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Is it Sightseeing or Siteseeing? Well, the jury’s still out on this. According to a zillion debates, it should be siteseeing because what you see with your sight are sites; conversely, without your sight, there are no sites to see. Therefore, in order to sitesee, you have to sightsee. Confused yet? Wait, there’s more. Other theories suggest that, since a building or a set of ruins is a site and, since a sight is something your eyes can see, it should be called sightseeing. And, finally, the dictionary tells us that one of the definitions of ‘sight’ is a ‘place of interest to tourists and other visitors’. Whatever your theory, Attica is so full of remarkable sites, that you’re already behind schedule in your sight/site-seeing. Arm yourselves with courage and a bottle of water, and go see.

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Once upon a glorious time

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Entering a time machine

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Here, there and everywhere

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Theodoros Kolokotronis statue

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Once upon a glorious time

“The past is never dead, it’s not even past” (William Faulkner, 1950) Stand in almost any part of Athens and do a 360-degree sweep: you’ll feel the layers of myth, legend, history, culture, art and war that, through many millennia, made Attica the heart of the civilised world. No other region can claim so many historical events, with cities like Eleusis, Megara and Marathon leading the world in democracy, philosophy, poetry and drama (all Greek words, by the way). Not to forget the Athenian victory over the Persians, which determined the fate of the free world at Salamis and Plateai and inspired countless Hollywood films, the latest being ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ – a prequel to ‘300’. Without reinforcements from the Spartans, the Athenians fought against the invading Darius and his forces. The Persian defeat was so overwhelming, no one attempted to invade Greece for years to come. Even today, Miltiades’ brilliant strategy at Marathon serves as the case study for much of modern warfare.

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Acropolis and the Parthenon: Athens’ crown jewels

Acropolis and the Parthenon1 Right in the centre of Athens, the ‘sacred rock’ of the Acropolis – named from the Greek words ‘akron’ (edge) and ‘polis’ (city) – is an ancient citadel on a fortified hill. With a uniquely important building complex at its top, the Acropolis symbolises the civilisations that flourished on Greek land from the prehistoric era until today. Although used by the Athenians since the 3rd millennium BC, there are traces of civilisation as far back as the Mycenaean era. After a short but steep walk uphill, the modern-day visitor can admire architectural treasures dating from the 5th century BC: the Parthenon, 4

the Erechtheion, the Propylaia and the Temple of Nike Apteros. The Acropolis was used in later years for defensive, religious and administrative purposes, evidence of which can be seen even today. The Parthenon served as the Church of the Virgin Mary in the Byzantine era; during the Ottoman conquest, it housed a Turkish garrison; and the Erechtheion housed the governor’s harem. Both the Acropolis and the Parthenon have been designated world heritage sites by UNESCO.

Herod Atticus Odeon: Home of Greek drama

Herod Atticus Odeon


Under Roman rule, the Athenian magnate Herod Atticus built the Odeon on the south-western slope of the Acropolis, in memory of his wife Regilla. Following the city’s decline in the Byzantine era, the Odeon was lost under tons of debris. Excavations in the 19th century uncovered the ruins of the ancient theatre, which was fully restored in the 1950s. Ever since, it has been the main venue of the Athens Festival, which runs from May through October each year, featuring acclaimed Greek and international performers. Against

the southern slope of Acropolis Hill stand the remnants of a large arcade called the Stoa of Eumenes, which once led from the Odeon to the Theatre of Dionysus. This stoa – covered walkway – was built in honour of Eumenes II, King of Pergamum who funded its construction in the 2nd century BC.


Roman Agora: Ancient commercial centre

Ancient Agora

Roman Agora

Ancient Agora

The Roman Forum, located in Plaka, is a large, open-air courtyard surrounded by colonnades. Built under Roman Emperor Augustus (31 BC – 14 AC) to house the city’s commercial centre, it is connected by paved street to the Ancient Agora. Major landmarks in the area are the Horologion (Tower of Winds), an octagonal building designed by famed astronomer Andronikos; and the Forum’s wellpreserved Western Gate.

In antiquity, the Ancient Agora was the administrative and trade centre of the city; this lent the location its name which, even today, means ‘marketplace’. Inhabited since prehistoric times, the area became the city centre in the 6th century BC, housing a multitude of public buildings, both secular and sacred – many of which remain as ruins today.




Olympieion: The ordeal of a temple

Hardrian’s Arch: Gateway to the new Athens


Hadrian’s Arch6

Construction of the Temple of Olympian Zeus began in the 6th century BC, during the rule of Peisistratus, tyrant of Athens. Work was discontinued during the era of the Athenian Democracy as the Temple was considered a symbol of tyranny. Not until the accession of the philhellene emperor Hadrian in 131 AC was the project completed. The Temple was abandoned and, again, badly damaged during the Herulian sack of Athens in the 3rd century AC, its columns quarried for building materials.

The Roman Emperor Hadrian founded a new neighbourhood off the eastern borders of the ancient city of Athens; to honour him, the Athenians named it Adrianopolis and built an arch (of white marble from Mount Penteli) that led from the old city to the new. This triumphal arch, located on the grounds of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, remains in very good condition and is one of the most recognisable and well-photographed landmarks of the city.



Philopappos Hill: Front-row seat to the Acropolis

Kerameikos: A hero’s burial

Philopappos Hill


Also known as the ‘Hill of the Muses’, Philopappos Hill – located on the lush south-western side of the Acropolis – was named after a Roman prince. It once served as a fortress and housed a garrison. Today, visitors can climb its rocky path to see the 12-metre-high monument, the chapel of Saint Demetrius the Bombardier, or take a stroll among the olive and cypress trees.

Kerameikos extends over the area to the west of the Ancient Agora, including the principal cemetery of the ancient city. Fighters killed during the Athenian wars were buried here in mass graves together with prominent Athenians. On the western side of the site stand the ruins of the double-arched Dipylon Gate, built in the Themistocleian city wall. The area took its name from potters (Kerameis) who had their workshops nearby.



Sounion: King-size tragedy



According to legend, it was from Sounion that Aegeus, Κing of Athens, leapt to his death upon seeing a black sail on his son Theseus’ ship and thinking him dead. Thus was named the Aegean Sea. Theseus had slain the Minotaur, but had tragically forgotten to hoist a white sail. The Temple of Poseidon, ‘god of the seas’, stands majestically on the rock of Cape Sounion, at the southern tip of the Attica peninsula. Initially built in the early 5th century, this imposing monument was never completed,

having been destroyed by invading Persians. And though a second, smaller temple was built, it was subsequently replaced by yet a third, constructed by the Athenians in 444 BC. This, the newest temple, was used both as a place of worship and as a fortress, overlooking the commercial seaways of the Aegean. While the view from this site is exquisite at any time of day, it is even more incredible at night under a full moon. Lord Byron inscribed his name on the base of one of the columns. 9

Tumulus of Marathon: A prequel to Sparta and the 300

Vravronian Artemis: Living archaeology

Tumulus of Marathon

Vravronian Artemis11

This historic location is the site of the battle of Marathon in 490 BC, in which the heavily outnumbered Athenians defeated the Persians. The Tumulus, or burial mound, was the last resting place of the 192 Athenians who fought there. It is also the starting point of the Marathon race, held annually in memory of the messenger Phidippides, who ran the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory. Exhausted, Phidippides died soon thereafter.

Vravrona was a sacred site among the ancient Athenians. Here stood the famous Temple of Artemis Vravrona. Inhabited since the Neolithic age, Vravrona was one of the first settlements to be united under King Theseus, and subsequently became a part of a new, powerful Athens. Today, Vravrona is an important archaeological site, and includes an enchanting museum.



Eleusis: Mysteries of past lives

Aphaia: In memory of victory


Aphaia – Aegina13

Eleusis is the ancient town of Attica famous for the cult of Demeter, goddess of the harvest, as well as the popular Eleusinian Mysteries (which were based on a belief in life after death). It is also the birthplace of Aeschylus, the father of Greek tragedy and one of the three iconic Greek dramatists. The archaeological site lies on the Thriasian Plain. Major attractions are the Small and Great Propylaea, the Sacred Field, the Telesterion, the Triumphal Arches and the Mycenaean manor.

The Temple of Aphaia was built after the naval victory at Salamis – or so says the ancient Greek writer Pausanias. The temple was initially thought to be in honour of Athena, but today the deity honoured there is identified with the Cretan nymph Britomartis. According to ancient tradition, the Temple of Aphaia, the Temple of Sounion and the Parthenon form a legendary equilateral triangle.



Kerameikos Museum

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Entering a time machine

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history” (George Orwell) Every museum in Attica is a time machine. You don’t have to be an archaeologist or an expert to operate it and relive the region’s turbulent past. In one exhibit after the other, you can reassemble a millennia-old puzzle before your eyes and retell fascinating tales to stoke the imagination. Tales that blend ancient gods with heroes and traitors, from a time when war and peace alternated in quick succession and the people of Attica lived life with full intensity. Each time-machine-like museum tells a different story. You will encounter exhibits that illustrate myths, legends, triumphs, defeats, life, love and death – in other words, Attica’s rich history.


New Acropolis Museum: Past meets future

New Acropolis Museum


The New Acropolis Museum houses the most important artefacts found on the ‘sacred rock’, from the Mycenaean era until the Roman and early Christian eras. Outside, the real Parthenon looms protectively over one of the world’s most modern museums, inaugurated in 2009, and already visited by millions. The museum is built directly over an important archaeological site and supported by tall pillars, enabling visitors to see precious antiquities through the translucent floors. The museum uses daylight as its main source of 14

illumination, so that the sculptures can be seen exactly as they first were, under the bright Attic sun. The museum’s predecessor had operated since the 19th century in a much smaller building complex next to the Parthenon.

National Archaeological Museum

Alexandros Georgiou: Group of Forgotten Gods

National Archaeological Museum15

National Museum of Contemporary Art16

In the heart of the city, this building houses some of the most important artefacts of ancient Greek art, from the Neolithic Era until the late Roman period. Statues from the Antikythera wreck, Agamemnon’s death mask, the wall paintings of Thera, the Artemision Bronze, the Antikythera Ephebe, Nestor’s Cup and the Marathon Boy are just some of the treasures on display. Don’t miss a stroll in the sprawling, neoclassical garden.

The museum’s collections include paintings, drawings, sculptures, video and audio works, and online art by contemporary Greek and international artists. Apart from the numerous international artists represented here, visitors will find major Greek artists, such as Nikos Kessanlis, Vlassis Kaniaris, Kostas Tsoklis, Kostas Varotsos, Yannis Psychopedis, to name but a few.


Museum of Cycladic Art

Benaki Museum

Museum of Cycladic Art

Benaki Museum

One of the most important venues in Greece, located near Syntagma Square, houses the largest collection of Cycladic art in the world: from the famous figurines and marble vessels, to other samples from the Minoan, Mycenaean, Geometric, Archaic and Classical eras. Founded in 1986, the museum was initially home to the private collection of Cycladic and Ancient Greek Art of Nikolas and Aikaterini Goulandris. Today, it is dedicated to the study and preservation of the culture of the Aegean Sea, from prehistoric to modern times.

This museum was donated to the Greek State in memory of Emmanuel Benakis, a Greek businessman born in Egypt, who served as mayor of Athens. The museum displays collections covering all phases of Greek culture, and is divided between the neoclassical building on Vassilissis Sofias Avenue, and the ultramodern wing on Pireos Street, which also houses a state-of-theart restoration and conservation workshop. The museum’s prestigious publications cover the whole spectrum of Greek civilisation.




Foundation of the Hellenic World

Foundation of the Hellenic World19 Founded in 1993, the Foundation is dedicated to the preservation of Hellenic history and tradition. The Hellenic Cosmos, the Foundation’s Cultural Centre, was inaugurated in 1998 in an industrial building, and has been transformed into a modern display in harmony with today’s ‘knowledge society’. The Hellenic Cosmos covers 65,000 square metres; Tholos, the latest addition, houses a virtual-reality theatre and an auditorium.




Founded in the 1950s, the Evgenidion Planetarium on Syngrou Avenue has evolved into an amateur astronomer’s hightech dream. Capable of stunning, full-scale scientific productions, its main focus is on astronomy. Employing state-of-the-art digital technology, it is a major draw for all ages. Recently renovated, the complex boasts a 25-metre dome, the largest of its kind in the world.


Onassis Cultural Centre

Goulandris Natural History Museum

Onassis Cultural Centre

Goulandris Natural History Museum20

The Onassis Cultural Centre is a relatively new cultural space that hosts events and activities across the arts spectrum, from theatre, dance, music and visual arts to the written word. The museum focuses on contemporary cultural expression, supporting Greek artists, cultivating international collaboration and educating people of all ages through lifelong learning.

Housed in a beautiful, 19thcentury, neoclassical building in Kifissia, this museum is dedicated to the study, conservation and protection of the natural environment. Here, a team of top Greek and international scientists catalogue the biological and geological riches of Greece. The museum also provides an ongoing programme of free activities and events to raise environmental awareness.



Athens Concert Hall

Hellenic Children’s Museum: Not just child’s play

Athens Concert Hall

Hellenic Children’s Museum22

The heart of music in Greece, the Megaron Athens Concert Hall has hosted top performers since 1991. The building has played host to symphony orchestras, opera, ballet, classical drama and even bouzouki music. Today, with four performance halls, conference and banqueting facilities and a concert garden, it is in a class of its own, fuelling the imagination of young and old audiences alike.

Open since 1987 and housed in a neoclassical building, the Children’s Museum was constructed in the early 20th century, in Plaka. Its goal is to introduce children to the concept of ‘museum-science-art’. Through creative play, children learn to appreciate art, respect the environment, interact with each other and, of course, be entertained.



The fascination of religion

Inside religion: Places of worship

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars, the deeper the grief, the closer is God” (Fyodor Dostoyevsky) Greeks have always been fascinated by religion, from paganism – lost in millennia of superstition – to fanaticism and idolatry. Regardless of how many, how evil or how heroic were the gods of the ancient Greeks, people believed in a supreme, divine power. Their need to believe was then refocused on Christianity and, since its early years, the new religion became the foundation of everyday life. One need look no further for evidence than the stunning number of public and private churches on Greek soil (a huge percentage of them in Attica), which have over time become monuments worth visiting. During the era of Paul the Apostle in the 1st century AC, Athenians began converting to Christianity. That era saw the inauguration of clandestine places of worship until the late 4th century, when the new religion was officially acknowledged under Roman rule. Many ancient temples were converted into Christian churches. From the 5th century on, Christian basilicas were built, remnants of which can be found in a number of locations in Attica. Many churches and monasteries of the Byzantine era still stand proudly today, untouched by the passage of time: the Kapnikarea, Agioi Theodoroi, Agios Eleftherios, the Pantanassa, Agioi Asomatoi, Agios Nikolaos Ragavas in downtown Athens, the Monasteries of Daphni, Kaissariani, Asteriou and many others.


Metropolis, The Athens Cathedral: Built from 76 churches

Athens Cathedral Construction of the Athens Metropolitan Cathedral (dedicated to the Annunciation of the Mother of God) began in 1842 when King Otto and Queen Amalia laid the cornerstone. It is a three-aisled, domed basilica, located within walking distance from Syntagma Square. Inside are the tombs of Saint Philothei and Patriarch Gregory V. The latter was hanged by the Turks at the start of the Greek revolt against Ottoman rule. Marble from the ruins of Byzantine churches was used to build its massive walls. Famous architects 22

(Hansen, Zezos, Boulanger, Kalkos and others) helped construct the Cathedral over a period of 20 years. This landmark has witnessed important ceremonies, including the weddings and funerals of kings, politicians and the rich and famous. Since the 1999 Athens earthquake, the Cathedral has undergone extensive and painstaking maintenance and restoration.

Kapnikarea: In the city’s heart

Dafni Monastery: Built and rebuilt


Dafni (Daphni) Monastery

Situated in the middle of Ermou Street, the Byzantine church of Kapnikarea is one of Athens’ major Byzantine landmarks. Dating from the 11th century, it is dedicated to the Presentation of the Virgin to the Temple. The church is built as a domed complex, cross-in-square, with three sections built in succession. The chapel of St. Barbara was added to the northern part of the church in the 20th century, and many murals were painted by celebrated artist Fotis Kontoglou. The church supposedly owes its name to its first owner,who, according to tradition, was a collector of tobacco tax (kapnikos foros).

Sacked by Crusaders in 1205, this monastery’s 11th-century church has an eclectic history. Once used as a psychiatric asylum, it was also occupied for a time by French monks, before finally returning to the Orthodox community in 1458. The church is a catholicon of the octagonal type, and houses a dazzling collection of well-preserved mosaics. Dafni was closed for restoration after the 1999 Athens earthquake. Today, this fortified monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Agioi Isidoroi: Hidden passages

The Metochion: A monastery for the Holy Light

Agioi Isidoroi

The Metochion

This ancient basilica, with a wooden roof and a small cave as its altar, was built on a rock on the north-western slope of Lycabettus Hill. It burned down in the 1930s, but was rebuilt after the war. Legends surrounding the tiny church claim it as the starting point for a network of secret underground passageways leading to the sea, Mount Penteli, Mount Hymettus – and where only the ancient gods know.

The Church of Agioi Anargyroi, also known as the Metochion of the Holy Sepulchre, was built on the site of an ancient temple of Aphrodite. Originally opened as a convent, it became an embassy church of the Holy Sepulchre in the 18th century and, therefore, is often associated with Easter ceremonies. Visitors come to the church because, on the night of the Resurrection, it is said to be the first place to receive the Holy Light from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.


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Here, there and everywhere

“I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad” (George Bernard Shaw) Athens today is nothing like 19th-century Athens: today’s capital was a tormented small town back then; today’s city centre was then outside the old city’s boundaries. Through the years, dirt roads evolved to avenues and the capital underwent Ovidian metamorphoses. It was bombed and rebuilt numerous times. Its streets saw the Ottoman cavalry, Nazi jackboots, the tanks of the military junta; it witnessed occupation and freedom, blood and fire, destruction and rebirth. And it managed to emerge with its head held high. It’s a city that was never enslaved for long, always remembering that it has been, is and will always be the cradle of democracy. It sees itself rightly as the birthplace of philosophy – the values that underlie western civilisation. As you wander its alleys, parks, squares and avenues, and observe the eclectic mix of architecture, remember that this was a city that has reinvented itself many times over. Scratch the surface and you’ll understand the Athenian miracle – that it is constantly evolving and, ultimately, surviving, thanks to the city’s spirit, its people and its fated role in history.


Panathenaic Stadium: An odyssey of marble

Panathenaic Stadium


Built between two hills, the stadium was initially intended to honour Athena and the Panathenaic Games. It was renovated in 329 BC by Lycurgus; wooden seating was replaced by marble and capacity increased to 50,000. It was much later (in 140 AD) that Herodes Atticus was inspired to rebuild and enlarge it. Once buried under tons of debris, stripped of the beautiful white marble that gave it its name (kallimarmaron, meaning ‘beautifully marbled’), it stood semi-ruined but proud when King Otto proclaimed 28

Athens the capital of the Greek Kingdom in 1834. It took another 62 years to restore it to its original glory. In 1896, with work not yet complete, it hosted the first modern Olympic Games. Since then, this 4th-century, 50,000seat stadium has hosted many of the country’s major athletic and political events. Each Marathon run finishes here, in homage to the original Marathon run and in commemoration of the victory of Greek runner Spyros Louis.

The National Garden: Breathing space

The Zappeion

The National Gardens

The Zappeion

The National Gardens were founded by Queen Amalia as the Royal Palace Gardens in the 19th century, a name used until 1974 when the monarchy was abolished. This large botanical garden features a host of local flora and fauna, antiquities, mosaics and other remarkable finds. A perfect place to take a stroll, meditate and relax along paths and in little coves, especially on a hot summer day, without leaving the city.

One of the most important buildings of Athens – both for history and architecture – the Zappeion first opened in October 1888. Located near the National Gardens, it is now used for private and public functions, but served as the Olympic Village in the 1906 Olympics. Sadly, its benefactor, Evangelos Zappas, did not live long enough to see its completion.




The Hellenic Parliament: Between monarchy and democracy

The Hellenic Parliament26 The impressively clean-cut yet imposing Hellenic Parliament was initially built in the 19th century as a palace for King Otto and Queen Amalia. It was later used as King George’s residence, until the royal couple moved to their new palace in Tatoi. After a fire in 1909, the building was renovated and housed state services, ministries and courts while the Greek Parliament still met at Kolokotroni Square. It was also used as a makeshift hospital and even as a museum. Following a six-year renovation, it became the permanent seat of 30

the Hellenic Parliament in 1935. In the late 1920s, architects E. Lazaridis and E. Dimitriades designed the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, located on Syntagma Square. Today, visitors can see the changing of the Evzones guards who stand, practically frozen in time, in deference to the fallen.

The National Library: Part of the Trilogy

The Athenian Trilogy


The Athenian Trilogy refers to a group of three neoclassical buildings that dominate the Athens skyline: the National Library, the University of Athens, and the Athens Academy, all designed by Danish architect Theo Hansen in the mid-19th century. The University and Academy feature dazzling white Penteli marble. Harmonising perfectly with the Ionian character of these two buildings are the staircases and statues of prominent Greeks. The Library is of Doric character, its simple beauty enhanced

by Renaissance-style marble staircases. Since its inception in 1829, the National Library has been a wanderer of sorts, at one time being housed in a small Athenian church, before finding its permanent home here, in a magnificent structure funded by the Vallianos family.


Like the truth in Plato’s cave parable, a guidebook like this can only hint at the true marvels of Attica. So, now that you’ve read it, put it aside and use your creativity to make this a truly unforgettable vacation. You’ll soon find that the best and most comprehensive guide is your own imagination. Attica, the land of the meeting of minds, is always ready for one more!

Publication & Copyright Owner: Region of Attica, March 2013. 1st Edition. Created by McCann Athens. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission obtained by the copyright owner. Permission to use this content must be also obtained from the copyright owner. ISBN: 978-960-87303-3-5 32

Athens Attica Live  
Athens Attica Live