05 Dec 2022

Extraordinary ancient monuments in Athens


overview of the acropolis of Athens at dusk overview of the acropolis of Athens at dusk

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Mediterranean & Adriatic

History & Culture

Athens is widely considered to be the cradle of western civilisation, where the arts, an aptitude for learning, the concept of philosophy, and even democracy flourished under the ancient Greeks. 

It’s no surprise that the city became the beating heart of Greece, and we can still see parts of Athens in the same way the locals did thousands of years ago. In a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of those who created them, there are plenty of extraordinary ancient monuments in Athens standing to this day.   

Touring the Greek capital is much like exploring two different moments in time at once. You have modern day Greece, with its bars, shops, and restaurants, all paired alongside ancient Athens landmarks such as towering statues of famous heroes and temples dedicated to the gods.   

Rather than simply being a city focussed on where it’s going, Athens also wants to remember where it came from, keeping one foot firmly rooted in its impressive history, while striding forward with the other.  

There are many ancient monuments in Athens worth visiting. From the UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites of the Acropolis and Daphni Monastery to the Cemetery of Kerameikos, you’re bound to enjoy all of these spectacular gems of the ancient world. 

The term ‘acropolis’ derives from the ancient Greek words for ‘the highest point’ (akron) and ‘city’ (polis). There were many acropolises in Greece, but the Acropolis of Athens (named Cecropia to the ancient locals) remains well preserved even after two millennia. 

The site is home to many wonderous ancient Athens landmarks, such as the Propylaea and the Parthenon. The Parthenon was held in particularly high regard during ancient times, as a temple dedicated to the goddess of wisdom and the city’s namesake, Athena

Standing tall as the city’s cultural point is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a music venue built in 161 AD. The Odeon was actually destroyed in 267 AD following an attack on the city, where it was left in ruins until the 1950s. Since its restoration, it has become the centre of festivals and events held throughout the year in Athens

Acropolis Hill has seen many schisms over its lifetime, even during modern eras. Several important structures were badly damaged by Venetian attackers in 1687, when they bombarded the Parthenon while it was being used to store ammunition. 

The site was besieged three times during the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829), and also fell under the control of the Nazis in 1941. Despite the attacks, the Acropolis weathered all storms and still stands to this day. 
Another of the extraordinary ancient monuments in Athens is the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Construction began in the 6th century BC, with the ambition being to create the greatest temple in the world. However, very few people who oversaw the project ever laid their eyes on the final result, as it took 638 years to finish. 

Despite the commitment to its construction, the Temple of Olympian Zeus was sacked and left in a state disrepair by invaders known as the Heruli in 267 AD, just over a century after it was finally completed. 

Over the years, the landmark was quarried to provide materials for other buildings—particularly during the medieval period for the construction of churches. Today, only 15 of the original 104 colossal columns are still standing, with a 16th column lying nearby after being toppled during a storm in 1852. 

The site itself is still a marvel, and walking through the ruins, you get a sense of how truly grand it must have been during its days of glory. 
The Monastery of Daphni is only one of two ancient sites in Athens to be given UNESCO World Heritage-listed status. Originally built on the desecrated land of the Sanctuary of Apollo, the monastery was founded in the 6th century following the rise of Christianity, though most of the buildings found there today are from restorations carried out in the 11th century. 

Daphni’s Monastery is widely revered due to the intricate beauty held within the church, depicting the universe. The dome acts as heaven while the floor represents Earth. All across the dome, you’ll find stunning mosaics depicting the life of Jesus. 
The Cemetery of Kerameikos was one the biggest and most important burial sites in the city. A monument in its own right, the region of Kerameikos was divided into two by walls, with the outer part being the cemetery and the inner sanctum being a town for the local potters (it’s believed ‘Kerameikos’ is where we derive the word ‘ceramic’). 

While it held great importance in ancient times, the cemetery had long-since been forgotten after it was destroyed by an invasion towards the end of the 6th century. It wasn’t until a Greek worker uncovered an archaic headstone in 1863 that Kerameikos was rediscovered and established as one of the ancient sites in Athens to explore. 
In ancient Greek language, ‘agora’ means ‘to gather,’ which is where these structures gain their name. The Agora of Athens was the central point of law and politics in the city, where political discussions and juries would take place. 

Under the rule of the aristocratic politician Peisistratus in the 6th century BC, the Agora went from being a place of residence for the city to being his own private home and the centre of government. It wasn’t until the Agora was sacked by the Persians in 480 BC that the area was rebuilt as a residential area. 

In modern times, the Agora still stands as an ancient Athens landmark, but it’s also an excavation site, with the recently renovated Stoa of Attalus nearby serving as a museum to house the many exhibits unearthed. 

Modern landmarks in Athens

It’s not just the ancient monuments in Athens you need to look out for; there are many spectacular modern landmarks to see as well, some of which were built or reconstructed in homage to the city’s earliest examples of architecture. 

Top examples include: 

Panathenaic Stadium 

The Panathenaic Stadium boasts several claims to fame. Being the only stadium in the world constructed entirely from marble, it also served as the location for the first modern incarnation of the Olympic Games in 1896, and is one of the oldest repurposed ancient sites in Athens. 

Originally, the location was simply used as a racecourse, but was declared the primary spot for the Panathenaic Games in 330 BC. It was rebuilt in 144 AD in stunning marble yet was ultimately abandoned in the 4th century after the Roman Emperor Theodosius I outlawed bloody spectacles following the rise of Christianity.  

Many credit the stadium’s reconstruction (and the revival of the Olympics in general) to the Greek philanthropist, Evangelis Zappas. Upon his death in 1865, he left a large fortune in his will to bring the stadium and the Games back to their former glory, citing a place was needed to “honour the traditions of our ancestors.” 

Even now, the Panathenaic Stadium holds great importance, being the final stop for the Olympic flame’s tour of Greece and the location where the flame is passed on to the host nation. 

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 

Despite its archaic façade, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is not one of ancient Athens’ landmarks. It’s a very recent addition to the city, with construction having been completed in 1932. Located in Syntagma Square, the cenotaph honours and memorialises all those who have fallen in war, depicting an ancient soldier lying on the ground. 

There are inscriptions all around the monument, including phrases from the works of the ancient historian, Thucydides. To the left and right of the soldier’s depiction are the names of the those who have died in recent wars, and a list of the sites where those battles were fought. 

Explore the extraordinary ancient monuments in Athens with Emerald Cruises 

Being one of the most important locations in history, there are many ancient sites in Athens for modern explorers to uncover. From the birthplace of Socrates to the archaeological site of Plato’s Academy, you’re bound to find even more gems in the city than we’ve listed here. 

But discovering the ancient monuments in Athens for yourself is all part of the fun. 

See what treasures await you in the Greek capital by downloading or ordering your free luxury yacht cruises brochure and get ready to explore the beauty of the city. 

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