Part One (Athens)

by Willie Vergara


This is going to be the first of two parts. This one will focus on the City of Athens, the magnificent Acropolis and Parthenon and other sites of both ancient and modern Greece. The next will feature the Greek Isles and trips into many more of this country’s glorious past.

After that enjoyable but tiresome tour in Turkey (see my article “Turkey, A Destination Worth Your While”), we took a brief morning flight from Izmir, Turkey to Athens, Greece. One will know if he is approaching the country of Greece by seeing the small islands from the plane.









The taxi driver who picked us up at the airport was quite passionate in claiming that there are many Greek artifacts in Turkey, especially the remains of the great Hellenistic Period, that is, between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. and the emergence of the Roman Empire as signified by the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. and the conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt the following year. We booked in at the Best Western Museum Hotel, which was about 4 blocks from Syntagma Square, the most major area in the City of Athens in point of government as well as commercial activity.




Tess and I started the next day by joining a guided city tour. The walk along the narrow streets from the hotel to the waiting tourist bus showed an avant-garde Athens culture: Street art bustling from corner to corner! The street art in Athens is said to be the most prevalent in the world, and we couldn’t help but notice the excessive amount of graffiti at almost every brick wall, shop frontages, or even obscure shop alleys.











Our city tour’s first stop was at the Panathinaikos Stadium where the first modern Olympic Games took place in 1896. It was used again as the venue of Olympics 2004. Historically, a stadium was built on the same site as a simple race track in 330 B.C. It was rebuilt in 144 A.D. with a capacity of 50,000 seats, but was largely abandoned in the 4th century after the rise of Christianity. I was a bit disappointed as I had expected to see a grand spectacle although it is the only stadium in world built entirely of marble.



An interesting stop was the Presidential Mansion and the Hellenic Parliament. Here, one can enjoy the sight of “Evzones” or Presidential Guards guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. There are about 200 evzones and it is said that they are chosen for their height and character. Tess and I have seen quite a number of Changing of the Guards in our European travels but we consider this to be a most interesting one by their distinctive movements. Photography being my hobby, I also enjoyed having to come close to the guards unlike in most countries where tourists could see this ceremony only from a distance.













Behind the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is the NATIONAL GARDEN, a peaceful, vast green refuge (more than 15 hectares) and considered as a tropical paradise right in the middle of the concrete jungle of Athens. One can spend hours wandering around the shaded pathways past the flora and the fauna, “an escape from the maddening crowd”, so to speak. “It remains in my memory like no other park I have known. It is the quintessence of a park, the thing one feels sometimes in looking at a canvas or dreaming of a place one would like to be in and never finds. Seeing lovers sitting there in the dark, drinking water, sitting there in peace and quiet talking in low tones gave me a wonderful feeling about the Greek character.” - Henry Miller, The Colossus of Maroussi






We spent a few hours at THE ACROPOLIS MUSEUM. It is considered by Travel Advisor as #1 of the more than 300 things to do in Athens. This museum is considered as one of the world’s best. It houses the most fabulous artifacts of the Hellenic civilization as well as the Greek Bronze Age and the Byzantine Period. As we entered the building, we walked over glass floors, while seeing beneath the parts of ancient buildings of Athens. One can immediately feel the spirit of the glory that was Greece and the citizens that dwelt in it.









While I had some success photographing priceless works of art in my previous travels – including the Sistine Chapel, Academia in Florence, The Louvre and impressionist paintings in Musee d’ Orsay in Paris, National Gallery in Washington, D.C., National Gallery and British Museum in London, and Museo Nacional Del Prado in Madrid – I find the Acropolis Museum staff were not only being too strict but were rude as well. Such demeanor is uncharacteristic of friendly Greeks I’ve met elsewhere during my 10-day stay in this country. Just the same, I was able to grab a few

Among the most prized collections of this museum are the Erechtheion, The Temple of Athena Nike and Propylaea. The Erechtheion was built in honor of Erechtheus, who was mentioned in Homer’s Iliad as a great king during the Archaic Period. The Temple of Athena Nike was named after the goddess Athena (built around 420 BC) and is the earliest fully Ionic temple of the Acropolis. Propylaea is any monumental gateway that serves as the entrance to the Acropolis. From the Museum, one could see the Acropolis perched on top of one of the highest rocky hills in Athens.






From the museum, our tour guide led us to a long, steep hike to the real thing – The Acropolis and the Parthenon. I didn’t mind the difficult hike up as well as the dangerous pavement that may cause slippage. But one has to have good hiking shoes and has to protect his camera from possible fall. Even from below, one could see several restoration activities, and a lot of these were being done at the façade of the Acropolis.





The hike up the Acropolis did not disappoint. There I witnessed one of the most awesome sights I’ve seen in my travels -- the panoramic, 360-degree view from above, among which is a giant rock-hill where Apostle St. Paul used to preach and several structures that tell thousands of years of history of heroes and goddesses, of pomp, conquest and glory. Seeing it with my own eyes was definitely a dream fulfilled.










The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient citadel located on a giant rocky ridge above the city of Athens. It is here when one can step back in time and enjoy the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance. Some historians say the hill was inhabited as far back as the fourth millennium BC, but it was Pericles (c. 495 – 429 BC) in the fifth century BC who coordinated the construction of the site's most important buildings including the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike. The Parthenon and the other buildings were seriously damaged during the 1687 siege by the Venetians in the Morean War when gunpowder being stored in the Parthenon was hit by a cannonball and exploded. (Source: Wikipedia)








THE PARTHENON is the most important landmark of Athens and is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It is the centerpiece of the Acropolis, a lavish temple of unprecedented scale at the time. To this date, engineers and architects continue to regard the Parthenon with awe and wonderment. One who has not gone up to the Parthenon has not seen 80 percent of Athens. It is here where one can feel the spirit of Ancient Greece.








From the Parthenon, we took the exit down towards AGORA, the center of the ancient city of Athens. The word "agora" applies to an assembly of people, a place for gathering, and more strictly, a "marketplace". It was at the Agora where Socrates attracted the Greeks to his philosophical questions and observations. The Agora of Athens dates back to the late Neolithic Period and was used as a cemetery during the Mycenaean Period and the Iron Age. For most of the city's history, however, the Agora was the center of commercial, religious, cultural and political activity. Note, however, that even in this very important archeological site, the street artists have taken their art too far.








While in Athens, one should find time to go to MONASTIRAKI, a flea market and one of the vibrant shopping districts in Athens. It is the home to souvenir shops, restaurants, specialty stores, clothing and beauty products, and practically anything one can hope to buy. It is a major tourist attraction where one can engage in bargain shopping. It is very accessible especially from Syntagma Square – either by walking or public transportation.

















One can view the Parthenon from Monastiraki, and enjoy the well-lighted Acropolis by night. Around it are also several historical buildings. Tess and I just simply enjoyed watching people as well as strolling in this crowded square and is the most vibrant part of the city. We also enjoyed the young street performers, singers, magicians and dancers. It is a great place to eat with a huge variety of restaurants.












We are not done yet. Many good ones are yet to come, and a lot of more exciting sceneries to behold. We shall go out of the City of Athens unto the legendary Cyclades Isles and two of the most visited islands in the world – Santorini and Mykonos. We shall also feature some exciting trips out of Athens, unto a lot of ancient sites featuring gods and goddesses, some places mentioned in the bible, and unto pre-historic civilization.

Wait for: The Glory That Was Greece, Part Two (Greek Isles).




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