Athens is one large outdoor museum in itself. In fact, you needn’t venture inside buildings, as merely observing them from outside is satisfaction enough. However, should time allow, it is of course recommended that you do enter and observe the marvels housed inside (if an inside indeed exists since many of these outdoor museums in Athens are merely ancient ruins!). What follows are my top 10 outdoor museum experiences in Athens – I hope you enjoy these incredible buildings as much as I do:
1. The Parthenon
The Parthenon is a temple on top of the Acropolis hill dating back to 447 BC during the Athenian Empire and it is by far the most impressive outdoor museum in Athens. It was once dedicated to the goddess Athena, the patron goddess of the city of Athens. This magnificent ruin is a powerful sight on the city’s skyline. Today, only the columns, the base and parts of the pediment and cornice of the structure still exist. However, archeologists are working hard at restoring some of the damage to the columns (see the lighter parts on the columns pictured above – this demonstrates the recent restorations).
2. The Erechtheion
The Erechtheion is a temple situated alongside the Parthenon on the Acropolis outcrop. This temple was dedicated to both the gods Poseidon and Athena and dates back to 421 BC when its construction began. The caryatids are six human-sculptures that form the columns of the temple on the side closest to the Parthenon. Although the structure is a lot smaller in size than the Parthenon, the Erechtheion still makes a wonderful, long-lasting impression on visitors because of its detailed facade, rocky surrounds and unbelievable view of the entire city in the background.
3. Propylaea Ancient Walkway / Entrance
Although the Parthenon and ancient ruins comprising the Acropolis are difficult to get to, the view is well-worth the uphill hike. Make sure you bring sturdy walking shoes, especially when you are walking up the Propylaea to the Parthenon and the Erechtheion. When I was up there I saw two tourists wearing high heels which boggled my mind a bit. Running shoes and trainers are best unless you want to break a leg. There are many slippery and loose rocks and stones so shoes with a good grip are highly recommended.
The Propylaea or steep walkway/entrance dates from 437 BC. Construction of the Propylaea itself ceased in 432 BC during the Peloponnesian War and has remained unfinished to the present day.
4. Theatre of Dionysus
The Theatre of Dionysus, situated below the Parthenon and Erechtheion is very important when it comes to the culture history of Ancient Greece. It is said that the very first drama production was first staged there in around 530 BC. All I can say is that people attending must have had the best seats ever – just look at that view!
5. Temple of Zeus
The temple of Zeus is situated more towards the city centre and not on top of the rocky outcrop that is the Acropolis. As the name suggests, this temple was built in praise of the god Zeus between 472 and 456 BC. The Temple of Zeus once housed the status of Zeus, which was once regarded as one of the seven wonders of the world until it was unfortunately destroyed in the 5th century AD. Today, the site of the Temple of Zeus is a strange empty wonderland of ruins – an odd space with bustling streets and roads only minutes away! One can only help imagine what the temple and its surrounds might have once looked like.
6. Hadrian’s Arch
Hadrian’s Arch is a reminder of what once was. This Roman arch was built to celebrate the Roman emperor at the time. What is truly fascinating is that there are two inscriptions, one on either side of the arch (facing opposite directions). One inscription states the name of Hadrian as founder of the city and the other, on the opposite side states Theseus as founder. Although both inscriptions honour Hadrian as founder but it is not known what parts of the city they refer to nor any possible divisions at the time.
7. The New Acropolis Museum
By far one of the most magnificent museums in the city, the New Acropolis Museum successfully merges the modern with the ancient. In fact, without even venturing inside you’ll be able to see the ancient ruins of an early Christian settlement from on top of an innovative walkway leading to the entrance.
8. The National Archeological Museum in Athens
The National Archeological Museum is another impressive museum in Athens. This is in fact the largest museum in Greece and has one of the world’s greatest collections of ancient Greek artifacts. It is indeed a grand building, established in 1829 and has a lovely lush garden at the entrance.
9. Hadrian’s Library
Hadrian’s Library was created in 132 AD by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The library once housed papyrus scrolls and books. There were even reading rooms and lecture halls inside its walls.
10. Syntagma Square & The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Syntagma Square is where the Greek parliament is situated. This neo-classic building was founded in 1836 and the square itself is the heart of the city.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is found right at the parliament building and each and every hour the changing of the guard occurs. The guards, called Evzones, wear odd outfits with pom-poms on their shoes and thick stockings. The monument honours the many Greek soldiers who passed away in battles and who often were not named. There are inscriptions of a funeral speech written by Pericles as well as other inscriptions commemorating the country’s victories including the 1821 revolution.
Have you been to any of these outdoor museums in Athens? If so, what are your favourite ones? Share your comments with us below.