Classic Athens lasted actually two centuries, after Solon reforms, until the end of Peloponnesian War in 404 BC and the defeat from Spartans. Athenian hegemony was written down by Thucydides, Xenophon and many later historians. Athens was the favorite city of Alexander the Great, who sent to the Parthenon a memoir of his victories in the East.
What should be mentioned initially is the crucial role of the American School of Athens in excavations around Athens. The main sights that anyone can find in all Athens’ guides are the following:
1. The ancient Agora
Athens Agora was where is the area around Monastiraki and Thisseio metro stations. Today you can notice some of the landmarks, such as the Hepheastus Temple, located in the Hill of Kolonos Agoreos, the meeting point of ancient Athenian technicians, marking the west bound of the market.
Athens Agora, was known also as Keramikos, was its religious and political center. During Theseus’ era, Agora was to the West corner of Acropolis but during Solon times, it was transferred to the north of Acropolis. At the same time there were the first state administration buildings that were destroyed during Persian wars and later repaired.
The Agora was split by Panathinean Road, that led to Acropolis.
During Hellenistic times, where besides Platos’ Academy Aristotle Lycaeum and more schools were coexisting, Athens took its biggest form, with many stoas and new buildings everywhere. Athens was a global school, and people all over the world were travelling to Athens to study.
Around 1000 the church of Agioi Apostoloi was built, over a past temple of 2nd century. It is an Orthodox temple only on June 30th . Moreover during medieval ages, the area that Agora is today was named Vrysaki. In 1931 Vrysaki neighborhood was demolished and excavations took place. The north side of Agora is hidden today under Adrianou Street and the houses of the northern part of the road.
2. Stoa of Attalos
The hellenistic Stoa of Attalos (also spelled Attalus) was a covered walkway, built between 159-138 BC.
During Latin and Ottoman occupation, Stoa was used as a defense wall, and its stones were used to build the two Frankish towers on Acropolis, which few remains are saved. The current building was reconstructed in 1952–1956 by American architects along with architect Ioannis Travlos and Civil Engineer George Biris. Here is the museum of Ancient Agora.
3. Roman Agora
Roman agora was built at the end of 1st century BC, from Caesar and Augustus, who were visiting and admiring Athens, in the free space to the east of modern Ancient Agora. After Heruli invasion the Roman Agora and Adrian’s Library were inside of the new Roman Wall.
Existing buildings are the Tower of Winds (1st cent. AD), Gate of Athena Archegetis (15 BC). New building was Fethiye or Fetihie Mosque, and the Byzantine church of Taxiarhes. Systematic excavation started at 1890 until 1966 with recovery of the full south half of the Roman agora.
4. Temple of Olympian Zeus
The temple is located about 700 m (2,300 feet) south of Syntagma. Also known as the Olympieion or Columns or Pillars of the Olympian Zeus, is a former colossal temple, dedicated to Zeus. Construction began in the 6th century BC during the rule of Peisistratides, who visioned of building the greatest temple in the ancient world, but it was not completed until the reign of the Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD, more than 600 years after the project had begun. After its completion it was the largest temple of the ancient Greek world. Serious damage was inflicted on the partly built temple by Roman Sulla’s Athens’ raid in 86 BC. While looting the city, Sulla seized some of the columns and transported them back to Rome, where they were re-used in temples.
The temple’s glory was short-lived, as it fell into disuse after being pillaged during probably Heruli invasion of 267 AD. It was never repaired and was reduced to ruins thereafter, to provide building materials and material for the houses and churches of medieval Athens.
When the traveler Kyriakus (Cyriakus of Ancona) arrived to Athens in 1436 he found only 21 columns (from 104 initial). The temple was excavated in 1889-1896 by the British School in Athens, in 1922 by the German archaeologist Gabriel Welter and in the 1960s by Greek archaeologists led by Ioannis Travlos (as numerous more archeological sites).
5. Hadrian’s Gate or Arch & Olympian Zeus temple
Hadrian’s Arch, or Gate, built in 131AD to honor emperor Hadrian for helping Athens, is next to Olympeion. The Arch was placed strategically so that people coming from the Agora went through the arch and could read the text on the west and the text on the east when returning from the Zeus’ Temple. The inscription on the eastern side of the arch (facing the Temple) states: “This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus”. The inscription on the western side of the arch (facing the Acropolis) states: This is Athens, the ancient [or former?] city of Theseus.”
6. The theater of Dionysus
Located opposite the New Acropolis Museum, under Acropolis Hill. Today there are the remains of the first theater that the classic plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and other poets were taught in Athens.
From a wooden initially building, it was made out of stone during the 4th century. Of course during Classic period, the theater reached the maximum of its glory. Later 67 marbles thrones were added (during the Hellenistic period), like VIP seats today, to honour guests. Probably it was a practice during the times that Athens was a city that was just honoring foreigners for gaining privileges. In the middle of them, it was the throne of Dionysus priest. It could host 17.000 people. The invasion under Sulla in 86 BC caused severe damage and restoration work was carried out in the 1st century AD during the reign of Nero and later from Hadrian. During byzantine period, the theater was destroyed. Today you can admire some of its past architecture, geometry and glory.
7. Plato’s Academy
After Plato’s death, his student and nephew Speusippos was chosen to be the Academy’s head. That caused dislike to Aristotle, Plato’s top student that was not selected, so he left Athens. Aristotle returned later, as a founder of another school, with the assistance of Alexander the Great.
Academy according to Cicero, who had also visited Athens to study, was located ¾ of the Roman mile (1 kilometer) outside Dipylo gate, who had visited Athens in 79 BC, after Sulla’s destruction of the city. Academy was not there, but inside the city walls.
Academy was active, hosting the best teachers and students all over Mediterranean from 379 to 529 AD. Last teachers left for Persia, but returned to Athens around 533 AC.
Today someone can visit Kolonos Park and Plato’s Academy remains, as Cicero did in Academia Platonos Park.
8. Socrates’ prison
10. Aristotle’s Lyceum
Lyceum is located right in the heart of the Athens next to the Byzantine and War Museums. Aristotle established his school in 335 BC in a area between Rivers Iridanos and Ilissos rivers outside the city walls, off Diocharous Gate. Aristotle left Athens, after the death of his student, Alexander the Great but the school was working until Sulla’s invasion in Athens.
Aristotle with the help of Alexander established the first botanic garden that scientific research has being made. After Aristotle left Athens, his student Theofrastos from Lesbos (he probably asked for Aristotle to do research there, before going to Philip II). Aristotle died the same year. Theofrastos presided Lycaeum for 36 years.