If this were a movie, the lens would pan over all the locations that people, even unknowingly, associate with Athens from the ancient temples to the beaches, all bathed in the warm light of an Athenian summer evening, as the narrator went “Athens, what is one to say about Athens that has not already been said?”
“The eye of Greece, Mother of Arts and Eloquence” according to John Milton. “The most injured and most celebrated of cities” according to Lord Byron. Athens is the city that you all know. Named after the daughter of Zeus, Athena, goddess of Wisdom, who appropriately emerged from her father’s head, the city displays the evidence of more than 3,400 years of continued habitation, that you can see as you walk around.
The ancient agora is found about 5 meters below the surrounding landscape. That is because we have continued building around and over monuments in a never ending quest for urban living space. Athens is the museums, of which there are just too many to see in 10 visits to the city, let alone one, and the restored ancient streets, where you can most likely step over the same place as Pericles, Socrates or Euripides did 2,500 years ago, as they were on their way to Kerameikos, the ancient city’s burial grounds and one of modern Athens’ most lively neighbourhoods.
This is the other aspect of Athens that people don’t know, and are pleasantly surprised by. Right next to the impeccable, pristine white monuments of days long gone are houses from all eras of modern Greek history, covered in murals and often times flowers, especially in the older neighbourhoods. This city is not a relic, but a living, breathing modern metropolis, enjoying its cultural and economic prominence in Greece and its millennia-long pedigree.
From the neoclassic mansions built by the Athenian elite at the dawn of the previous century, to the low houses built by the refugees of 1922, to the apartment blocks of the 1960s, to the modern glass and steel accents of the nineties and the naughties, this is not an ancient city. It is a historical city that keeps on living, fuelled by a generation after generation of dynamic, restless Greeks finding their place in history and in the world. It is they who are now trying to relight the torch that once shone over the city and enables many to call its past self the cradle of western civilization and the birthplace of democracy.
To be a bit more specific, the city boasts numerous monuments, from the Ancient Era onto the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman ones, many of them often coexisting, either side by side or one on top of the other. Just some of the names that should ring bells to you are the Acropolis Itself, along with its recently opened Acropolis Museum, the Temple of Hephaestus, the Panathinaikon Stadium (where the first reincarnated Olympic Games took place in 1896), the temple of Olympian Zeus, Mount Lycabettus (sporting an amazing view of the entire city) and, closest to our hearts, the Ancient Agora. And right next to all of these, are the people and places that make Athens have a world-renowned nightlife, capable of satisfying the most obscure and eclectic of tastes (regardless of financial ability).
To add to all this, the city’s southern suburbs enjoy some 25 km of sea front, including 7 blue flag beaches within easy reach of the city centre. Starting from Piraeus, which is the port that Athens predominantly uses, and one of the oldest and most important in the Mediterranean, on to Faliro and Glyfada, all the way to Varkiza, the opportunities for eating, drinking, going out, and swimming endlessly succeed one another, and they are all accessible with public transport.
And though we don’t like boasting, we will leave you with this: People are great at being rude online. But this is what people have to say about Athens online:
European Best Destinations – Best places to travel in 2016 (2nd place)
Condé Nast – Best countries in the world (Greece 1st place)