Many of Athens’ visitors are drawn by its important status in ancient Greece, and its role as the birthplace of modern philosophical thinking. For those hoping to discover the places that the great philosophers of Athens did their thinking and their teaching, we’ve rounded up the best sites to follow in the footsteps of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
The Agora played a vital role in the public life of everyday Athenians, as the marketplace was where citizens met to take part in the political and intellectual life of the city. It provided a platform for people to share their views and opinions, and it was here that Socrates questioned the market-goers on their understanding of the meaning of life. He would openly interrogate Athenians to the point of embarrassment, often before a crowd of his youthful supporters.
One of these supporters was so touched by Socrates’ teachings that he burnt all of his own poetry, later becoming known as the philosopher Plato. If you want to follow in the footsteps of the philosophers, the Agora is one of the best places to visit, as the place where some of the greatest minds taught and influenced one another.
You can visit the ruins of this ancient marketplace, strolling through the remnants of white stones, pillar and columns that once formed the impressive buildings that brought together some of the greatest philosophers in history. Much of what has been excavated speaks of Athens’ turbulent past, showing the influences of various cultures and religions. The museum showcases some of the smaller artefacts found on the site, as well as providing information on the role of the Agora in ancient Greek society.
House of Simon
Inside the ancient Agora, you can see the unremarkable House of Simon, which is famous not for its architecture, but for its connection to Socrates. Hobnails used for affixing shoe soles and a black glazed cup with the name Simon written on the handle have led archaeologists to conclude that this was once the site of Simon the Cobbler’s shop. Socrates spent a great deal of time there talking to his friend Simon and teaching his followers, particularly those who were too young to enter the Agora. Little remains of the house now other than its stone foundations, but visitors can stand inside the walls and imagine one of the world’s greatest philosophers conversing with his followers on that very spot.
No one really knows where the exact site where Socrates was imprisoned before he died by drinking hemlock as ordered by the court. The cells carved into the rock near the Agora that are currently labelled as Socrates’ prison are no longer believed to be the actual site. In spite of this, they are still worth a visit, as the rooms carved into the rock are typical of the area and give an idea of the architecture in ancient Athens. If you were hoping to find the real place that Socrates was imprisoned, then the remains of a villa just off Apostolou Pavlou is now thought to be its more likely location. This theory is supported by the discovery of vials which may have contained hemlock in the area. Ultimately, you can’t really be sure of the exact location of Socrates’ imprisonment, but both make for an interesting visit whilst you’re near the Agora.ç
Although they’re located quite a way out of the city, the ruins of Plato’s Academy are worth a visit if you are hoping to follow in the footsteps of the ancient philosophers. Whilst the site itself is now little more than a park with the ruins of this once great academy, it does allow you to walk in the exact place Plato did with his most famous student, Aristotle. He was sent to the academy as a young man and remained there as both a student and later a teacher. Aristotle went on to tutor the young Alexander the Great, as well as later founding his own school of philosophy.
The site of Plato’s Academy is free to visit, although there is not a lot of information about the area so it is worth bringing a guidebook. You can stroll down the same sunlight-dappled paths that Plato and his students did, or imagine sitting in the theatre, waiting for the famed philosopher to begin his discussions. In spite of its out-of-the-way location, the academy is a great place to get in touch with two of Greece’s most famous philosophers.
Just a few blocks from the National Gardens in the centre of Athens, Aristotle’s Lyceum was only excavated in the last couple of years and is now open to the public. The excavations revealed a gymnasium and wrestling area, as well as the buildings of the Lyceum. Visitors can walk and relax in the area, which has been planted with fragrant herbs and trees to give an idea of what the area would have been like during Aristotle’s day. Students of the school were called Peripatetics, because of Aristotle’s habit of walking as he taught. For those who are hoping to walk in the footsteps of the great philosophers, following the paths around the Lyceum allows you to do just that.
If this guide has tempted you to discover Athens’ amazing history and walk in the footsteps of some of history’s greatest thinkers, why not book a trip to the city as part of a relaxing Mediterranean cruise? Cruise1st UK has an amazing range of cruises at great prices. Browse online or call our helpful sales team on 0800 230 0655.