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Information on some Archaeological Sites, Museums and other points of interest in Athens, Attica, the Peloponnese and Central Greece.
(Please note that we are planning to organise visits to those sites marked with * below)
The following URLs offer a good general introduction to Greece from the Archaeological point of view:
The Lonely Planet site is also excellent and contains a lot of information on many aspects of Greece: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/europe/greece/
City (Polis) of Aegeus and his son Theseus, inhabitation of Athens predates the 16th c. BCE. About the 8th c. BCE, Athens became the artistic center of Greece especially notable for its fine pottery. Athenians twice in the 5th c. BCE defeated powerful armies as related by Herodotus, the father of history. Subsequently, Athens enjoyed a 70 year long golden age reaching it pinnacle under the patronage of Pericles. The temples of the Acropolis were rebuilt after the Persian destruction of 480 BCE, the dramatists Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides wrote their tragic masterpieces and Aristophanes his risqué comic plays. The Peloponnesian war of 431-404 BCE between Athens and Sparta as related by the historian Thucydides, ended the Golden Age of Athens. Athens continued to be the intellectual center of Greece. Philosophers, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle shaped the western way of thinking and politicians such as Clisthenis, Periclis and others established and nurtured Democracy as the only fair and just system of governance (http://www.historyguide.org/ancient/pericles.html) . Political power then shifted to Macedonia under the leadership of Philip and his son Alexander the Great.
Modern Athens (download a detailed street map of Athens here) is a very busy, bustling city with noise and life at all hours, especially in the summer. The city has improved tremendously over the past 10 years with many modern amenities and easy metro and train access to most areas (in addition to the ubiquitous taxis). The completion of the “Connecting the Classical Sites” project (e.g see http://www.nyloo.com/html/ent/750/ent.17750.1.asp) , has meant that all main ancient sites around Acropolis can be now visited on foot without problems from traffic. The best way to enjoy it would be to start at the Marble Panathenaic Stadium (see map) and walk clockwise around the Acropolis. The whole walk, taking in all the sites on the way would take you a whole day.
The most interesting sites to visit in alphabetical order are (see also http://www.culture.gr/2/21/maps/sterea/attiki/athens.html):
· Agora: The ancient market place and political center of Athens. Located below the Acropolis, the Agora was excavated from 1931-41 by American archaeologists and later from 1946-1960. Within the Agora is the extremely well preserved Temple of Hephaistos and the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos which serves as a museum for artifacts found at the site.
· Acropolis: http://www.athens-360.com/acropolis.htm High above the Agora rises a limestone outcrop, surrounded by olive groves, the location of the “High City” site of several temples. The archaic temples destroyed by the Persian invasion of 480 BCE were rebuilt under the leadership of Pericles.
o Parthenon: Temple of Athena Parthenos was completed about 432 BCE under the master architect, Iktinos and the sculptor Pheidias. Damaged over the centuries, it is being restored.
o Erechtheion: Constructed on the foundations of the archaic temple of Athena which was destroyed during the 480 BCE Persian invasion, the Erechtheion has a complex ground-plan since it accommodated a number of earlier shrines.
o Propylaia: The monumental entrance to the Acropolis.
o The museum housing many excellent finds. The new Acropolis museum, at the foot of the Rock, promises to be spectacular as it will be built above the ancient findings, kept in place and viewed through glass floors.
· Theater of Dionysos: The ancient theater of Athens (6th c. BC) - located on the south slope of the Acropolis, the Theater of Dionysos was built in a natural hollow. The plays of the great tragedians were held here.
· The Theatre of Herod Atticus. Roman theatre built below the Propylaia by the Herod Atticus, governor of Greece in the 1st c. Sits nearly 2000 people and still used today for music or theatrical performances under the auspices of the “Athens Festival”. Information at: http://www.hellenicfestival.gr/site/index_en.htm.
· Olympieon: Near the center of Athens and immediately behind the Arch of Hadrian one finds the monumental temple to the Olympian Zeus, the Olympieion, and the largest temple in Ancient Greece. Dedicated by Hadrian in 130 CE, the temple took over 700 years to complete.
· National Museum: http://www.athens-360.com/museums.htm The newly renovated National Museum was reopened just prior to the 2004 Summer Olympics after the 1999 earthquake which did major damage to the museum and artifacts. It is the repository of the most important artifacts from archaeological sites throughout Greece. View the Mycenean Gold, Cycladic figures of Parian marble, statuary and ceramics covering the range of artistic and technical expression from neolithic through Roman periods.
· *Parliament (Vouli): Originally the royal palace, since 1935 it is the seat of Parliament. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier resides in front of the building facing Syntagma Square and guarded by the Greek National Guard, the Evzones.
· * “Panathenaic - Kalimarmaro” Stadium (1896): The location of the rebirth of the modern Olympics in the heart of Athens, made wholly of white Pentelic marble. It sits more than 40000 people in uniquely classical style and is still used for many athletic and art events. It is always the termination of all Classical Marathons run in Athens, including the 2004 Olympics.
· Filoppapos Hill. Overlooking the Acropolis (SW of Acropolis, separated by the beautiful Dionysiou Aeropagitou walk-way, part of the “integrated classical sites” route), the lovely wooded Filopappos Hill offers a welcome escape from the summer heat. Within it one can visit the Pnyka where the ancient Athenian citizens - the “Demos – gathered to listen to political speeches and cast their votes on all important aspects of Athenian life. The actual place where Democracy and developed. Currently it is the site of the nightly “Sound and Light” spectacle (http://www.hellenicfestival.gr/site/s&l/index_en.asp?pageNo=1) where remote colourful illumination of all the ancient temples on Acropolis is accompanied by music and narration.
· Benaki Museum: This museum is housed in a Neo-Classical mansion which was once the home of the Emmanouil Benaki a wealthy Greek who made his fortune in Egypt. The collection contains a diverse array of Greek arts and crafts, paintings, political artifacts, local costumes spanning Neolithic to modern eras. The roof-top café is a wonder location on Sunday mornings about 10:30 to have a coffee and observe the parade of the National Guard (evzones) in their traditional garb and wooden clogs as they march toward Syntagma Square and the Parliament Building for the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
· The Ethnological Museum (Old Parliament). This is in the centre of the city (Stadiou Avenue) and houses relics from the long struggle of the Greeks to built a new state throwing off the Ottoman yoke at the revolution in 1821. It illustrates in particular the re-emergence of Athens from the dusty village of early 19th century to the modern metropolis of today.
· * The Academy, the University of Athens and the National Library. These beautiful neo-classical buildings are all situated at the centre of Athens, along the north side of Panepistimiou Avenue, between Syntagma and Omonoia squares.
· Museum of Cycladic Art: The Museum of Cycladic Art contains a spectacular collection of Cycladic figurines initially assembled by Nikolas and Dolly and Goulandri and expanded by donations from other Greek collectors world wide. The simplicity and style of this art has inspired many modern artists and sculptors.
· Lycabettus Hill. Although it does not offer any archaeological sites, it is an ideal way of taking in the whole of Athens and adjoining mountains, all the way to the sea. It can be reached by taxi or, for the fit, on foot along two stepped paths. It is topped by the romantic St. George Chapel.
Attiki (Attica) is the region (Prefecture) around Athens, dominated by the 3 mountain ranges: Parnitha, north of Athens, Penteli at the NE and Ymittus at East. The land was the basis of Athenian wealth including quarries providing fine marble from Mt. Ymittos and Mount Penteli for temple construction and sculpture. Silver mines at Lavrion financed the Athenian fleet and monumental construction on the Acropolis. Vines and olive groves still dominate the landscape. A few interesting sites within half an hour from Anavyssos are listed below.
· Brauron: Located near the town of Vravrona 18 km from the new Athens airport, Brauron is an ancient sanctuary for the worship of Artemis, goddess of animals and childbirth. Only the foundations remain, but artifacts in the museum are testament to the importance of the worship of Artemis at this site. According to legend, Orestes and Iphigeneia, the children of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, introduced the worship of Artemis to Greece and founded the temple at this site.
· * Sounion: Famous for its Temple of Poseidon, this is one of the most scenic sites in Greece. The famous Temple of Poseidon and remaining foundations of a Temple of Athena are perched on high cliffs overlooking the Aegean providing a magnificent view. Lord Byron first visited Greece in 1809. Smitten with the country, his writings about Greece inspired European support for Greece’s struggle for independence. In 1810 while visiting Sounion, Byron carved his name on one of the columns of the Poseidon Temple and thus set a bad example for future vandalism. Byron died in 1824 in Mesolongi during the war for independence.
· Lavrion: Without the silver mines of Lavrion and Thorikos, one wonders if Themistokles would have been able to construct the fleet which such an important role in the defeat of the Persians in the naval battle at Salamis in 480 BCE. The Golden Age of Pericles with its monumental constructions and the artistic and intellectual flowering might not have happened. In modern times, the mines are still used to extract manganese, cadmium and other minerals. Some 2000 mine shafts are known in the area and some may be open to visitors. There is also an instructive Mineralogical Museum on Andrea Kordela Street.
· Thorikos: http://www.missouri.edu/~daw262/thorikos.html Thorikos boasts silver mines, a large theatre capable of holding 6000 patrons, a Temple of Dionysos, a cemetery containing remains from both the archaic and classical periods and washeries used to grade the crushed ore from the mines. Ruins of houses and workshops from as early as the 7th c BCE have been excavated. To the northeast, Mycenaean chamber and tholos tombs have been found indicating inhabitation and exploitation of the mine as far back as 3000 BCE.
· Pireaus. The modern and ancient port of Athens, some 15km (10 miles) south west. It can be reached by metro but most of the ancient sites have perished. Notable exceptions are the fortification walls and malls around the ancient port at Perama, which can be reached by taxi or bus.
The southern region of mainland Greece, an actual island since the canal cut in 19th century. In the second millennium BCE, the power in this region was called Mycenaean. Mycenaean kings, Agamemnon, Menelaus and Nestor play prominent roles in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Later, during the Peloponnesian war (431-404 BCE), Sparta was the leading force in the region. Over time, powers of the period such as Rome, Venice, Great Britain, France, Egypt and the Ottoman Empire held sway over various regions that now make up modern Greece. Greek desires to control their destiny led to the successful revolution of 1821 and freedom from the Ottoman Empire culminating in an independent national state in 1832. The most important sites which can be visited over a day-trip from Athens are:
· * Mycenae: http://www.culture.gr/2/21/211/21104a/e211da01.html In 1874, Heinrich Schliemann, fresh from his successful excavations at Troy (Truva) on the northwestern coast of Turkey, continued his archaeological explorations at the site of Mycenae. Early successes included the discovery of shaft graves dating from the 1500s BCE which yielded a wealth of gold and other artifacts including the famous gold death mask in the likeness of a dead leader. Schliemann wrongly identified the mask as that of Agamemnon and wired Athens “I have looked upon the face of Agamemnon.” The Mycenaean gold is now prominently displayed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. In addition to the myriad of burials, the site is noted for its so-called cyclopean walls (some of the single-piece stones weigh over 10 metric tons) and its famous Lion Gate. The Mycenaean citadel was completely surrounded by these formidable walls and contained palace, workshops, storage houses, and various living quarters. Outside, the site includes lesser living quarters, and supporting infrastructure and no less than eight so-called Tholos tombs. In particular, the Treasury of Atreus is the best preserved Tholos tomb in Greece and is located about 400 meters south of the entrance to Mycenae. This is supposed to be Agamemnon’s tomb, but nobody knows for sure. Tiryns, according to Homer, the location of the Palace of Menelaus and Helen (of Troy) lies just out side the beautiful town of Nauplion. Again, one finds structures similar to those found at Mycenae, however less extensive.
· * Nauplion: http://www.galenfrysinger.com/nafplion_greece.htm One of the most beautiful towns in Greece sits on the Gulf of Argos just beneath the rocky promontory of Akronnauplio and the fortification of the Palamidi. According to tradition the town was founded by Nauplios, son of Poseidon, god of the sea and Nauplios’ son, Palamedes. The town has played important roles down through the ages as a Byzantine port and fortification, used by the Crusaders as a base to conquer Corinth, a Venetian strong hold, then held by the Turks and finally captured by Greek Freedom Fighters in 1822. In 1828, Nauplion became the second capital of the new nation after Aegina in 1826 before the capital moved to Athens in 1828.
· * Epidauros: http://www.magicaljourneys.com/Nafplio/nafplio-interest-epidaurus.html A center of healing in ancient times and home of the cult of Asklepios. The temple of Asklepios was surrounded by stoas in which pilgrims slept while awaiting cure. This enormous site includes temples to other gods and goddesses, a stadium and the best preserved theater in on the Greek mainland known for it excellent acoustics. During the summer, one can attend performances of the ancient tragedies of Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles and, on occasion, comic plays of Aristophanes performed in the original ancient Greek or by modern international performers. Part of the “Greek Festival”, information at: http://www.hellenicfestival.gr/site/index_en.htm
· * Nemea: http://www.culture.gr/2/21/211/21104m/e211dm05.html The ancient site of Nemea near the small village of Iraklion is connected with one of the labors of Heracles, the killing of the Nemean Lion. It contains the magnificent temple of Zeus and site of the Nemean Games (always second to the Olympic Games, held in Olympia, 2 hours drive away) which were held every other year from 573 BCE until the second century BCE. The site was excavated by Greek and American archaeologists with a lot of support coming from UC at Berkeley. The starting line of the stadium and its entrance tunnel are well preserved. Some wall grafiti on the tunnel walls are attributed to athletes waiting to race. In 1982, a new museum was opened at Nemea amid great fanfare and attended by archaeologist and dignitaries of both Greek and international reputation. It is well organized with several period reconstructions of the site. The beautiful black and white photographs and artifacts are interpreted with both Greek and English explanatory notes. This is one of the finest small museums in all of Greece. , http://archaeology.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?zi=1/XJ&sdn=archaeology&zu=http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~clscs275/nemeaexca2.htm
One of the most important sanctuaries of the ancient world dedicated initially to Hera, and later to Zeus, the father of the gods. The ancient Olympic games (http://www.culture.gr/cgi-bin/showfr.cgi?1/1/http://www.culture.gr/2/21/211/21107m/e211gm04.html) were held here, in the beautiful, natural stadium (sitting up to 45000 spectators) every 4 years starting at 776BC and continuing up to about the 5th c. AD when they were deemed pagan and forcibly closed down and temples and monuments destroyed. The games were revived by the efforts of Baron Pierre de Couberten and Dimitrios Vikelas (whose statues now stand in front of the Panathenaic Marble Stadium in Athens) in 1896 in Athens. In the 2004 games, the shot put was held here attended by tens of thousands spectators.. The headquarters of the Int. Olympic Committee is housed in the adjoining Olympia village as well as the spectacular museums of the games, exact copies of ancient buildings.
Delphi: http://www.culture.gr/2/21/211/21110a/e211ja01.html Delphi is located west of the town of Thebes known through the plays of Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles which tell the story of “The Seven Against Thebes.” Delphi located on the slopes of Mt. Parnassus 93 km from Thebes and some 20 km north of Itea Greece. The great sanctuary of Apollo is the seat of the Delphic Oracle known for her puzzling pronouncements and prophecies. The site compares favorably with Olympia and the Acropolis of Athens. As you climb the steep path from the entrance, the treasuries of several city states are encountered including the impressive Athenian Treasury. Around a sharp bend to the left, the temple of Apollo lies high above supported by a massive wall. Further on and high up the side of the mountain a well preserved theater is seen and beyond that under a vertical rock face the Stadium in which the Pythian games were held from about 590 BCE. An excellent museum is associated with the site. Delphi is an experience that will long be remembered.
Meteora: http://www.galenfrysinger.com/meteora.htm In northwestern Thessaly near the town of Kalambaka, there rises a massive group of conglomerate rock formations some 300 meters above the surrounding plain. Wind and rain have weathered the formations into a bizarre variety of forms. High atop these formations are the 24 Byzantine monasteries of the Meteora with beautiful frescoes and astonishing views. Accessible originally only by narrow paths, ladders and ropes, visitors now make their way to the monasteries by road and long flights of stair steps. Meteora’s monasteries are in continuing use and visitors should be mindful that these are sacred places. Truly a memorable experience.