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Thinking about traveling to Athens anytime soon? Check out our guide to important but underrated Athens attractions.
Athens is a tourist destination with monuments of worldwide cultural and historical importance. Who doesn’t know the Acropolis? Despite this, there are several monuments unknown to its visitors that played an important role in its history.
Although these Athens attractions are underrated, a visit to them can help you form a more complete picture of Athens and its history.
Related read: A Guide to Athens, Greece
Check out these underrated Athens attractions
Athens is a city packed with historical sights. While it’s important to include the usual list of things to do in Athens on your itinerary, make sure to also check out a few of these underrated Athens attractions as well.
Meton’s Solar Clock
Greek mathematician, astronomer, geometer, and engineer Meton lived in Athens in the 5th century BC and is known for his invention of the Meton’s Solar Clock. Ancient historians claim that Meton built the first Helioscope (solar clock) of Athens. Its foundations can still be seen directly above the podium of Pnyx. Based on the precise location of the Helioscope, Meton calculated the times of the equinoxes and solstices.
From this vantage point, the summer solstice sunrise can be viewed from the summit of Lycabettus Hill. Also, the winter solstice sunrise can be seen from the summit of Mount Hymettus. The 60° arc that is formed by the sun’s annual apparent movement on the horizon is bisected by the Acropolis’ rock.
In this way, the sunlight at the equinoxes coincides with the rock of the Acropolis. The summer solstice was significant to the ancient Athenians since it signaled the start of a new year. And Meton’s calculations helped to establish the Attic Calendar.
The Antikythera Mechanism, built in the second century BC, is the world’s earliest known astronomical computer and uses the Metonic circle to conduct computations. Every year, thousands of tourists come to Pnyx, but hardly any of them are aware of the significance of this modest structure over the main podium.
Location: Pnyx, Thissio
Many archaeologists believe that a cave-like structure at the base of Phillopappos Hill and a few metres from Herodium, was where Socrates was imprisoned before he was poisoned. According to historical study, it is challenging to connect the archaeological site with the prison in ancient Athens.
However, there is some evidence that concurs with the descriptions of the jail in Plato’s Dialogues that supports this theory. The facts that it was constructed in the middle of the 5th century BC, faced a major road, and was in a pit that contained bathhouses point to that conclusion. Also, a small battered statue of Socrates was one of the items found in the building’s remains.
The carved construction was most likely a component of an impressive two- or three-story building, which some researchers believe to be a portion of a house. The National Archaeological Museum used these caves as a storage facility for artifacts during World War II.
The museum buried many of its artifacts there to prevent theft by the Nazi occupation troops. Whether it is the famed philosopher’s prison or not, this is a really interesting location that is often ignored by visitors to the nearby Acropolis and is seldom known to locals.
Location: Philopappos Hill
In a very central part of the city a very important archaeological site of global importance was discovered in 1996. It is the remains of the palaestra of one of the first gymnasiums of ancient Athens, that of Aristotle’s Lyceum. According to the ancient testimonies, the Lyceum was an idyllic, verdant location to the east of Athens.
The palaestra was a large building with a longitudinal axis from north to south that was founded in the second half of the 4th century BC. The building consists of an inner courtyard surrounded by arcades behind which symmetrically develop spacious, rectangular rooms. In later years, a cold bath tank for the athletes was built on the north side of the courtyard, with arched, narrow sides.
Aristotle’s Lyceum was and is ultimately one of the most important places in the world for the history of the human spirit. It was the embodiment of Aristotle’s philosophy of an educational institution for the young based on the idea of “kalos kagathos”.
Also, Aristotle himself taught at the Lyceum for 12 years, spreading his philosophy, which strongly influenced all subsequent ancient thought. The monumental intellectual edifice of Aristotle and his school summed up all the philosophical and scientific pursuits of the ancient world. Elements of Aristotle’s philosophy exist in Christianity and also in the Renaissance.
Location: Rigillis 11, Syntagma
Vatrachonisi (which means “Frog Island”) was located in the Ilissos River in Athens beneath Zappeion, where the current Agia Fotini church now stands. Between the two sides of the Ilissos River lay a lush, open tract of land. The two streams of the river converged here, creating a little islet with waterfalls on either side.
The holy spring of Kalliroi was on the small island, and the area was known as Neraidotopos (literally, “home of fairies”). When King Otto was in power, the area was first settled by “cafe-sandan” businesses. These venues hosted cabaret acts and other like shows, and also acted as a meeting place for illicit couples.
One of the river’s two branches was grounded during a devastating flood at the end of 1896. Now, a small, inactive section of an exposed riverbed is preserved next to the church of Agia Fotini and has been classified as an archaeological site. A three-arched stone bridge that was finally constructed over the river during the reign of King Otto.
The bridge now concealed beneath the intersection of Ardittou and Athanassiou Diakou streets. The area of Vatrachonisi is the perfect place for a relaxing walk in the city centre.
Location: Athanassiou Diakou and Ardittou Street Intersection, Mets
Agios Nicholas Rangavas
This Byzantine church in the busy Plaka is one of the most historic churches in Athens. Unfortunately, few of the city’s visitors know it. It was most likely constructed in the 11th century AD in the centre of the most aristocratic neighbourhood of Byzantine Athens. It was built by the wealthy family of Rangavas, originally from Constantinople.
The importance and radiance of the temple in mediaeval Athens were such that it gave its name to the surrounding area and the nearby entrance to the defensive wall of Athens. It was visited by members of the imperial family and the prominent residents of the city.
Because some ancient building materials were used in its construction, it is obvious that it was built on top of an old temple. In 1687 AD, during the siege of the city of Athens by Morozini, a shell hit the Holy Altar of the temple. Also, in the second half of the 19th century, significant demolition and expansion works were carried out on the church. These works had the effect of altering the original Byzantine elements of the church. In the 1980s, however, archaeologists restored most of the church to its original form.
This is the image of the church that we admire today, and the elements that were added later are evident. The most obvious are the high bell tower and the entrance with the women’s quarter. The church is important for one more reason. It was its bell that rang during the liberation of the city from the Turks. And this bell is kept inside the church to this day.
Location: Prytaneiou 1, Plaka
If you happen to cross Korai Street, you could notice the distinctive sign that reads “Memorial Sight 1941-1944”. This is the Korai 4 – Kommandantur incarceration institution. It is the place, thousands of Greek resistance fighters were tortured together with some German dissidents, during the Nazi occupation.
The basements, which had been built as an anti-aircraft shelter, housed the cells. The story of the location has been pieced together using the remnant inscriptions, names inscribed on the walls, little artifacts, private notes and pages from German diaries, since the Nazis left no records.
Most of the engraved notes left by the detainees vanished as a result of the Germans’ frequent painting of the cell walls. However, some of the writings on the walls in the second basement, dating back to 1944, appear to have survived. Probably because Nazis had to flee quickly after their defeat in the war. A visit to these historical basements will fill you with emotions and thoughts. At the same time you will get to know an important piece of the recent history of the city.
Location: Korai Street, Syntagma Square
Every city, apart from its well-known attractions, also hides secrets that the visitor deserves to discover. Many times, they are in front of our eyes without our knowing their true meaning. These six attractions, although underrated, are six aspects of the history of Athens that deserve to be discovered.