Visiting Greece for a week is a dream come true! I still couldn’t believe I managed to pull a solo trip to “one of the oldest cities in the world, the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, the Olympic Games, political science, Western literature, historiography, major mathematical principles, and Western theories of tragedy and comedy”. I have always been fascinated with the Hellenic State – been a fan of Greek mythology and studied the history of theater in college, with Communication and Theater Arts as my minor. I received a few warnings though, because the country was experiencing some economic crises the time I booked my visit. Nevertheless, nothing could stop me and so I found myself in the wonderful, literally HOT country of Greece.
Planning the 7-day adventure was totally exciting! I had to look for affordable but unforgettable must-experiences in the country and hopefully, opportunities to engage with some of the locals to get to know the country better. To be honest, I felt uneasy during the drive from the airport to the city center, as the streets of Athens seemed dodgy and unsafe. The Canadian traveler I was with on the taxi let a faint cry of dismay out when she was dropped off in front of her hotel, which was located on a narrow and dark alley. Lucky enough for me, Hotel Neos Olympos was situated on the main highway, with a local police station just across the road! Or at least, I was told.
The hotel room was very cheap! Interestingly, they gave me two beds in a very spacious room. I had to check twice at the counter if the room was really meant for me, and yes, it was. 😀 The hotel is about 2 kms from Syntagma Square, and about 3 kms from the Parthenon. I had a good stay, but the bathrooms and wifi needed to be improved.
On my first night in Athens, I had a local treat of fried fish for dinner. Called Atherina, the whole fish, bones included, is eaten with lemon and a favorite easy delicacy for the locals, as it turns out. 😛
The following day, I didn’t waste any time, grabbed my map and set out to the wild, bustling city! First stop: the ancient Agora of Athens. Agora is the Greek word for marketplace, and since time immemorial, these places were used by ancient Greeks not just to buy and sell but also to gather, assemble, philosophize and discuss spiritual, political and artistic issues/matters.
On my way to the ancient agora, I passed by a few Greek Orthodox churches. Since they were clearly visible on my map, I used the churches to serve as landmarks. It was challenging to traverse the streets of Athens, as most signs do not have English nor romanticized versions! The churches were architecturally amazing, small, and conservative. Interestingly, the lower part of the churches were submerged in the ground. Oh, I didn’t manage to get inside because I wasn’t wearing appropriate clothes (shorts and shirt = inappropriate).
And not far from the Church of Asomaton is the ancient Agora. From there, I bought tickets valid for the Ancient Agora, Northern and Southern slopes of the Acropolis and the Theater of Dionysus, the Roman Agora, the Kerameikos, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Library, all for 12 €. Yes, entrance to the archaeological sites found all over the city was not free. 😉
Now, back to the Agora. I think that it is very important to know the background of Greece and the archaeological sites there to fully appreciate them. Greece is a favorite tourist destination. However, many visitors just go there for the sunshine, the photos, the beaches and island-hopping. Good thing I like history mixed with fantasy, or historical fiction, so the country was perfect for me! Lots of history and legends mixed together. 😉 Read about the history of the ancient agora here. Now, what to expect to see in the agora?
Being a polytheistic nation, there are hundreds of temples dedicated to different gods and goddesses and I really enjoyed listening to the guide about them, or reading stuff about them. The temple of Hephaestus, or the Hephaisteion, for instance stands proud on a hill overlooking the ancient agora. Built in 450 BC, it is considered the best preserved temple from the Classical era.
Across the agora are ruins and artefacts, old drainage systems, remains of statues and monuments.. Some significants ones are: the ruins of Tholos which served as the headquarters for the 50 Prytaneis (executives) of the Boule (Council of Citizens), the Propylon or gateway to the Bouleterion or meeting place of the Council of Citizens, the surviving torso of the statue of Hadrian (117-138 BC), the ruins of the Metroon or the state archive and sanctuary of the Mother of Gods, the Great drainage canal of the agora, the remaining fence of the Monument of the Eponymous Heroes which also served as a public board for announcements, the Altar of Zeus Agoraios (4th c. BCE), the ruins of the civic offices, the Klepsydra or water clock used to time speeches, the aqueduct dated to the 4th c BCE, the Southeast Fountain House, the remains of the Triangular Shrines used for worship, the ruins of the state prison, the Dekasterion or courthouse, the Middle Stoa used for public gatherings, exhibitions, etc, and the Stoa of Attalos built in 150 BCE which now houses the Museum of Ancient Agora. Read more about the archaeological finds and the historical timeline of the development, reconstruction and excavation of the agora here.
One prominent feature of the ancient agora is undeniably the Stoa of Atallos. Named after financier, Attalos II, King of Pergamon, the stoa was built around 150 BCE. According to sources, it was destroyed by the Heruli in 267 CE, but was rebuilt around 1953-1956. Today, it houses several busts of famous Greek philosophers, monuments of Greek gods and goddesses, examples of Greek columns and architectural styles, and the Museum of Ancient Agora.
The Museum of Ancient Agora found in the Stoa of Attalos was restored by the American School of Classical Studies in the 1950s to house the findings from the excavations in the agora. In 1957, it was handed over to the Greek government for security, preservation and administration. Here are some things to see in the museum:
Lastly, the Stoa offers an astounding view of the Ancient Agora, with the Temple of Hephaestus and the Athens at a distance! Ah.. I also remember bumping into a German traveler. After taking photos of ourselves, we parted ways — him going up to the Acropolis and me, taking one more look at the museum and its jewels of exhibits!
It was only day 1 of my stay in Greece and I could already feel that I was off to a great start! I didn’t know how big the agora was.. but it is big enough to exhaust a traveler! haha Next stop: The Acropolis! And for me to do that, I had to conquer the Areopagus Hill first, the famous hill where St. Paul delivered a speech (Acts 17)! Legends has it also that Ares, the god of war, was tried on the rock for his murder of Poseidon’s son, Alirrothios. For that, the hill was also called Mars Hill. 😉 Anyway, more about that in the next entry.