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Lying to the west of the Agora, along Ermou Street, is the ancient cemetery Keramikos. Off the beaten tourist track, you can explore the extensive ruins and sculpted tombs in relative peace.
This was the burial site of important Athenians, and the collection of rich jewellery, gold, glass and ceramics found in their graves, dating back to the 7th century BC, indicates their statues.
These items are on display in the cemetery’s small museum, which with its strikingly beautiful painted vessels and unusual offering channels and figurines is a real gem for pottery lovers.
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Wander around the sprawling ruins of the ancient marketplace, where democracy and philosophy had their beginnings.
The museum within holds a large collection of pots, coins, household objects and pottery fragments (ostraka), on which the Athenians wrote names of prominent men they wanted to vote into exile. Also here are a huge bronze shield taken from the Spartans during the Peloponnesian War and a klirotirion, and unusual device for relegating public duties by lot – and important feature of ancient Athenian democracy.
This terraced hillside is the location of the Acropolis Sound and Light performances. The Pnyx – meaning ‘tightly packed space’ – is where the free citizens of 5th-century BC Athens met in democratic assembly.
At that time, the rocky platform here was the site of the Stone of Vima, an ancient Speaker’s Corner, where people gathered to hear the likes of Pericles, Themistocles and Demosthenes hold forth.
Built by the astronomer Andronikos in the 1st century BC. It once contained an elaborate water clock that was fed by a spring on the Acropolis. Sculptures on each of the eight sides of the octagonal marble tower represent the eight points of the compass and the corresponding wind.
You’ll spot Notos, the south end, pouring water from an urn, while Zephyros, the west wind, scatters spring flowers.
Spread out below the tower are the remains of the Roman Forum (Romaiki Agora). On the far side, the four Doric columns were part of the Gate of Athena Archegetis, which marked the main entrance to the market area. One door support, protected by a rusty iron grille, is inscribed with Emperor Hadrian’s edict taxing olive oil.
This enchanting temple, with a graceful Ionic portio, perches high on a terrace off to the right (southwest) of the Propylaea, and has a glorious panorama of the sea and distant mountains.
Built between 427 and 424 BC by the architect Callicrates, during a respite from the Peloponnesian War, it was devoted to Athena as the goddess of peace and victory.
The temple housed a statue of her which became known as the Wingless Victory herself was always shown with wings. The temple was torn down by the Turks in 1687 to make way for an artillery position; the one which is now standing was later painstakingly reassembled from the rubble by archaeologists during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Passing through the Propylaea, you come out into the great sloping plateau of the Acropolis. Try to imagine the scene 2,400 years ago, when these masterworks of architecture and sculpture were going up. Scores of stone cutters; carpenters, founders and braziers, goldsmiths, ivory workers, painters, dyers, and even embroiderers swarmed over this ground. For the most part they were freemen, not slaves, practitioners of nearly every art and craft then known.
Dominating the immediate foreground was an enormous bronze statue of Athena under another guise – Athena Promachos, the Defender. This statue of the goddess holding shield and spear was created by Phipias to honour the visitor at Marathon.
It’s said that sailors could spot the tip of her helmet as their ships sailed around the gulf from Sounion. That statue stood here for 1,000 years, until it was carted off to Constantinople in the 6th century AD.
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