Southwest peninsula of the Greek mainland
Key AttractionsFrom the port of Piraeus, you can catch a taxi into Athens, where a myriad of wonders awaits. Athens' most famous sight is the Acropolis, which means "highest part of the city." On a centralized hill, during the 5th century B.C., the Athenians built a complex to honor the goddess Athena, the city's patroness. Dominating the rocky hill and enhancing Athens' skyline is the glorious Parthenon.
From the Acropolis' main entrance on the west slope, the first Classical (5th century B.C.) ruin you'll see is the Propylaea, a monumental entrance to the sanctuary above. To its right sits the small, graceful Temple of Athena Nike. Once at the top, the Parthenon, which epitomizes the accomplishments of the ancient Greeks, can be viewed in full splendor. The grace and harmony of this temple's architectural design can be seen in its carefully shaped columns, which taper toward the top, and the remains of a Doric frieze above the columns.
One of the most distinctive structures on the Acropolis is the Erechtheion. The temple is easily identified by its karyatids, six draped maidens who hold up the southern portico in lieu of columns. Although these figures are copies, you can see the originals on display in the Acropolis Museum. Located a few steps from the Parthenon, the museum houses some of the most spectacular ancient Greek art in the world, including an extensive collection of sculptures that once adorned the Acropolis.
Surrounding the hill are other memorable ruins. On one side, remains of the Agora, or marketplace, still stand. The Agora was the center of social and political life for ancient Athenians. Cupped in the slopes on the opposite side of the Acropolis is the Theater of Dionysos, built in the 6th century B.C. The horseshoe- shaped theater once held 15,000 spectators; magnificient dramas and comedies by such masters as Sophocles and Euripides were performed here. Another theater on the same side is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which was built by the Romans in the 2nd century A.D. and is still used today.
Beneath the Acropolis is Plaka, an old section of the city representative of 19th-century Athens. Meandering through Plaka's narrow streets, you'll come upon ruins nestled between storefronts and outdoor cafés.
Within walking distance from Plaka is Athens' bustling and crowded downtown. Two main squares anchor the center--Syntagma and Omonia. On Syntagma, or Constitution Square, sits the Parliament. Traditionally dressed Evzone guards, wearing pleated skirts, white tights and tousled hats, stand motionless before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Visitors often gather to watch the changing of the guard and to feed the pigeons. Noisy traffic and pedestrian confusion surround Omonia Square. A 10-minute walk north will take you to Athens' most important museum, the National Archaeological Museum. It is home to one of the most renowned collections of antiquities in the world. Don't miss the six-foot-tall bronze sculpture of Poseidon, which was found off the Greek coast in 1928; this work of art dates to around 470 B.C.
As you explore the downtown, you'll notice a little whitewashed chapel perched high on a hill overlooking the center. Mount Lycabettos is Athens' highest point and home to the chapel of St. George. A cable railway will take you to the summit, where you can enjoy all-embracing views of the city.
Great BuysIn Athens, you'll find a treasure trove of things to buy, from quality gold jewelry to handicrafts. Athens' jewelry stores feature designs representative of Greek history and mythology. You'll also find the traditional evil-eye charm.
Greek vases, figurines of gods and goddesses, decorative plates and various ceramic-craft items are plentiful in stores throughout Plaka. Decorative brass items for the home, including traditional Greek coffee sets, trays, pots and other utensils are great buys. Shaggy flokati rugs are also a favorite item. Most merchants will gladly ship your purchase home for you.
For a listing of possible SHORE EXCURSIONS which may be offered in Athens during your Mediterranean Cruise, check out the article Princess Athens Excursions.
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