The blog is taking a short break from the posts related to the Thailand trip and sharing some of the sights of a bike tour of central Athens in October 2021.
I booked the tour online for $40. The tour lasted three hours and departed from a quiet location near the Acropolis metro station. The tour supplied E- bikes, helmets, and a knowledgeable English-speaking guide. The electric bicycles were easy to operate after two minutes of instruction. There were only three tourists on the tour including me. The maximum group size for this tour is 12.
The first stop was the Pnyx, on a small hill near the Acropolis. I’d heard about this place but had no idea that it was named the Pynx.
The Pynx is one of the earliest and most important sites in the history of democracy. The stone steps is where orators and politicians such as Pericles, Aristides and Alcibiades and any Athenian who wished to speak addressed the citizenry.
As such, the Pnyx is the material embodiment of the principle of isēgoría (Greek: ἰσηγορία), “equal speech”, i.e. the equal right of every citizen to debate matters of policy. The other two principles of democracy were isonomía (Greek: ἰσονομία), equality under the law, and isopoliteía (Greek: ἰσοπολιτεία), equality of vote and equal opportunity to assume political office. The right of isēgoría was expressed by the presiding officer of the Pnyx assembly, who formally opened each debate with the open invitation “Tís agoreúein boúletai?” (Greek: “Τίς ἀγορεύειν βούλεται;“, “Who wishes to speak to the Popular Assembly?”).
Those principles were radical for their time and are still not universally accepted today.
The Pnyx now supports a population of tortoises.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
From the Pynx we pedaled on to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a Roman theater on the southern slope of the Acropolis. The Odeon was completed in 161 AD and renovated in 1950.
The Odeon now serves as the main venue of the annual Athens Festival, which runs from May through October and features a variety of well-known Greek and international performers. The theater was built to hold an audience of 5,000.
It would have been nice to see the inside, but the bike tour didn’t enter any of the buildings. I assume that was to save time and there didn’t appear to be secure places to leave the bikes.
We proceeded past the Acropolis Museum. This is a fantastic museum built over ancient ruins. Patrons walk over glass floors that reveal the ongoing excavations below. I saw this museum on a prior visit to Athens. It is a must-see for any visit to the Greek capital.
Hadrian’s Gate and National Garden
It is a short ride from the museum to Hadrian’s Gate or Arch. The gate sits on a busy Athens thoroughfare next to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. (The E-bike power assist came in handy in quickly crossing the street.) The gate was built to commemorate the visit to Athens by the Roman Emperor Hadrian to dedicate the nearby temple complex in 131 AD. The Athenians were probably very happy to have Hadrian’s assistance in completing the temple that had been started more than 600 years earlier.
The tour then entered the National Garden for views of the grounds and the Zappeion. As mentioned in a previous post, the Zappeion was built in the late 19th century AD as a result of Evangelis Zappas‘ vision of reviving Greek tradition and starting the modern Olympic Games in Greece.
Presidential Palace Changing of the Guards
The Greek Presidential Guard or Evzones are a group of elite Greek soldiers who are trained to perform ceremonial duties. They stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Presidential Palace and also raise and lower the flag at the Acropolis.
To see the Evzones perform the changing of the guard most tourists flock to The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is located at the parliament and close to Syntagma Square. The bike tour took us to the Presidential Palace where the ceremony can be observed almost in private.
The changing of the guard occurs every hour on the hour. The guards wear dress uniforms for the ceremony on Sunday at 11:00 at the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier.
The original stadium was built of limestone in 330 BC to host the Panathenaic Games, an event that consisted of a religious festival, athletic competitions, and cultural events. Herodes Atticus refurbished the stadium replacing all of the stone with marble. It is the world’s only stadium built almost entirely of marble.
The Panathenaic Stadium fell into disuse for more than 1,000 years until 1869 when Evangelis Zappas proposed that it be revitalized as part of his dream to host a modern Olympic Games. The stadium hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and was the venue for 4 of the 9 contested sports. This stadium also hosted the archery competition and was the finish line for the marathons for men and women in the 2004 Summer Olympics.
The Ancient And Roman Agoras
The tour then visited the Athenian Agora, an area that functioned as a commercial center and the site of political assemblies, courts and public debates. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and their kind hung out here and formulated the foundations of modern western civilization.
The Temple of Hephaestus and the Church of the Holy Apostles, a Byzantine structure, are the only buildings in the Agora that survive on their original foundations.
During Rome’s control of Athens several Roman buildings were added to the Ancient Agora.
The Tower of the Winds is an octagonal marble tower in the Roman Agora in Athens. It measured time with sundials and a water clock. A weather vane on top displayed the wind direction. It is considered the world’s first meteorological station.
This was a great tour that I highly recommend to anyone who can ride a bike. The small size of the group facilitated interacting with the guide and asking questions. The route avoided heavy traffic and hard-to-navigate passages. While not entering any of the buildings was slightly disappointing, during Covid that’s not a bad thing. On the day of this tour it was better to be outside anyway.
Have you tried bike tours or would give them a try in the future?