LIVING THE ANCIENT ERA IN A WEEKEND, Emir Can Kılıç | 25.06.2015

Ever since I was a little kid inspired by Ancient Greek mythology, I have wanted to visit our neighbor Greece, in particular the capital Athens. I finally got the chance to fulfill this wish in late November 2014.

It was a Friday afternoon when I landed at Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport . The weather was stunning, almost as if we were in August rather than November, which of course made me very happy. It was a convenient ride from the airport to the city center by subway, and after finding my hotel and checking in, I began my Athens tour with the Acropolis Museum, which is open till late on Fridays.

Acropolis Museum showcases the most important and spectacular works of art of Ancient Greece and the Byzantine Empire, and also contains miniature replicas of many ancient artifacts. For those interested in history, especially Ancient Greek and Byzantine culture like me, this place is an absolute must see.

I woke up early the next day to get to one of the main sights, the Acropolis. You should do whatever it takes to get to the Acropolis early in the morning because it gets really crowded later in the day. I would also recommend buying combined tickets so that you can visit other attractions such as the ancient Agora without waiting in line and also save money.

The area around the Acropolis is a veritable open air museum. On the way up the slopes, you should make a point of stopping by the ancient theaters Dionysus and Herodes Atticus; they really are breathtaking. After you pass the Propylaea gate, you see the Parthenon Temple Though you may have seen many pictures of it before, you will find it impossible to take your eyes off this iconic structure. On your right you'll also see the Temple of Athena Nike while on your left is the Erechtheion, standing magnificently. There are spectacular views of Athens from the top of the Acropolis; another great reason to make the climb.

On your way down (following the signs), you will see Agora the ancient district situated at opposite the gate. Inside Agora, you will be welcomed by the Church of the Holy Apostles on your left-hand side and the Stoa of Attalos on your right. , the Stoa of Attalos portico still retains a beguiling charm. The Stoa’s artifacts and statues dating to the Ancient Greek and Byzantine periods, along with the statues outside of it, are well worth seeing.

After you leave the Stoa, you will see the magnificent Hephaestus Temple standing on a hill further away. You reach the temple via a long path among the ancient ruins and gardens. The temple as well as the landscape around is one of the finer sights the city has to offer.

While in the area, you must visit the Roman Agora (Forum) where you get to see many significant historical ruins up close.

If you feel like a more modern experience, you are only a short walk from Monastiraki square, which is considered the center of contemporary Athens. Here you can see the small chapel and sample the amazing Greek cuisine (which of course is very familiar to us) at one of the many restaurants around. I had the best chicken doner kebab ever in the square.

After you leave Monastiraki and continue east through Ermou Street, the principal shopping street of the city, you will see the church of Panaghia Kapnikarea. An Orthodox church dating back to the eleventh century, Panaghia Kapnikarea should not be missed, as well as the other important religious building, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens. The eastern part of Ermou Street is closed to traffic, giving shoppers the space to wander and browse the boutiques. If you are a little hungry, you will find many simit sellers on the street. At the end of the street, Constitution Square welcomes you. The Greek Parliament Building is located here, and you can watch the uniformed soldiers perform the interesting changing of the guard.

Right next to the Parliament Building, you can stroll around the National Gardens and then head to the Zappeion building and admire its architectural beauty along with the statues inside. Very close to the National Gardens, the Arch of Hadrian is an ideal spot for a photo, and the Archaeological Site of Olympieion and the Temple of Zeus are worth seeing. Next, you should visit the Panathenaic Stadium which hosted the first modern Olympic Games and is the very definition of the Olympic spirit.

After visiting thePanathenaic Stadium, you can also visit the Benaki Museum, strolling through the beautiful National Gardens. A multistory museum, Benaki showcases a variety of works of art from ancient to modern times. The portrait collection in this museum will satisfy those who are passionate about paintings. Very close to Benaki Museum, the Museum of Cycladic Art is another place recommended to those interested in ancient art. Here, works belonging to the Cycladic communities that lived on the Greek Islands are exhibited.

Again, just a short walking distance from the Museum of Cycladic Art, you must absolutely see the Byzantine and Christian Museum. You can learn a lot about early Christian and Byzantine history here, and see fascinating works of art, especially the portraits and the mosaics.  Not far from this museum, you'll find the Athens War Museum and the military ruins concerning dating back to Ancient Greece. Pieces from the Cyprus conflict period are exhibited here. My final but strongest recommendation in terms of museums is the National Archeological Museum. This museum was built in 1829 and showcases the most comprehensive archaeological exhibits on the Greek lands from the ancient times up to the present day.

There are a couple of places you may find interesting other than the historical sites. First of all, near the Acropolis, you can get to the Plaka district and get lost in the narrow streets, be amazed by the lovely apartments, and then head to a nice cafe and relax for a while. Sports lovers should without a doubt visit Spiros Louis Olympic Athletic Center of Athens, situated on the northern side of the city. You can take a nice walk here, watch people passing by, and observe the athletics fields and rooms from outside. The magnificent Athens Olympic Stadium is another impressive construction. Around this district, you can find many familiar high street shops at The Mall Athens.

Lovers of the seaside should visit the famous Piraeus beach. You can get there by subway. There are cafes and walkways along the beach. Sports fans should visit the Peace and Friendship Stadium, a short walking distance from the subway station near Piraeus and the home of one of Europe’s most successful basketball clubs, Olympiakos, along with the Karaiskakis Stadium, where the same club plays its soccer matches. vintage cars and motor sports will be thrilled by the Hellenic Motor Museum, situated right in the center of the city. This multistory museum houses many fantastic vehicles. You can see the original products of Ferrari (for example the Formula 1 car steering wheel) and experience the ride of your life in the Formula 1 race simulator.

Finally, food lovers cannot leave Athens without buying some extra virgin olive oil and kalamata olives. As a Mediterranean, I must say that they taste really amazing and are worthy of their fine reputation. A reminder: The supermarkets, shops, and malls are closed on Sundays in Athens.

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Melih Bildiren


Meltem Bozkurt Kaya