Athens - Europe’s Leading Cultural City Destination 2023
At the World Travel Awards, Athens, the capital of Greece, was honored as "Europe’s Leading Cultural City Destination 2023," outshining more than nine other cities in the category.
Amidst fierce competition from iconic cities like Edinburgh (Scotland), Lisbon (Portugal), London (England), Palma de Mallorca (Spain), Paris (France), Porto (Portugal), Prague (Czech Republic), Rome, and Venice (Italy), Athens successfully retained its title. This achievement continues its winning streak from the prior year.
Recognized as the cradle of Western civilization, Athens is adorned with historic landmarks reflecting the deep historical and cultural imprints of ancient Greece. Annually, around 6.4 million travelers come to visit this city. So let's review the most iconic attractions of Athens.
The Acropolis, often referred to as the "Sacred Rock," is an ancient citadel that looms over Athens. It is home to several significant architectural marvels, including the Parthenon. This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers panoramic views of the city and stands as a testament to ancient Greek civilization. Within its confines, you can also find structures such as the Erechtheion and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
The Parthenon is the crown jewel of the Acropolis and is dedicated to the goddess Athena. Constructed in the 5th century BCE, it is a symbol of ancient Greek democracy and architectural genius. Despite enduring damage over the centuries, its Doric columns and majestic proportions continue to inspire awe. The temple's frieze and sculptures are celebrated works of classical art, some of which are housed in the British Museum and the Acropolis Museum.
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The Ancient Agora served as the commercial, political, and social hub of ancient Athens. It boasts a collection of well-preserved ruins, including the Hephaestion and the Stoa of Attalos. Today, the latter has been converted into a museum showcasing artifacts from the Agora's active days. This area provides a comprehensive insight into the daily lives and activities of ancient Athenians.
Located at the foot of the Acropolis hill, this museum is dedicated to displaying artifacts unearthed from the Acropolis. With its state-of-the-art design, it offers a chronological journey through Athens' ancient history. Its glass floors provide views of archaeological excavations, while its exhibits showcase statues, friezes, and other priceless relics. The museum's layout allows natural light to flood in, enhancing the presentation of its artifacts.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
Once the largest temple in ancient Greece, the Temple of Olympian Zeus is dedicated to Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods. Its construction began in the 6th century BCE but was completed nearly 700 years later by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Of its original 104 colossal columns, only 15 stand today (!), yet they still convey the temple's past grandeur. It lies in close proximity to other significant landmarks, making it a central point of interest for visitors.
Theatre of Dionysus
Situated on the south slope of the Acropolis, the Theatre of Dionysus is often regarded as the birthplace of ancient Greek drama. Dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine and theater, this outdoor theater once held up to 17,000 spectators during its prime. It was here that legendary playwrights like Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes debuted many of their timeless tragedies and comedies. Although now in ruins, the theater's significance in the realm of performance arts and its historical essence make it a must-visit spot in Athens.
Located to the northwest of the Acropolis, Kerameikos is the ancient cemetery of Athens and an archaeological site of great significance. It was named after Keramos, the patron god of potters, reflecting the area's history as a pottery-making district. The site contains funerary sculptures, stelae (grave markers), and an array of burial practices that shed light on the sociocultural nuances of ancient Athens. The on-site museum displays many of the artifacts recovered, offering additional context and information about the burial traditions and artistry of the period.
Towering over the cityscape of Athens, Mount Lycabettus offers a panoramic view of the city and the Aegean Sea beyond. According to mythology, the hill was created when the goddess Athena accidentally dropped a mountain she was carrying for the construction of the Acropolis. A funicular or a winding path can take visitors to the summit, where the Chapel of St. George sits. The hill, enveloped in pine trees and teeming with local flora, provides both a natural respite and a unique vantage point of Athens, especially during sunrise or sunset.
Standing at the heart of Athens, Hadrian's Arch is a monumental gateway that once separated the old and new parts of the city. Commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD, this architectural marvel boasts inscriptions paying tribute both to Athena and Hadrian. It stands as a testament to the close ties between ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, representing a melding of their respective architectural styles. Overlooking the Temple of Olympian Zeus, this arch offers a glimpse into the era when Rome's influence was prominent in Athens.
Often referred to as the "Neighborhood of the Gods," Plaka is the oldest district in Athens, nestled right under the shadow of the Acropolis. Its picturesque streets, lined with neoclassical buildings, tavernas, shops, and ancient ruins, provide a time capsule experience of Athens's multifaceted history. Here, visitors can explore a maze of narrow lanes, discover hidden courtyards, and enjoy traditional Greek music at local venues. Plaka offers a blend of history and modernity, serving as a living reminder of Athens's rich past while buzzing with contemporary life.
Athens has old wonders and new sights, with many stories from long ago. The city's famous places show its rich history and invite visitors to explore. In Athens, old times meet today, making it a special place to visit.