We are nearly at the end of February 2021 and I am trying to keep up with writing at least one blog per month. Time passes so fast and February being the shortest month, I thought it is time to sit down, think of a place which I enjoyed visiting and share my experiences.
I looked back at my travels during the month of February in the past few years. The memories of one place with its history, culture, heritage and beauty became the obvious choice to write about. It is about Athens and Cape Sounion, which I had visited during February 2017. Still cannot believe it has already been fours years and I did not write about this beautiful place yet.
So here it goes, memories of my travel to Athens and a day trip to Cape Sounion. I flew to Athens from Milan on an Air Aegean flight. It was a wonderful day to land in Athens and the view from the window seat of the city and the blue Saronic Gulf was a lovely sight.
After checking into a city hotel, I went out for a walk to the main square in the heart of Athens – Syntagma Square. Syntagma Square is the most important square of modern Athens, is also know as Constitution Square. It is named after the Constitution that the first King of Greece Otto granted after an uprising in September 1843.
Syntagma Square is located in front of the 19th century Old Royal Palace, which is the first royal palace of modern Greece and currently houses the Greek Parliament.
In front of the Old Royal Palace is a war memorial called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This cenotaph is dedicated to the Greek soldiers who lost their lives during war and is guarded by the Evzones of the Presidential Guard.
The Evzones were elite light infantry and mountain units of the Greek Army and today they guard both the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Presidential Mansion. The Evzones wear a kilt-like garment called the fustanella, which evolved from the clothes worn by the klephts, the Greek independence fighters, who fought during the Ottoman occupation of Greece.
Changing of the Greek Presidential Guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Syntagma Square is a popular sight among the tourists and locals alike.
After a long day it was time to relax with a nice coffee in one of the cafes around Syntagma Square. This is a great place to try out some Greek coffee with a slice of the famous Greek walnut pie called karidopita.
The next morning after breakfast I went out for local sightseeing in and around the city. It was a rainy winter morning so most of the places were quite empty, which turned out to be nice way to explore the wonderful places literally on my own with a huge umbrella lent by the chauffeur of my tour cab.
Acropolis of Athens
The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient citadel located on a rocky outcrop above the city of Athens and contains the remains of several ancient buildings of significant historical and architectural importance. The most famous of these is the Parthenon. Most of the temples in the Acropolis were built to honour Athena, the patron goddess of the city of Athens.
The entrance to the Acropolis of Athens is called the Propylaea, which in ancient Greek architecture is a monumental gateway. This gateway which leads to the wider complex of temples was commissioned by the Athenian leader Pericles at the end of the Persian Wars to rebuild the Acropolis.
When you enter the Acropolis the Temple of Athena Nike dedicated to the goddesses Athena and Nike is on your south side. On the north side is the Erechtheion temple of the Acropolis which was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon.
On one side of the Erechtheion, there is a large porch which has six Ionic columns, and on the other side is the famous “Porch of the Maidens”, which has six draped female figures (caryatids) as supporting columns. These columns are so beautiful like humans carved in stone.
In the centre of the Acropolis, stands the famous Parthenon, which is a Doric peripteral style temple and was the Temple of Athena Parthenos. Most of the treasures and artefacts from the Acropolis are displayed in the Acropolis Museum, which is located on the southern slope of the Acropolis hill.
There are remains of two theatres in the Acropolis. The Dionysus Theatre was the site where drama by Greece’s famous playwrights were held. The Herodes Atticus Theatre is a much later addition and it now hosts the Athens Festival during summer.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
The Temple of Olympian Zeus, dedicated to “Olympian” Zeus, the head of the Olympian gods, is the remains of a huge temple in the centre of Athens. This temple was one of the largest temple in Greece during Roman times and had 104 colossal columns out of which only 16 columns are still there.
There is one column which had collapsed and fell flat on the ground due to heavy winds in 1852. The concentric circles of stones which made up the column shows the vast diameter of the column and how it tapered towards the top.
Located to the north of the Acropolis is the Roman Agora of Athens. This ancient marketplace of Athens was the heart of the city for nearly 1200 years. It was the centre of all civic activities and the place from where Socrates, Aristotle, St Paul addressed and preached.
In front of the Odean of Agrippa, the theatre built by Agrippa, an official under Emperor Augustus there are the remains of some statues. At a distance you can see a Byzantine Church which was built over the Nymphaion fountain-house during 11th century BC.
Within the Agora, located on top of the Agoraios Kolonos hill, is the Temple of Hephaestus dedicated jointly to Hephaestus and Athena. This is a nicely preserved Doric peripteral style temple and it’s frieze depicts story of Theseus and Herakles.
Stoa of Attalos / Agora Museum
This impressive two storey building was built by King Attalos II. The Stoa, which in Greek architecture is a covered walkway or portico, was reconstructed by the American School of Archeology in 1956 and is now a museum displaying beautiful artefacts from the Agora. The Middle Stoa with its two aisles lined with Doric columns was a major part of the Agora.
Olympics and Athens are intertwined. Located in the heart of Athens, the all marble Panathenaic Stadium hosted the First Modern Olympics in 1896. During the present day Olympic Games, the emblematic Olympic torch makes the journey to the host city from the Panathenaic Stadium from where this tradition started.
Day trip to Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon
On my second day in Athens, I travelled to Cape Sounion, a popular sight for an all day excursion from Athens. Cape Sounion is the promontory at the southernmost tip of the Attic peninsula, around 70 kms (43 mi) southeast of Athens.
After a short drive from Athens, I stopped at the scenic Vouliagmeni Lake. This lake is renowned for its natural springs, where water temp ranges between 22 to 29 deg Celsius throughout the year.
Halfway through the journey, I stopped for lunch at a Greek Taverna next to the Aegean Sea. Due to the windy conditions, the waves were literally splashing at the windows next to the table where I was sitting. Enjoying a Greek salad, olives and tzatziki while watching the waves back and forth without a single soul nearby was a very peaceful experience.
I reached Cape Sounion in the afternoon and it is famous for the Temple of Poseidon. The remains of the temple to the sea god sit on the headland, surrounded by the Aegean sea on three sides. This is one of the most stunning sights in Greece. The sunset over the Aegean Sea and moonrise over the temple are supposed to be spectacular, but I had no chance of experiencing any of that due to the weather. Perhaps that is for some other time in the future.
It was quite a rainy and cold day, which also meant that there was hardly any people around. When I arrived at the Temple of Poseidon, I was told I was the only one who had bought the ticket to enter the complex that day. Imagine having an entire part of history and heritage to yourself, the weather did not matter at all.
I got soaked in, pun is slightly intended here, the wonderful views and atmosphere during that afternoon. Finally it was time to travel back to Athens with memories to last forever.
What I enjoyed eating
Among all the food I ate in Athens, I enjoyed the famous Greek walnut pie, Karidopita. It is a Greek dessert cake made with walnuts, covered in a sweet syrup and goes quite well with a nice cup of coffee.
On my way to Cape Sounion, I had a lovely Greek salad with a huge block of Feta cheese, Greek black olives, Bread and tzatziki for lunch. Greek tzatziki is extremely creamy and is made using salted strained yogurt mixed with cucumbers (the liquid is squeezed out), garlic, salt, olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs.
- Read a good book or at least some travel book to learn about the history of the places you plan to visit. You’ll definitely enjoy the sights more when you know the background.
- Athens and surroundings are ideal for a short weekend break, but you can extend your stay and enjoy the famous museums of Athens.
- Travel during off season as Athens is a very popular destination. I enjoyed experiencing the sights without any crowds and spent as much time I needed wherever I liked.
- Winter can be rainy, windy and while snowfall while is rare, it is still a possibility, so proper clothing is essential.
- Lots of walking is required if you want to see most of the sights, so it is best to take along comfortable walking shoes.
- You can book local travel from your hotel or online before you travel.
- Solo travel is very safe as long as you are alert about your surroundings.
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