Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Athens (first part)

When I was planning this trip I was not sure if going to Athens was a good or a bad idea. It was going to be a hassle to get there from the Cycladic islands, and everybody was telling me that Athens is nothing special: too much traffic and pollution, horribly hot and not many sights. Except for the Acropolis. About that I was told amazing things, and I must admit that it didn't fail to meet my expectations.
Athens, the Parthenon
One of my favourite shots of the Parthenon

The boat from hell

It wasn't easy to get to Athens: I had booked a fast boat from Santorini to the Greek capital that was supposed to leave at 5.30 pm and arrive at Piraeus, the port of Athens, at 10.30 pm, when the underground was still open. It was a tough decision, as I knew that spending 5 hours on a small boat alone was going to be boring, but not as boring as the 8 hours of the other option, a bigger but slower boat.
The staff at the hostel had told me that there is always a bus one hour before your boat, so at the time of my departure from Santorini I was ready at the bus stop. Only the bus didn't pass! I was very worried that I would miss my boat. Luckily, a kind Greek lady called the bus station to inquire about it and told me that the bus was going to pass, but later. I ended up arriving just in time, but a random man came up and told me that the boat was going to be late. I sat in the waiting room with dozens of Asian tourists, and waited for at least one hour and a half.

Observing the cliffs of Santorini
Looking up the cliff in Santorini

Then finally the boat arrived, smaller than I had expected. The sea was a bit rough and unfortunately many of the Asian tourists were sick on the boat. I was too nauseous to read, and the boat ended up arriving in Athens with more than two hours of delay, when the underground was long closed. There were no signs at the port, so I wandered around looking for a bus stop. I finally met a group of Brazilians who were also looking for it, and we made our way to the centre of Athens. It was 2 am when I reached my hostel and crashed on the bed.

First impressions of Athens

The small church of Agii Asomati was my first sight in Athens. It is located near the metro station of Thissio. As I slowly discovered during my stay, in Greece Byzantine churches are tiny things, but very old. This one dates back to the 11th century. I find these churches really cute, with their brick walls, ceramic tiles and small domes. Do you see those old men sitting outside? I think one is the guardian, and the others maybe his friends who always hang out in this square.

Church of Agios Asomati, Athens
Church of Agii Asomati

After visiting this small church I hiked to the Acropolis, the ancient citadel that towers the city. It was roasting hot under the sun, so I literally tried to go from shadow to shadow. With my usual luck, I found out that entrance to the Acropolis was free for the day!
Olive trees on the hills surrounding the Acropolis
Road to the Acropolis

Olive trees are sacred to Athena, so it is no wonder that they cover the hills surrounding the Acropolis. I am not a big fan of olives, but the only ones I like are a Greek variety called Kalamata. Greek people are very proud of their olive oil, and they would boldly claim that it is much better than the Italian or Spanish one. This beautiful area made me envious and angry: in Rome the ruins are surrounded by busy streets where you hardly have a moment of peace. In Athens, instead, you can take your time and enjoy the place, wandering through the paths and discovering this or that other remain reminding you of the  incredible history of Athens.
Road to the Acropolis
Olive trees on the hills surrounding the Acropolis
The Acropolis

I can't describe the emotion on ascending the Propylaea, the monumental gate that serves as the entrance to the Acropolis. I was so thrilled, and I couldn't believe my eyes: the temples are well preserved and the marble is the whitest I have seen in ancient buildings. It was literally dazzling, like everything else in Greece. When I turned around, there was this magnificent view of the city...
View from the Acropolis
View of Athens from the Acropolis
The Parthenon, in all its perfection, is of course the main attraction of the Acropolis, and even with scaffolding it is beautiful. As you can imagine, as an Italian, I had my doses of Greek history at school, so this was really an emotion. What I didn't learn in school was that the Parthenon was used as a mosque during the Turkish invasion of Greece, and that it was bombed by the Venetians when the building was used as a gunpowder magazine by the Turks!

The Parthenon

And now one of my favourite parts of the Acropolis: the Erechtheion. It is a temple dedicated to Athena and Poseidon. The six columns of the porch are shaped like women, the Caryatids. The originals are in the Acropolis Museum, apart from one, stolen by Lord Egin in the 19th century, now kept in the British Museum. 

The caryatid porch at the Erechtheion
A close-up of the caryatids
Another side of the Erechtheion
Finally, this is the small Temple of Athena Nike, goddess of victory in war (nike means victory). It is situated to the right of the Propylaea.

Temple of  Athena Nike
Temple of Athena Nike
View of the Acropolis, Athens
View of the Acropolis


  1. I've heard the same about Athens but that still won't stop me from visiting one day. So cool you went on a free day to the Acropolis even though the crowds were probably insane. Your pictures are absolutely beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

    Happy travels :)

    1. There were a lot of people at the entrance of the Acropolis, but then the scattered all over the ruins and it wasn't as bad. The Ancient Agora, of which I'm talking in the next post, was almost deserted.

  2. For some reason I never made it to Athens yet or Greece in general for that matter. Santorini has been on my list for a long time and now after reading your post I just added Athens to it. I would love to explore the Acropolis one day. Stunning photos!

    1. There are definitely some good and bad sides about Athens, but I think a visit to the Acropolis in this case has the upper hand. But then I'm partial to ruins...

  3. Great pics, Stefania. I'm glad that the Acropolis lived up to your expectations. I had no idea that the Parthenon was used as a mosque when the Turks invaded, but I guess that makes sense. Athens has long been on my list, but I've also heard many negative things about the city. I guess I'll have to go see for myself.


01 09 10