Athens and Rome are two of the most fascinating and influential cities in world history. Both have left an ingrained mark on Western civilization and have shaped the course of human development in countless ways. Athens, the cradle of democracy and philosophy, was a hub of intellectual and cultural innovation, while Rome, the eternal city, was an epicenter of military might, engineering prowess, and governance.
Nowadays, millions of tourists flock to the Greek and Italian capitals, searching for ways to experience some of the ancient history created by the two cities.
Firstly, lets look at a quick overview of each city and the benefits of both:
Birthplace of Democracy
Origin of the Roman Empire
Population: 3.7 million
Population: 2.9 million
Named after the goddess of wisdom Athena
Founded by brothers Romulus and Remus
Home of ancient philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle
Home of iconic Roman emperors Julius Caesar and Augustus as well as artists Da Vinci and Michelangelo
History over 3,400 years old
History over 2,500 years old
Greece's capital is as amazing today, as it was 3000 years ago. While it is certainly different now, after centuries of development, regeneration and history, there are still many similarities between the two versions of the city. For example, Athens is the birthplace of democracy, and even to this day the country of Greece is still a democracy. Many ancient temples also still exist and importantly, are still in very good condition compared to when they were originally built. Philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle have also played a big part in the city's identity, and today, the capital is home to multiple research centers, universities and colleges.
What Must You See in Athens?
I imagine that your trip to Athens will most likely be fueled by a burning desire to see one of Europe's most historical places. That's why my recommendations below have all been based on the city's wonderful ancient temples and monuments.
Here are the three best sights to explore in Athens:
Acropolis of Athens
When you think of Athens, the Acropolis will most likely appear in your mind first (specifically the Parthenon) - that's because of its world-renowned image and stunning ancient beauty.
The Acropolis is an ancient citadel or stronghold that has existed in the city for pretty much its entire history. It houses several significant Greek structures and temples, including the Parthenon, which is probably the most recognisable. There is also the Propylaea which essentially is the Acropolis' entrance, as well as the Erechtheion and Temple of Nike that are temples dedicated to several Greek gods and goddesses.
This is by far the most famous landmark in Greece, let alone Athens, so it is definitely worth spending the time and money to go and see it at some stage of your trip.
Constructed somewhere between the 4th and 6th century, the Panathenaic stadium was originally built to host the Panathenaic games. The games were an annual event made specifically to honor the goddess of wisdom, war and crafts Athena. A stadium built for Athena could only be made of the finest materials right? So much so it was built entirely from marble, becoming the only one of its kind in the world.
The stadium was eventually renovated again in 1896 and hosted the opening and closing ceremonies for the first ever Olympic games. The Panathenaic receives millions of tourists all year round due to its breathtaking architecture and design, as well as its historical importance.
My favourite part of the city is the neighborhood known as Plaka, which is located at the base of the Acropolis. Plaka is home to several important archaeological sites, including the the Tower of the Winds, and the Lysicrates Monument. It is also the site of the Roman Agora (or the Forum of Caesar), a public square built by the Roman emperor Julius Caesar - another piece of evidence showing the history shared by both cities.
Plaka is a great place to buy gifts, walk down traditional narrow-pathed Greek streets and eat at some of the city's most charming cafes and restaurants. Here you will find plenty of street vendors, offering you an opportunity to pick up anything from magnets and bottle openers to jewelry and handmade crafts.
Italian's capital is so, so special. It is somewhere, much like Athens, that everyone has to visit at least once in their life. Spending your day in Rome is a stimulating experience with lots going on, lots to do and importantly lots of delicious food and drink to consume.
I recommend staying for a minimum of 3 nights, ideally around a week if possible. This will give you enough time to spot the city's most famous landmarks and really take in the atmosphere and culture. Visiting in the summer months is even better, as Rome with the glistening sun beaming onto it is a real thing of beauty!
What Must You See in Rome?
As any major city and international tourist hub, Rome is full of lots of exciting things to do and spectacular things to see. If I really wanted to, I could write all day about things to do and see in Rome, but to make life easier for the both of us, I will break it down into my favourite three.
What is so special about the Pantheon you may ask, isn't it just the same as every ancient temple? The simple answer to that is no.
What's amazing about the Roman Pantheon, is its pure size and the fact that it is easily one of the world's most magnificent and most fascinating landmarks. Its history is quite mesmerizing when you consider it once housed infamous gladiator battles and many thousands of notable public spectacles.
Remarkably, the Pantheon is so well-preserved and because of this when you visit, for a split second, you completely forget about being in the present day. Visiting the Pantheon is truly a unique experience and will give you plenty of feelings that you won't get at other European landmarks.
There is certainly no need for me to drum up reasons as to why the the Roman Colosseum is great and why you should visit. I mean its one of the modern-day wonders of the world, its been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1980 and is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, all for good reason of course. The Colosseum is actually the largest amphitheater ever built and was able to seat up to 50,000 spectators over the many public events shown there.
The Trevi Fountain is the largest baroque-style fountain in Rome. Millions of tourists visit the fountain every year and throw coins in the water, hoping to bring themselves good luck. According to local legend, throwing a single coin into the fountain guarantees that you will one-day visit Rome again.
This tourist hotspot is also renowned as being one of the most romantic places on earth, and is where many couples choose to become engaged. Couples who do choose to do this might also want to throw two coins into the fountain, which signifies that their relationship will lead to marriage. If they do this three times, however, they could be looking at a "new romance" or divorce, but there are many different beliefs to this.
Who's the Winner?
Just like previous versions of city battles, this has been another very close decision.
My decision, however, is Rome as I believe overall there is just a bit more of variety in what you can do and see. It basically goes down to if I had to choose which one I would return to over the other, and that simply has to be Rome.
Athens is very accessible from a number of Greek islands, but the next biggest Greek city of Thessaloniki is still over 5 hours away by car. Whereas Rome, on the other hand, surrounds the Vatican and is just over an hour on the train away to Naples and Florence. Therefore, it makes more sense to visit if you are on a multi-trip vacation.
Both certainly have lots of in-tact history to showcase, loads of insightful museums, galleries and experiences to par-take in. They also have completely different types of cuisine such as Gyros and Moussaka to Pizza and Carbonara.
This is just my decision however and I am sure you will feel right at home wherever you do end up visiting.
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