With its sun-drenched appeal and unparalleled historic pedigree, Athens is one of the most popular European holiday destinations and Athens cruises are a great way to get a taste for this Mediterranean treasure. If you’re a bit of a history buff, Athens cruises are of course the ideal choice, but even if you’re not, there’s so many awesome sights here, that even the most sun-hungry pleasure-seeker cannot fail to be wowed by this most ancient and wonderful of cities.
Philosophy, democracy and ancient athletics on Athens cruises
As one of the world’s very oldest cities, with a recorded history which dates back at least 3,400 years, Athens is considered to be the birthplace of Western civilisation. Classical Greece, including Athens, was where some of history’s greatest thinkers thought and studied; where the likes of Aristotle, Socrates and Plato laid the foundations of everything from political philosophy and ethical thinking to biology and metaphysics. This progressive thought was responsible for what would become known as the Golden Age of Athenian Democracy an outlook and way of life which paved the way for the modern-day freedom which many of us take for granted today. Of course, ancient Greece wasn’t just about great ancient minds. It was responsible for coming up with what is today the world’s most celebrated sporting event, the Olympic Games. Then there are the Gods. These most ancient of mythical figures have influenced so much of today’s culture that, even if you’ve never studied them, you’ll know more about them than you think. Astronomy, movies, music, TV shows, games, restaurants, businesses…the list goes on but with Athens cruises you’ll have the chance to get closer to these legendary deities than you ever have before.
Gods, temples and treasures on Athens cruises
The reason why most visitors on Athens cruises head for the city is to explore on of the world’s most awe-inspiring sites, the Acropolis of Athens. This UNESCO World Heritage Sites is an ancient complex of temples – each built to honour different Greek gods. A citadel built on rock high above the city, it dates back to at least the 5th century BC, when the prominent Greek statesman Pericles organised the construction of some of its most famous buildings. Here’s a look at some of the must-see structures.
Quite simply on of the world’s most architecturally, as well as historically important buildings. This is the granddaddy and the one that you’ll see on countless Greece tourist pictures. It’s dedicated to the goddess Athena, who is the patron of the Athenians and goddess of (deep breath) courage, civilization wisdom, justice, mathematics, strength, strategy, skill and arts among other things. Only right then, that she should be granted the site’s most famous temple. Construction began in 447 and took nine years. The result was something both symbolic and architecturally perfect – its columns and colonnades influenced many a construction around the world, including the Lincoln Memorial and the US Supreme Court Building.
Temple of Hephaestus
Though the Parthenon’s the biggest draw, this is like a more intact smaller version; something which makes it almost as popular with visitors to the Acropolis – especially those searching for the perfect photo. When you explore this one, you won’t have to work your imagination quite as hard when casting your mind back to the time of ancient Greece, because it’s in such great shape. Fittingly, Hephaestus was the god of metal-working and craftsmanship and craftsmanship this beautiful building certainly embodies.
This glorious temple was built to honour both Athena and Poseidon and was constructed entirely of marble taken from nearby Mount Pentelikon. Though time has taken its toll on the temple, studies have shown that painted, gilded with bronze and decorated with glass-beadwork, making it one of the Acropolis’s most beautiful sights back in the day. Today, it’s still possible to make out some seriously elaborate carving – most noticeably on the porch of the Caryatids, where a number of beautifully-carved female figures form a stunning series of columns.
A day at the museum
Though the Acropolis is the star-attraction, to really delve into the past, you need to pay a visit to the Acropolis Museum. It’s best to visit after you’ve explored the Acropolis, not only because it stays open later but because it’ll offer you a better perspective on what you’ve just seen. In stark contrast to the ancient temples, the museum is seriously cutting edge, but only to allow better exploration and the best possible opportunity to showcase the many archaeological findings. The glass floor you’ll cross as you enter was carefully built over ancient Roman and early Christian settlements on the site – both preserving them perfectly and allowing them to be appreciated. Inside, you’ll find literally thousands of exhibits to be found in numerous eye-catching displays which tell the epic story of Athens better than words ever could.
An ancient sporting legacy on Athens cruises
The Ancient Olympic Games as they were known, were a series of athletic events in which the city states of ancient Greece competed against each other. They date back to around 776BC and continued for hundreds of years, right into the time when the city was under Roman rule. The Emperor put an end to them in 394AD as part of his imposition of Christianity, but when the Olympics returned in their modern form in 1896, fittingly Athens was chosen to host them. In 2004, the city hosted them again and benefited from the massive investment that they brought. If you want to explore Olympic history when in Athens itself, be sure to head to the Panathenaic Stadium which was purpose built to host the first modern Olympics in 1896. Built from granite and made to last, it’s an awe-inspiring sight and still the place where the Olympic flame begins its epic journey to whichever city hosts the games.
…and for the ultimate view on Athens cruises?
I couldn’t finish this blog on Athens cruises without telling you about the best place to go if you want to enjoy your very own God-like view of Athens from above – Mount Lycabettus. You can’t miss it from the moment you arrive as it towers above everything, including the Acropolis, which you can get a completely different perspective of from the summit. If you’re feeling energetic or are perhaps visiting on a cruise and stay and have a little more time, you can walk to the top but the funicular railway is a very enjoyable way to get there, and offers some great photo opportunities.
By Simon Brotherton