It is no secret that Athens is one of the richest places in the world in terms of ancient history.
The glories of its past are not only very well known and have wielded much influence, but many of them are also highly visible on the city’s skyline. The key question is, which historic attractions should you see first?
Whether you are walking around the city, or peering out the window of your airport shuttle service vehicle, something of great historical interest will almost always be in your line of sight.
The fame of the Acropolis is almost incomparable. You'll very likely catch a first glimpse of it as you pass through on your airport shuttle service but it simply must be explored up close to appreciate it properly. More often than not, the ancient heart of Athens is simply reduced to the Parthenon. Without a doubt, the Doric columns and mythical seat of learning that embodies the centrepiece of the Parthenon is a wonder; however, it is but the penultimate jewel in the classical crown. From the crumbling ruins of the Agora where philosophers bent their minds to weighty thoughts, to the auditorium of Dionysius, which for centuries gave voice to theatrical delights, the Acropolis is a city built upon ruin after ruin. It has stood the test of time and witnessed the passing of cultures, and today holds its own as the true icon of historical Greece.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus
Of lesser pedigree and fame, but no less captivating, is the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Only a short stroll away from the genteel surroundings of the Acropolis, you'll cross a set of key roads to enter the parkland in which these pillared ruins make their home. You may already have passed on these roads in the airport shuttle service and not even realised how close you were passing to this historical site. Its situation can make the temple seem less significant, as this edifice is surrounded by the everyday trappings of traffic, without pomp and ceremony. However, its importance should not be underestimated. This temple to the king of the gods was begun in the 6th century, and has remained the gateway to Athens in all its forms since Roman times. From the Byzantines to the Turks, the British to the modern day republic, this temple has stood as a doorway to both the past and the Acropolis.
Arch of Hadrian
If you walk from the abovementioned temple to the Acropolis and spend a day in the Agora, the Parthenon and the Museum, you'll be walking in the footsteps of legendary Greek figures and all those who followed them. Plato, Socrates, Solon, and the like may come to mind as you wander amid the ornate pillars and sculpted marble. It's actually worthwhile remembering, however, that Athens was almost as much a Roman culture as it was Greek. The empire that modelled much of its oeuvre on the legend of ancient Athens can be seen in both the Temple and its Roman partner, the Arch of Hadrian. Built as part of a complex to pay tribute to the second-century emperor who bears its name, the Roman relics and subsequent expansion of Athens are as much a part of ancient Athens as its Greek heritage.
So many of Athens' historical sites are permanent, iconic fixtures of the skyline, but even if you do pass by on your airport shuttle service, you've never really experienced them until you return on foot to explore.