What to see in Athens
A symbol of Western Civilization at its most magnificent, Athens boasts an illustrious history that stretches back more than 3,000 years. The city flourished during classical antiquity and was the birthplace of Socrates, Pericles, and Sophocles.
More than any other monument, the Parthenon epitomises the glory of Ancient Greece. Meaning 'virgin's apartment', it's dedicated to Athena Parthenos, the goddess embodying the power and prestige of the city. The largest Doric temple ever completed in Greece, and the only one built completely of white Pentelic marble (apart from its wooden roof), it took 15 years to complete.
The Acropolis is the most important ancient site in the Western world. Crowned by the Parthenon, it stands sentinel over Athens, visible from almost everywhere within the city. Its monuments and sanctuaries of white Pentelic marble gleam in the midday sun and gradually take on a honey hue as the sun sinks, while at night they stand brilliantly illuminated above the city. A glimpse of this magnificent sight cannot fail to exalt your spirit.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
A can't-miss on two counts: it's a marvellous temple, the largest in Greece, and it's smack in the centre of Athens. The temple is impressive for the sheer size of its 104 Corinthian columns (17m high with a base diameter of 1.7m), of which 15 remain – the fallen column was blown down in a gale in 1852.
This lush, tranquil site, uncovered in 1861 during the construction of Pireos St, is named for the potters who settled it around 3000 BC, then on the clay-rich banks of the Iridanos River. But it's better known as a cemetery, used through the 6th century AD, and, ironically, the grave markers give a sense of ancient life: numerous marble stelae (grave markers) are carved with vivid portraits and familiar scenes.
Temple of Poseiden
The Ancient Greeks knew how to choose a site for a temple. At Cape Sounion, 70km south of Athens, the Temple of Poseidon stands on a craggy spur that plunges 65m to the sea. Built in 444 BC – same year as the Parthenon – of marble from nearby Agrilesa, it is a vision of gleaming white columns. Sailors in ancient times knew they were nearly home when they saw the first glimpse of white, and views from the temple are equally impressive.