In Plaka, even the air is different ; lighter, clearer, scented, like a gift from the gods. When you decide to take a walk around it be sure to bring a map along, because Plaka is a labyrinth and you may get the feeling that you are lost in its maze of narrow streets and alleyways. No need for alarm though. It is easy to orientate yourself : uphill is the Acropolis and downhill are Syntagma and Monastiraki.
The origin of the area's name is not really known, thus allowing various theories to have developed concerning it. According to the most recent one, Plaka owes its name to a large stone slab (plaka in Greek) found in the area of the church of Ayios Georgios of Alexandria, near the ancient theatre of Dionysos.
Plaka's central square was named after the Philomousos Etairia (meaning Friends of the Muses namely the 9 patron goddesses of the Arts) which was founded in 1813. Its aim was to encourage Greek-oriented studies and the preservation of the archaeological treasures of Athens. You will find the square at the crossroads of Kydathenaeon, Farmaki, Olympiou Dios and Anghelou Geronda Streets.
The square is full of cafes, restaurants, bars and night clubs. You will also find many shops selling souvenirs: miniatures and copies of well known works of ancient Greek art, jewellery of traditional Greek design, Komboloya (worry beads) and stamped T-shirts.
A child's paradise. In its attic you can see a reconstructed room complete with old furniture, radio and heater of an old Athenian house. It is appropriately called the "grandmother and grandfather room" and in it children can dress up in period costumes. On the first floor there is a reconstruction of the worksite of the Athenian metro, which is currently being extended all over the city. Here the children get an idea of what the future metro stations are going to look like and can enter a tunnel wearing a workman's helmet. The Museum also houses a playground and a library. If you have a child, this is a stop you cannot afford to miss.
Just outside the eastern side of the Roman Agora, you will come across an octagonal monument. This is Andronikos Kyristes' clock, built during the 1st century B.C., which housed an hydraulic clock. Each of its eight sides was decorated with representations of the eight winds. That is why the monument was nicknamed Aerides (winds).
In ancient Athens the staging of theatrical performances in the theatre of Dionysos was sponsored by wealthy citizens, called choregoi. The choregos who sponsored the best performance of the year, was presented with a prize by the city. When wealthy Lysikrates won the prize (334 B.C.), he decided to build a monument to house it where it remains to this day.
Its construction by Lysikrates was only the beginning of the monument's long and eventful story. In 1658, a Capuchin monastery was founded here by French friars of that order and in 1669 the monument was bought by them. It was in this monastery that Lord Byron stayed during his second visit to Greece. It was in its gardens that in 1818 the first tomato plant in Greece grew, after Father Francis brought the seeds from abroad. In 1829 a foreign traveller in Greece was granted permission by the friars to take the monument with him, but fortunately it proved too heavy for him. Later, Lord Elgin put his mind to the same task but was again stopped, this time by the monks.
According to the traveller Pausanias, the temple of Olympian Zeus was founded by Deucalion, one of the mythical ancestors of the Greeks. Around 515 B.C., the Peisistratids, one of the dynasties of tyrants (absolute rulers) of ancient Athens, endeavoured to replace the old temple with a new, more impressive one. But tyranny was abolished and the construction was halted. The construction of he temple was resumed by the Roman architect Decimus Cossutius employed by Antiochos IV Epiphanes, King of Syria. When Antiochos died in 163 B.C. the temple was once more abandoned without a roof and pediments, and it was finally completed by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in AD 131.
After the construction of the temple of Zeus, the Athenians honoured Hadrian by building, in AD 131 an arched gateway in the north-west corner of the enclosure of the temple. The arch, built of Pentelic marble (Penteli is one of the mountains surrounding the basin of Athens), bears two inscriptions. The one on the side facing the Acropolis (west facade reads: This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus while the other, on the side facing the sanctuary and the extension of the city by Hadrian, reads: This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus.
Open dawn to dusk. An oasis in the middle of the city. An area of almost 40 acres full of flowers, plants, bushes and trees from all over the world. Five hundred different varieties of plants under a canopy of trees. Designed to be the garden of the Royal Palace of King Otto and Queen Amalia, it was planted between 1838 and 1860.
You can enter the garden from one of four gates: the central one, on Vasilissis Sophias Avenue, another on Herodou Atticou Street and the third on Amalias Avenue. The fourth gate connects the National Garden with the Zappeion park area. Wander along the pathways, listen to the birds, sit on a bench and relax. In the National Garden you will find: a duck pond, a small zoo, a Botanical Museum, a small cafe, and a Children's Library and playground.
The Zappeion is the small park area between the National Garden and the Olympieion. In it you will see the handsome Zappeion Megaron, designed by the architect Theofil Hansen and built in 1874-1888. In recent years this "Congress and Exhibition Hall", has witnessed some of the most important moments in this country's modern history: European leaders' summits, election day results and important political announcements. It also houses important art exhibitions and occasionaly concerts are given here.
A really impressive sight, built of white marble in the shape of a horseshoe, it stands opposite the National Garden. The first Stadium to be built on this site was constructed of wood in 330 B.C. The marble structure, of which the present day Stadium (Stadio) is a faithful replica, was built by Herodes Atticus. It was used as a venue for the athletic games held during the feast of Panathenaea, hence its name Panathenaikon.
The Stadium we see today was built between 1869 and 1870 for the first Olympic Games held in modern times in 1896.
In Panepistimiou Street there are three buildings, which were built at approximately the same time, in the decades after Independence. They were designed by the Hansen brothers, two famous Danish architects who lived in Greece at the time.
The Athens University was designed by the elder brother, Hans Christian Hansen and its construction began in 1839. Notice the graceful fountain in its courtyard, its circular staircase and the colourful frescos of classical subjects, which adorn the walls behind a row of columns in its porch. The frescos were painted by the Bavarian Karl Rahl.
The Academy of Athens is flanked by two wings decorated with friezes and a pair of tall columns adorned by statues of Apollo and Athena. It was designed by the younger brother Theofil Hansen. The statues are the work of the sculptor L. Drosis and the painted decorations were again done by Karl Rahl. The Academy is considered the finest example of the Greek order in architecture.
Yet another wonderful building, designed by the younger brother Theofil Hansen. It is the largest library in the country housing thousands of books in all languages. Theofil Hansen first started designing this simple, stately building in 1858 and concluded it in 1884.