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Athens in the Glory Days of the 5th C BC

Athens, Attica, Greece
7 Kudos
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I travel frequently to Greece for historical and archaeological research, and have spent a great deal of time in Athens, though it is my least favorite part of this magical country. First of all, if you're planning a trip, ignore the negative press. When you see 'demonstrations' on TV or social media, it is usually a wide-angle shot of 15-30 people mingling around Syntagma or Parliament Square. I have never, ever had a problem in Athens, except with one taxi driver who insisted on dropping me off at what he said was my hotel (the Athens Ledra, as clearly stated in Greek and English on the business card they gave me), but what was in actuality a bank. Fortunately, I'd already walked Syntagma Avenue a bit and realized he'd dropped me off on the wrong side of the city. I love the Athens Ledra, which has one of the greatest staffs and management anywhere, but I stayed there when I was a Marriott Platinum (and they always gave me suites with cornered terraces). Since then I have stayed at another hotel, the Electra Palace, in Plaka, at city center, and I loved it. It's right in the midst of things, has a rooftop pool (amazing for city center -- but both from it and the pool atop the Athens Ledra you get amazing views of the Acropolis.

I'll write about excursions from Athens another day, but you can usually spend no more than 3 days in Athens and see most things. The Acropolis is at the top of the list, though if you're there in spring or summer go in the morning before it gets very hot. Expect cranes, as they have been working on restoration for years if not decades. But even better, go around the Acropolis from city center and enter through first the Roman forum, then the Greek agora, and walk in the steps of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle through the agora, where politics and business were conducted daily. There's an amazing view of the Hephaesteum and the back of the Acropolis, which clearly shows the walls that were a big part of the story in 5th C. Athens. The Acropolis was burned down during the Persian Wars, so a full picture of it includes not just the classical buildings atop it, but all of the walls that were built defensively against primarily the Spartans. In front of the Acropolis you'll see the theatre (Odeon) of Herodes Atticus built in the 2nd C AD and the older Theatre of Dionysus built in the 4th C. BC. Right in the center of Athens you'll see The Temple of Olympian Zeus (begun 6th C. BC, finished during the Roman emperor Hadrian's reign) as well as the arch of Hadrian. South of Plaka, there are some great restaurants and the heart of 'shopping Athens'.
Story Details

Culture and experiences

Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art
While I found the Acropolis Museum disappointing because there were so few items on display for such a beautiful new museum (for the most part, not the fault of the Greeks!), the Cycladic Museum in the Kolonaki section is amazing. It is jam filled with extraordinary vases, statuettes (mostly female, as there is a hypothesis that the ancient Minoan civilization that flourished in Crete and Thera from about 2000-1400 BC may have been a matriarchy) and displays that are both visually appealing and educational. The top floor has sectional displays on different aspects of the Cycladic past (e.g., sport, daily life, marriage, etc.). It's my favorite museum in Athens.

Hotels

Athens Ledra Hotel
I have stayed at the Athens Ledra probably 8-9 times, mostly when I was a Marriott Platinum member. I considered it the best Marriott in the world, but unaccountably Marriott dropped it and has no current presence in all of Greece. It is out of the way on Avenue Syngrou, but not far from a metro stop and with a shuttle bus to center city. It has excellent restaurants -- and you are often presented with a voucher for a free bottle of wine (which you can take to you room with you rather than drinking all on the spot) and a couple of great restaurants. The rooftop pool is fabulous. Views of the Acropolis are fantastic, and it's a serious pool with plenty of space. The best part of all about the Ledra is the staff, which is among the best I have ever experienced.
Electra Palace Hotel Athens Ξενοδοχείο
This is an amazing hotel that makes you welcome from the moment you contact them or make your reservation. It is very centrally located in Plaka, just a few minutes walk from older parts of Athens, the Acropolis, Syntagma Square, and the major museums of Åthens.  Even better, it is one of the few 'downtown' hotels that actually has a rooftop pool, which is much appreciated in summer. From it you have a great view of the Acropolis.

Points of interest

Acropolis of Athens
Try to visit the Acropolis at any time but summer, but if you are there in summer, start out early in the morning, as climbing it gets very, very hot. You don't need a tour group. Start at the Acropolis Museum, below, which contains many of the artifacts that are not in other world museums; however, I found it somewhat boring and empty, though the architecture is superb. Then head up to the Acropolis. Consider that the whole Parthenon was painted 2500 years ago, and an enormous status of Athena stood in its center. You have great views of both the Theatre of Dionysus, where some of the great classical plays of all time were performed, and the Odeion of Herodes Atticus. Look the other way and you'll see the Greek agora or marketplace, where philosophers and politicians discussed ideas. If you approach by ground from the opposite direction, you'll first enter the Roman forum before getting into the Greek agora. When I was in the latter it was a bank holiday (I couldn't help an ironic chuckle) so there was no charge, and no one but me there. It gives you some of the best views of the Acropolis.

Restaurants

Electra Roof Garden
This is a wonderful restaurant. Although staying so close to the center of the city of Athens I had my choice of hotels, I ate more often at not at the Rooftop Garden because of the quality of the staff, great food, and spectacular view.

On The Map

2 Comments

by bethh1902

01-02-2015

great pics! I was here many, many years ago and enjoyed re-visiting through your story and photos.

by drw219

01-04-2015

so nice!