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The best of Athens > classical and modern March 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Athens.

Sites to visit in Athens, from the Acropolis to the Olympic Village

1. The Acropolis
Start any tour of Athens on this historic hill. Its main building, the Parthenon, originally a temple dedicated to the city’s namesake goddess Athena, retains its awesome visual impact, and the views of Athens from the Acropolis will set the stage for the rest of your visit. The 12-euro ticket includes admission to several other key ancient sites; you’ll pay more if you buy individual tickets.

A note > Officials began moving sculptures and artifacts from the old Acropolis Museum into the New Acropolis Museum down the hill in January. The New state-of-the-art Museum is scheduled to open in September. The best preserved and most valuable of the friezes from the Parthenon, known in England as the Elgin Marbles, remain in London’s British Museum. Greece continues Herculean efforts to get them back.

2. Ancient Market
The ancient Greek Agora, or market area, occupies a parklike setting on the low ground to the north of the Acropolis. There, you can stroll down avenues once trod by the likes of Pericles and Plato. Highlights > the well-preserved Doric Temple of Hephaestus, the blacksmithing god, and the Agora Museum, housed in a reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos, a spectacularly columnar structure with foundations dating to 150 B.C. These sites are on the multipart Acropolis ticket.

3. Modern Varvakios Market
An early-morning visit to the Kentriki Agora, Central Market, illustrates the kind of frenetic energy one would have encountered 2,500 years ago at the old one. Meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, olive oils and olives abound, along with chopping cleavers and vigorous bartering. You can have some of your best meals here, nibbling on figs, cheese, bread and olives.

4. The Pnyx or Pnyka
The Pnyx, Greek for the place of assembly, on the shoulder of Philopappos Hill,
is the site of the Ecclesia, an early democratic body. A jail cell carved into the limestone hill once held Socrates and provides a vivid reminder of the hazards of truth-telling, even in a Democracy. The park area is forested, with winding trails, sculptures and many excellent views of the nearby Acropolis.

5. National Gardens and the Zappeion Megaron
Near Syntagma Square,
this leafy, elegant park provides a less-touristed oasis, with magnificent cypress and bitter-orange trees, inspiring statuary and shaded benches.

6. National Archaeological Museum
Here, you’ll find the best and biggest collection of Classic Greek art in the world. My favorite is the “Little Jockey”, a life-size bronze of a boy on a galloping horse that was discovered in an ancient shipwreck. The work is so lifelike that I almost wanted to get out of the way to avoid being trampled.

7. Regional Greek Delicacies
Modern Athenians come from all over Greece, and every Greek favors the cheese, olive oil and honey of home. They find them at small shops specializing in the produce of the regions and islands. My favorite is the Lesvos Store near the Kentriki Agora, at 33 Athinas Street. All things Lesvian, in the Greek island sense of the word, could be found here, from cheese, honey, olives and sausage to soap and shampoo. Mesogaia, at 52 Nikis Street, not far from the National Gardens, specializes in Cretan goods. Cretan thyme honey may well have inspired the term ambrosial.

8. Museum of Cycladic Art
A short walk from Syntagma Square,
this small Museum in a beautifully appointed villa highlights the sacred, prehistoric art of the Cycladic Islands. The icons of the collection are highly stylized, faceless human sculptures that inspired the work of modernists such as Modigliani. These, however, were created 5,000 years ago. The Museum usually has at least one interesting temporary and often contemporary exhibition. Visit > www.cycladic-m.gr

9. The Olympic Village and the Olympic Sports Centre 
The Olympic Village, created when Athens hosted the Olympic Games in 2004,
has been turned into a large and interesting housing project. Just beyond it, at the terminal station of subway Line 1, lies Kifissia, a prosperous suburb. The subway lets out at Kifissia’s shopping core, with a mix of high-end boutiques, cafes and Starbucks. It’s a fascinating look at the world upper-class Greeks are making for themselves now.

10. Walking tours
It’s tempting to submit to the bus-tour operators promoted by nearly every hotel. Instead, spend a few hours or a day with Athens Walking Tours (www.athenswalkingtours.gr). Groups are limited to eight people and trip themes range from the must-sees, the Acropolis, to an intimate look at Greece’s markets, past and present. The tours are typically three to four hours and cost 29 euros which at recent exchange rates is still a bargain. Most tours meet at Syntagma Square. Reservations are advisable.

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