Near the entrance to the Acropolis, there's a sign telling visitors what behaviour is expected at Athens's most famous tourist attraction. The list is strict and warns, predictably, against the removal or defacing of antiquities. But some of the outlawed activities are more curious: "It is forbidden to take moving pictures without written permission - to take improper pictures - to introduce animals to the Acropolis - and to sing and make loud noises."
In the light of Greece's economic crisis and the harsh austerity measures in place to fix it, people singing and dancing on the Acropolis should be the least of the country's problems. Yet whatever else is going on in Greece, it seems the nation takes its ancient sites very seriously indeed.
After all, the magnificent Parthenon on the Acropolis, built in the fifth century BC, has suffered wars, earthquakes and now economic cutbacks, and only last month a Greek bank worker plunged to his death from the Acropolis.
Yet its sheer beauty and ability to endure has become a metaphor for Greeks and inspirational to overseas visitors, who still come in healthy numbers to see it.
A recent survey by a Greek tourism organisation showed visitors to the country were up 8.6% on the previous year. The number of Scottish visitors has also increased with the launch of direct flights from Edinburgh to Athens by easyJet last September.
Despite demonstrations in the capital city to oppose the government's austerity measures, it remains safe for visitors. The strength of sterling against the euro makes it far cheaper than recent years and with the improvements put in place for the 2004 Olympics, including pedestrian walk-ways and a very efficient Metro system, it is also very easy to navigate.
Up on the Acropolis on the day of our visit, an Arabic-sounding film group were determined to put the prohibited behaviour list to the test. On the side overlooking the magnificent Herodes Atticus theatre, one of the group was singing defiantly to camera while a woman in a headscarf was directing operations. It drew a large crowd until a fierce-looking security woman sprinted over and broke the show up , shouting: "No singing, no filming."
Finally there was peace amid the columns.
What the filming was about we'll never know, but what does seem clear is that the Greeks continue to put an iron ring of security around the "sacred rock" as its restoration and clean-up continues so that instead of pollution clouds swirling around the Parthenon's pentelic marble, there are now cranes and scaffolding in evidence. Much of the restoration goes hand-in-hand with the new Acropolis Museum nearby, which cost €110 million to build.
Constructed on a natural citadel, the Acropolis means "top of the town" and once you've climbed the stone steps to the imposing Propylaea (entrance gate), the description is apt. While the city's thousands of crammed-in apartment blocks seem overwhelming at ground level, from this height the effect is breathtaking – a scramble of white buildings stretching to the encircling hills, and an Olympian view of other antiquities below. But it's the Parthenon that has top billing here.
It was built in the Golden Age of Pericles, the pinnacle of Greek civilisation, to honour the Goddess Athena. Since then, however, it has been hammered by natural disasters and invasions, the worst of which was an attack by canon fire during the 1687 siege of Athens by the Venetian admiral Morosoni, which knocked out some of the columns on one side. But it was Scottish-born Lord Elgin who completed its desecration. Much has been said about the heist by Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, when he removed a hoard of statues and decorative friezes, the "marbles", from the Parthenon while Ambassador to the Ottoman Court in Istanbul in 1799.
While the marbles were destined for his aristocratic pile, Broomhall House in Fife, when he finally returned to Britain he was broke and sold his collection to the British Museum in London for £35,000. Whether or not you care about the debate over the Elgin Marbles, you will be drawn into it once you visit the Acropolis Museum, for which you should set aside half a day at least.
The museum, which opened in 2009, is located right below the Acropolis, in the newly spruced-up historic district of Makriyianni. The showcase of this museum is the Parthenon Gallery on its top floor, where the surviving treasures from the temple are displayed, as well as a frieze of the Parthenon on the rectangular cement core with the exact dimensions and orientation of the Parthenon itself, which is visible through the museum's glass-panelled walls.
All the lifesize sculptures from the pediments of the Parthenon, depicting Greek gods and goddesses, and from the inner frieze of the building, with its procession of horses and riders, are featured in correct order for the first time, although at least half of this display are actually plaster models because the originals are in the British Museum. It's only when you see the missing "marbles" presented like this that you get the measure of Elgin's looting.
However, there is still much left to admire here and in the galleries on the lower floors, particularly the archaic one with its life-sized statues. The most amazing aspect of this museum is the glass flooring inside and out in the forecourt, which allows you to see the archaeological work in progress on an ancient neighbourhood below ground level.
It would be worthwhile going to Athens simply to visit this museum alone, but there is so much more, including the Ancient Agora nearby. This was once the city's social and political heart, with temples, libraries and sanctuaries. However, it was a men-only hang-out, where Socrates and Plato had their famous walkabouts, thrashing out the beginnings of Western civilisation, although much of it is now in ruins, apart from the elegant Stoa of Attalos, which houses a small museum.
There are still plenty of ancient monuments in Athens, preserved enough to conjure up the past, such as Hadrian's Arch, east of the Acropolis, and the nearby Temple of Olympian Zeus (the father of all Greek gods). You can fall asleep and wake up in the shadow of the temple's 15 mighty columns by booking a suite at the Royal Olympic Hotel directly opposite, as we did. You almost don't need to go out looking for ancient ambience while you're there and at night you can enjoy the floodlit spectacle of the Parthenon from the hotel's roof bar and restaurant.
Apart from antiquities, Athens has preserved its interesting old neighbourhoods, such as Monastiraki, at the bottom of Ermou Street, which has a large flea market and tourist shops. On Mitropoleos Square is the main cathedral and the tiny, exquisite, 12th-century church of Panagia Gorgoepikoos, which quaintly translates as "Our Lady Who Grants Requests Quickly". Slightly north of this area are trendy Gazi and Psirri, which were once industrial slums but have been renovated and filled with cafes and clubs a bit more edgy than the touristy neighbourhood of Plaka.
A maze of narrow streets built below the Acropolis walls, Plaka once fizzed with tavernas, music and garrulous old characters. One taverna owner told me that things have changed: "The old neighbourhood is finished. The 'real' people have been moved on and the place has been spruced up." That may be so, but for most tourists, it is still fascinating, with a good selection of cheerful tavernas and slightly more upmarket venues (Elaia, 16 Erechtheos Street) and cafes (Melina's, 22 Lissiou Street, its walls covered in photographs of Greek actress Melina Mercouri).
Athens has dozens of museums, but if you have time for only one, apart from the Acropolis, choose the Benaki on Koumbari Street. Founded in 1930 by a wealthy Athenian, it has a unique collection of ancient, Byzantine and modern artefacts. The rooftop café is chic and a favourite of the well-heeled, especially chatty, modern-day goddesses, who still favour long lunches.
While the country is undergoing a painful restructuring, Athens is still a vibrant and sociable place, with Greeks determined to show visitors that the nation that created Socrates, Zorba and Demis Roussos hasn't been beaten yet.
EasyJet has return flights from Edinburgh to Athens from about £130 return. Visit www.easyjet.com.
WHERE TO STAY
The five-star Royal Olympic Hotel, opposite the Temple of Olympian Zeus, has views of the site from its Athenian Panorama suite, starting at £300 per night. Standard rooms cost from £85. Visit www.royalolympic.com.