The free walking tour in a new city has already become a tradition for me. Although I have been to Athens once before, this was ages ago, namely in the year I finished school. I remember nothing from this trip (from Athens at least), except a vague impression of a grey city and cheap gyros. So arriving in Athens felt like arriving in an unknown city and warranted a free walking tour.
The tour I booked was with Athens Free Tour. Not sure what motivated to book with them except that people looked happy on their Instagram Page. I was a little bit astonished when the tour guide turned out to be a red head from Ireland. But Jonathan did a really good job, regaling us with stories and history of the city. In some cases also from around the world. He is a very entertaining guide.
We met at Hadrian’s Arch, which was about a ten minutes walk from my hotel. If you are wondering what Hadrian was doing in Athens wonder no more. He loved the city and wanted to make it his cultural capital. He also loved a young Greek guy named Antinous who unfortunately died early and then became a god. What a career path!
I learned on the tour the meaning of a horse statue. When you have a statue with a horse, you have to look at the horse to know what happened to its rider. If the front two legs are up, he died in battle, if the legs are down he died of natural causes. If one leg is up, he got wounded. Depending on the leg and the height, how severely. Also important is the tail of the horse. If the tail is down, he won the battle. If it’s up, he lost. That’s pretty amazing, not?
Also Lord Byron was in Greece in the 1820s during the War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire. He wrote about it and in the end Russia, Britain, and France joined on the side of Greece. So now he has a statue in Athens. A consequence of the War of Independence is that there is not a single mosque in Athens. It is forbidden by law after the ousting of the Ottoman Empire.
We saw the changing of the guards in from of the president’s place. In Greece there is a female president. How cool is that? The guards wear super old fashioned uniforms and put on quite a show. A kind of slow walk with super high legs. If you want to see it in more detail, click here.
We passed the first Olympic stadium, which is huge and apparently not really in use anymore. Jonathan told us he saw the band the Scorpions here two years ago. I didn’t even know that they still toured, not to mention that people want to see them. Anyway, Athens built this stadium for the first of the modern Olympic Games. So that was in 1896.
While walking we came across a lot of buildings from Theophil Hansen, who is the architect of the Austrian Parliament. If you know it then it’s quite funny to see that his first projects sit in Athens and his masterpiece is now in Vienna. The similarity is unmistakable.
I had briefly seen the market the evening before when I went for dinner. Passing through it felt weird since every stall was closed and it all looked rather abandoned. So I was happy to see that the market was quite busy during the day. But still some stalls remained closed. How is Greece doing economically at moment? Maybe I should look that up.
More roman stuff was on the way. This time Hadrian’s library. This guy really enjoyed his time in Athens and not just with his young man. There are a couple of more ancient buildings in the area: like the Tower of Winds to forecast the weather, a reconstructed gathering place which now houses the Athenian museum, temples, and lots of other stuff. I honestly think you need a guide or a vivid imagination and a great book to really understand what you are seeing here. I took a picture of the library and that was that.
Our final stop before we got to the entrance of the Acropolis was somewhere below the landmark with a gorgeous view over the city. Athens is a huge and sprawling city, it’s like a sea of white buildings. So if you want to skip the main event but still get a good view, just head up.
The tour itself was rather long, which is exhausting in warm weather. It’s also quite a walk from Hadrian’s arch to the entrance of the Acropolis. It took us, with a short break, about three hours. I really enjoyed it though, but I cannot say that I got the lay of the city after it. Which is always the main reason why I usually join these tours. Another reason is to get some inside information from a local. Jonathan was definitely not a local, but it was totally worth it to follow him around fro three hours. yours, Pollybert