1. Roman Forum & Tower of the Winds
In the first century AD, the Romans moved Athens’ marketplaces here from the old Agora. Smaller than the original, the marble-pillared courtyard was a grander placed to set up shop, and this became the commercial and administrative centre until the 19th century. Its greatest attraction was the unique and brilliantly designed Tower of the Winds.
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2. Temple of the Olympian Zeus
The majestic temple to the ruler of the pantheon was the largest on mainland Greece. Inside stood two colossal gold and ivory statues: one of the god, and one of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Though the temple’s construction began in 515 BC, political turmoil delayed its completion nearly 700 years. To thank Hadrian for finishing it, in AD 131 the Athenians built a two-storey arch next to the temple, whose inscription announces Hadrian’s claim to the city.
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The temples on the “Sacred Rock” of Athens are considered the most important monuments in the Western world, for they have exerted more influence on our architecture than anything since. The great marble masterpieces were constructed during the late 5th-century BC reign of Perikles, the Golden Age of Athens. Most were temples built to honour Athena, the city’s patron goddess. Still breathtaking for their proportion and scale, both human and majestic, the temples were adorned with magnificent, dramatic sculptures of the gods.
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4. National Archaeological Museum
More than just the best museum in Greece, this is one of the most important and exciting museums in the world. It is packed with famous, influential and beautiful works from the great Bronze Age cultures described by Homer to the Golden Age of Classical Athens and beyond. The temporary closure of part of the museum in 1999 has afforded the chance to improve the display of the priceless finds amassed here.
(Photo courtesy of Purple Snail/Flickr)
5. The Agora
Athens’ ancient marketplace, founded in the 6th century BC, was the heart of the city for 1,200 years. It was the centre for all civic activities, including politics, commerce, philosophy, religion, arts and athletics. This is where Socrates addressed his public, where democracy was born and where St Paul preached. Because of its varied uses, the rambling site can be confusing. But, unlike the sweltering Acropolis, the grassy Agora is a great place to wander, imagining the lively bustle that once filled this historic centre.
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6. Filopappos Hill
The pine-covered slopes of Filopappos Hill offer a pleasantly shaded maze of paths leading through monuments marking centuries of history. Known as “the hill of muses” in antiquity, countless poets have drawn inspiration here. On the first day of Lent, the hill is swarmed with hundreds of Athenians who traditionally gather here to fly kites.
(Photo courtesy of cb_agulto/Flickr)
7. Benaki Museum
This vast museum gives a panoramic view of Greek history from the Stone Age (7,000 BC) to the 20th century, by way of Classical Greece and the era of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Over 20,000 objects are laid out in chronological order in 36 rooms, showing the evolution of Greek painting, sculpture and handicrafts.
(Photo courtesy of Taconi/Flickr)
The outer walls of ancient Athens run through Kerameikos, once the edge of the Classical city. Warrior and priestesses returned to Athens via two separate roads through here (one to a brothel, the other to a temple). Statesmen and heroes were buried beneath showy tombs lining the roads. And it was also the scene of far shadier activities: the haunt of prostitutes, money-lenders and wine-sellers.
(Photo courtesy of dynamosquito/Flickr)
9. Museum of Cycladic Art
A delightful setting in which to ponder elegant, semi-abstract Cycladic figurines – remnants of a culture that flourished in the Cyclades from 3200 – 2000 BC The beautiful marble carvings are unlike anything found in contemporary civilizations. Most are female forms – possible cult objects of a goddess religion – and their elemental shapes have inspired many 20th-century artists.
(Photo courtesy of Tilemahos-Efthimiadis/Flickr)
10. Byzantine Museum
From the fall of Rome in 476 to the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Byzantine Empire dominated the Mediterranean region. The mysterious and wealthy Orthodox Church was the most important political and artistic influence in Byzantium, leaving behind a vast legacy. This world-renowned collection embraces 15,000 objects taken from that fascinating period.
(Photo courtesy of Spirosk-photography/Flickr)