Foundation - Museum of Cycladic Art , which holds a collection spanning 5000 years.
Other major museums in the city include the Byzantine Museum, the Athens City Museum, the Jewish Museum and the Greek Folk Art Museum.
If you want to get a taste of 19th century Athens as it was before modernity descended upon it, go to the Plaka in the Old City - a beautiful quarter with colorful walkways and some of the surviving neoclassical structures that once adorned the heart of the city. Among the best monuments in the Plaka are a 19th centuries Demotic School, as well as a house which played host to Bavaria’s King Ludwig, the lunatic ruler who visited Athens in the early 19th century. The Plaka’s nightlife is legendary, and you may well find yourself spending more time here than you catered for. Another major hangout for tourists, who just like to stroll along and take in the local air, is the other really formidable hill in the city – the Likavitos . The best time to get a view of the city from here would be at sunset.
At the heart of Athens is Constitution Square, near which are the Parliament buildings as well as several museums. From the top of the Parliament, you can view the daily changing of the guard- an impressive ceremony.
These are Athens’ main sights- the `must-sees’; but tucked away in the smaller streets, amidst modern buildings, are a huge number of Byzantine churches, shrines, parks and gardens- great places to get a feel of some of Athens’ lesser known treasures.