The two historic sites we jammed firmly into our eyeholes today didn’t take us long at all. It’s not that they’re not cool, they’re very cool, they’re just tiny. We started with Hadrian’s Library. We’ve seen his fuck off big wall, why not his book stash?
Apparently there used to be a pool in the middle of it but the most prominent ruins aside from the walls and columns are that of a Byzantine churches, complete with a section of preserved mosaic floor. I fucking love mosaic, we’re 100% having it put on our floors when we win lotto and buy our cute bungalow on the coast. Of, like, some manner of Caribbean island.
Anyway. There would have been niches to store what they estimate to have been 16800 books which is a whole lot of reading material that not even I with my two book a week average could get through. The sides would have been reading rooms and the corners had steps leading nowhere which is where people would have sat to listen to lectures. You can actually get a pretty good view of this site through the railings of you didn’t have the time or the budget to visit it. I just really like getting my face as close as possible to history.
After the library we wandered over to the Roman Agora which took over Agora duties when the Ancient Agora was no longer able to do them. It became the administrative and commercial centre of the city. It’s by no means as impressive as its ancient counterpart but it’s got a fuck tonne of columns and I do so love a column. Perhaps we’ll have many columns in our mosaicked Caribbean lotto funded abode. I should probably let Tarrant know our building plans so she doesn’t start getting conflicting ideas.
It wasn’t even midday yet and we wanted to save the last two archaeological sites on our list for tomorrow on account of them being shuffling (actual shuffling too, these marble pavements are a fucking death trap) distance from Syntagma Square and we wanted to watch the Grand Change there. So we thought fuck it, we might go and have a butchers at the Acropolis Museum which is an entirely separate entity from the Acropolis with its own admission fee.
Even as you approach the museum you’re greeted with an excavation of a neighbourhood underneath the building. Now that’s impressive! How many museums have an actual archaeological site under the foundations? The museum, it turned out, was built on huge, concrete stilts after they’d excavated the neighbourhood both to exhibit and protect it. You can visit it once you have your museum ticket, it’s included in the price.
Once you’re inside the museum there are glass floors so you can see right down to the excavation which is simultaneously really fucking cool and utterly fucking terrifying. No. I will not be standing on your glass of dubious strength. One of the panes is fucking cracked! It’s even worse if you don’t realise they’re there until you’re standing on them and happen to glance down. I think I deserve some manner of recognition for retaining full control of my bowels.
The museum is so well laid out though. The first section is cases of pottery and artifacts dug up from the slopes of the Acropolis. Just normal, everyday shit owned by normal, everyday people. Then you go up the steps and learn about what an absolute badass Athena was; a giant-fighting warrior who was born when she burst out of Zeus’ head, then won the hearts of the ancient Athenians by gifting them the world’s first olive tree. Athena literally invented olives. I would worship the shit out of any god who invented olives.
You can’t take photos in this section but there’s a lot about pigmentation and how colours were made and used on marble statues. After the Acropolis was trashed by the Persians in 480 BC the citizens buried the remaining artifacts to keep them safe and it actually did preserve them thus enabling archaeologists to study them. Pigments of colour remain on some of the statues even now and they’ve made replicas of parts of the statues and painted them so you can get an idea of how vibrant they’d have been.
The top floor though, that’s the bit I loved the most. They’ve built it in the same dimensions of the Parntheon and they’ve displayed whatever artifacts they’ve recovered as they’d have been on the Parntheon itself, studying old drawings and paintings of the temple before it underwent its various stages of destruction. I’m going to leave that there and bang on about it again after we’ve been to the Acropolis on Monday. I’m really chuffed we came here first though because now, when I see what’s left of the poor, shattered Parntheon I can get a better idea of what it might have looked like before it got blown up.
That was enough excitement for today then. We did pop to another area on the Metro to find about about where we could catch a bus from only to be told by a very exasperated woman who is clearly fed up of tourists that we were in entirely the wrong place. Fuck it. We’ll book a later ferry for the start of our island hopping adventure on Tuesday and work it out as we go along. We headed back to the hostel, showered, enjoyed being clean and air conditioned for a few hours then headed to Alustines, our new favorite place to apply motor impairment beverages to our faceholes.
Ah Sunday Funday. Today we wanted to start our day by watching the Changing of the Guard at Syntagma Square, and sure, we’d already seen it the other day but Sunday morning is the… queue the drum roll… the Grand Change! It’s the Changing of the Guard but now with added brass band and a whole procession of other Evzones high kicking (but only with the right leg) along the road. It’s popular, you need to get there at 10.15 at the latest if you want a view of anything other than the back of someone’s head and their smartphone.
At about 10.45 the procession showed up. It’s a sight to behold. I was impressed the other day when just three guys showed up and two of them swapped places with the blokes on duty but seeing this many of them march in unison to a brass band, the studs on their boots clicking with every other step, it’s worth standing in the blistering heat for. I think I lost about four layers of skin and my toes went numb.
We had two more little archaeological sites to see on our special package ticket (not including the mighty Acropolis) so we made our way to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, expelling all of the moisture from my entire body as we went. Shitting hell it was hot today. Was it hotter than usual? Fuck knows. We got a much later start than normal, it was already 11.30 and we’d usually seen two things before the sun got to the point it began indiscriminately helping itself to your epidermis.
This temple though, it’s currently covered in scaffolding which makes it look like a multistorey carpark from a distance but in its heyday it would have been a magnificent swathe of columns and columns and columns and columns. There’s not much by way of information but I guess the clue is in the name. It was a fuck off great big temple to Olympian Zeus.
We headed to Aristotle’s Lyceum after we’d finished with the temple and found some nice, shady benches to sit on and shovel our sandwiches into our chops. Is this what happens in your 40s? Seeking out shade to have picnics at sites of historical interest? Should I start preparing a flask of weak tea to bring with us on day trips?
So this site, well there’s not much left of it but it would have been a gymnasium where Athens’ young men would have practised wrestling, boxing, and something called pankration which was, apparently, a mixture of the two disciplines. The men would be bollock naked, covered in oil and they’d wrestle in sand which means they’d be covered in the shit and oh dear gosh, no. Just the thought of someone having that much sand stuck to them makes my brain itch. I don’t even care that it happened over 2000 years ago, I’m not okay with any of this. Ugh.
Obviously we weren’t melting quickly enough for our liking so we walked up a million or so steps to take the Teleferek, which is a funicular, up to Lycabettus Hill which is the highest point in Athens. It’s one of those things you can see from pretty much everywhere, sticking out like a spare prick at a wedding. You can actually walk up for free but fuck that in this heat. Shut up and take my money.
Once you’re up there the views are utterly astounding, you can see pretty much the whole of Athens. The money shot is from the cute little church which absolutely screams “LOOK HOW FUCKING GREEK I AM!!” with its bright white walls and blue domes. From there you’ll get the best view you’re ever going to get of the Acropolis. It’s tiny on account of the fact it’s really far away, but it’s there. Oh Athens. I think I love you.
That was us totally buggered anyway. We sat in the Sky Bar and enjoyed the fan, replacing those lost fluids with a tasty cold beer. Very important to stay hydrated in this weather. I can only apologise for the sheer quantity of words in this post but Athens just won’t stop being awesome. There’s a metric crap tonne of things to do here, we can’t do it all, we haven’t got time. We’ve still got the rest of Greece to gawp at.
Athens, Attica, Greece / Αθήνα, Αττική, Ελλάδα
Stayed at: Chameleon Youth Hostel, Athens
Useful shit to know…
- Entrance fees: Hadrian’s Library is €6, the Roman Agora is €8, the Temple of Olympian Zeus is €6 and Aristotle’s Lyceum is €4.
- Monastiraki is the closest Metro station to the Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library. Syntagma Metro station is for Syntagma Square and the Changing of the Guard. Evangelismos will get you close to Aristotle’s Lyceum and the Lycabettus Hill Funicular. For the Temple of Olympian Zeus the Akropoli Metro station will get you there. However, the Metro is only necessary if you struggle with walking. We walked between all of these sites with no issues.
- We bought the €30 package ticket which gets you entry to six sites plus the Acropolis. You can buy it at any of the sites it’s valid at and it lasts five days. Once November rolls around entry prices reduce so the €30 ticket might not be worth it but in the summer, if you’re visiting the Acropolis and two other sites it’s definitely a good investment.
- The included sites are: The Acropolis (not the museum, that’s a separate ticket and currently costs €10), Kerameikos Archaeological Site & Museum, Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Library, the Roman Agora, Aristotles Lyceum, and The Temple of Olympian Zeus.
- The funicular up Lycabettus Hill cost €10 return.