Athens ruins

Anyone who has visited the Royal Courts of Justice, London and taken a stroll along to the Central Criminal Court, aka The Old Bailey, might recognise its most symbolic statue, connecting us with Greek mythology.

Themis statue

On top of the Old Bailey stands a representative of a Goddess of divination who was sought for advice by other Gods and often considered the fate by those who consulted in her. Themis was worshipped and adopted by the Romans as Justice (hence the term – lady justice).  

Themis became known as the Goddess of divine law and order. She provided the rules by which people would lead their lives and in simple terms symbolised justice for all. Themis became a promoter of kindness. Wearing a blindfold, she was often portrayed with the gift of prophecy and represented the importance of impartiality.  

The scales depict strength in upholding justice, fairness, and equality. She valued the properties of evidence, wisdom, and application of law to make sound choices.  These characteristics are the very principles weaved into the laws of our society today.

When we think of travelling to Greece, many might consider the Greek Islands with its pretty harbours, narrow streets, and steps of white houses with pink bougainvillea. Whilst there is tranquillity offered from the islands by its calm seas and surrounding mountains, there remains myths and legends embedded on its mainland.   

The Island of Kefalonia, pictured here seems a long way from the history and ancient Gods.

Island of Kefalonia

Athens boasts the longest coastline of any European capital, and with the new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre, it is certainly up there with architectural creativity. During the day visitors can escape from the busy streets of central Athens to Stavros Park.

Stavros Park

There are several cafés with plenty of comfortable seating. A piano welcomes passer-by for anyone willing to share their skills. Perhaps a symbol of Italian architect Renzo Piano who pioneered the bringing of people together.

The diversity of visitors, families and locals enriches this area of Athens with positivity and style.

Piano at the Culture Centre

If you take a stroll along to the main building, you will be greeted by a huge high platform for visitors to explore. With floor to ceiling glass panels, views can be seen across 4km of the city to the hilly landscape of Acropolis with the Aegean Sea on the other.  The crowded city, historical landmarks and modern life can be captured from up here.

Culture Centre - Athens

The myths and legends of Ancient Greece spills out of Athens. Venture away from the coast and Culture Centre and head in land, which is at least 1 hours walk, or consider taking a taxi, using the Beat-Ap. The taxis are easy and reasonably priced. 

A good place to start is the view from Filopappou Hill to the Southwest of the Acropolis. It’s a steady climb up a sweeping gravel path, surrounded by a variety of birds and flowers and leads to the Shrine of Muses with a vantage point across Athens and the Acropolis. It attracts the tourists, so an early start or a sunset stroll should give serenity to any traveller looking for something different.

view of Athens

Leading back down from Filopappou Hill it is worth a stop at Socrates Cave which is carved into the rocks. This is believed to be where the famous philosopher Socrates was imprisoned for questioning the Athenian way of life and failing to acknowledge the official Gods. 

There is undoubtably a plethora of stories which far exceeds this input, but with famous Socrates quotes often sprawled over social media sites, often with little recognition of its originality, it is a humbling place to visit by the contemplation that would have taken place here.

Acropolis 1

Acropolis and the Parthenon is a UNESCO world heritage site and most definitely, in my opinion worth a visit. The climb to the top is accessible with good walking boots. Many websites will suggest being mindful of either being the heat or the wet as both are equally challenging, with little shelter.

Acropolis 2

This historical fortress and mythical home of the Gods is astounding to see and serves as a reminder of the origins of democracy.

I was in Athens to race in a Half Marathon and was humbled to see the Temple of Nike who inspired one of the world’s most famous sports brands and its association with victory. Another reminder of the extent Athens and its past continue to weave itself into our modern world.

Race bib

How many days for a visit to Athens?

According to Socrates, knowledge is the food of the soul. Therefore, like many travellers, I turn to research and read reviews of places to eat in advance due to dietary needs. I can recommend the following cafes and traditional Greek restaurants.

  • Mother Vegan Café Bistro 
  • Peas Vegan and Raw Food
  • Veganaki
  • Koutouki Kalypso
  • Amigos
food in athens

Athens has a mandatory wearing of face masks since Covid-19 and this includes entering restaurants and cafes. All appear to comply and there is often a requirement to show your Covid-vaccination.

Kalypso restaurant

A trip would not be complete without a visit to the Panathenaic Olympic stadium. It reminded me of the Tower of Pisa in Italy where people stood and pretended to push it over with its famous leaning angle. Witnessing people revert to type and place themselves on the track in the ‘on your marks’ running pose, at this first Olympic stadium of 1896, was equally amusing. There is also an indoor museum hosting Olympic torches from around the world. Regardless of your sporting choice, this famous site is a must visit (and closest to the restaurant Veganaki).

Athens is substantially different from its neighbouring islands. It is beautifully busy and cleverly simple. It aligns itself with modern life through its ancient stories. “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of the vessel” – Socrates. Athens is bursting with instructions, teachings, and information. It holds the key to words of wisdom and the way we often live our lives today.

Olympic Stadium

For the interested:

  • The Culture Centre hosts a Library, Café and Opera House
  • Pre-book transport from Athens’s airport to get to central Athens. It’s an hour’s ride and the least stressful.
  • Take binoculars

Further reading:

Stephen Fry – Mythos, Heroes – myths of Ancient Greece

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