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Athens, centre of the ancient Greek civilisation, perhaps the most advanced on earth between the times of those of the Egyptians and the Romans. Variously plagued with invasions by Persians, Macedonians and Carthaginians to name but a few, Greek history has had its fair share of turmoil. Athens is also of course the centre of the modern Greek civilisation, which faces its own set of challenges.

I visited Athens for only three nights on an opportunistic long weekend from the UK with friends in late springtime. I found the city to be significantly larger, busier and more complex than I'd expected, but was pleased to find that excellent food and cheap beer abounded. We stayed in Hotel Tony not far from the Acropolis Museum, and took a walking tour on our first day which was an excellent way to get our bearings.

Athens and the Acropolis

The Acropolis and Athens, as seen from Filopappou Hill on an early morning run around the park.

Ancient Greece was the world centre for scholarly thinking, and the modern Academy of Athens continues that tradition. We met here to start our walking tour.

Academy of Athens


No Greek academy would be complete without a statue of Socrates himself, deep in thought. The original academy, from which the word is derived, was founded by Plato and counted Aristotle amongst its students.

The Presidential Guard of Greece march around the vicinity of Syntagma Square, with their rifles, skirts and pom-poms on their shoes. Their outfits amused me almost as much as those of the Papal guard in the Vatican.

Greek guard with pom-poms


The atrium at the Zappeion, built in the late 1800s for the first of the modern Olympic games in 1896. Classical Ionic capitals are clearly visible atop the columns.

Ionic capitals also litter the nearby park, ruins or spare parts from a long-forgotten edifice.

Ionic capital

Hadrian's Library

Hadrian's Library by Monastiraki Square, this time with Corinthian capitals on top of the columns. Built by the eponymous Roman emperor in 132 CE, it of course predates books as we know them, and was in fact used to store papyrus scrolls.

The Stoa of Attalos, part of the Ancient Agora of Athens, and one of few buildings within the complex that has been fully restored. Here we see examples of Doric capitals, the simplest column header.

Stoa of Attalos

Temple of Hephaestus

The Temple of Hephaestus is also within the Agora, and remains in reasonably good condition for its approximately 2500 years of service, if a little worn about the edges. Its survival is probably largely attributable, much like Rome's Pantheon, to its conversion and long-term use as a church.

Fine examples of Corinthian capitals can be seen at the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which in its heydey would have been perhaps even more impressive than the nearby Parthenon. Only fifteen columns remain standing today, of the original 104.

Temple of Olympian Zeus

Collapsed column

The most recent columnal casualty was during a storm in 1852, where it still lies to this day. Earlier columns and stone was removed for other building works nearby, including by the Ottomans in the 18th century.

Hadrian's Arch frames the Acropolis and the national flag. Its original purpose is not clearly known, but was possibly as a triumphal arch for the entrance of Hadrian towards the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

Hadrian's Arch

Temple of Athena Nike

The entrance to the Acropolis itself is flanked by the Temple of Athena Nike, standing alone on the right hand side. As Nike means "victorious", this temple was for prayers for the victory of Athens in the war against the Spartans.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a theatre built into the southern slope of the Acropolis, but is not as old as its Roman counterparts, as it dates from around 161 CE. Its preservation is owed in part to being largely filled in with sand and rubble until the mid-1800s.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

The Parthenon

The Parthenon itself, the most visible and perhaps most famous example of classical Greek architecture. The building has suffered its fair share of disaster, including being accidentally blown up when in use by the Ottomans as a powder magazine. Very little also remains of the pedimental friezes, pinched by Lord Elgin but still visible at the British Museum.

Cats of the Acropolis stroll around like they own the place. Which, as far as they're concerned, they do. Along with everywhere else.

Cats of the Acropolis

Caryatid replicas

The Caryatids, columns in the form of a female figure, stand supporting the roof of the southern porch of the Erechtheion, another of the most important structures of the Acropolis. These are in fact modern replicas, with the originals being indoors for preservation.

The original Caryatids stand in the nearby Acropolis Museum, with the exception of one which was nicked by Lord Elgin, and graces the British Museum. This rightly remains a bone of contention with Greek historians.

Original Caryatids

Sphinxes and swastikas

Sphinxes and swastikas on the railings at the Numismatic Museum of Athens. The swastika is a symbol of Buddhism which I had previously seen on buildings in Vietnam, while the Sphinx sometimes appears winged in Greek legend, contrary to the flightless sphinxes of ancient Egypt.

A statue in the gardens of the Numismatic Museum of Athens appears less than impressed with her armpit.

Armpit statue

Syntagma Square

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Syntagma Square, permanently guarded. Syntagma Square is the defacto centre of the city, and site of often less-than-friendly demonstrations.

Little Kook Cafe opened only a year or so before our visit, but was already attracting plenty of custom for its quirky Alice-in-Wonderland styling. And good food!

Little Kook cafe

Brettos Ouzo bar

We finished the evening at Brettos Ouzo bar, a classic Greek weekend concluded with the classic Greek drink!

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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2018