1. The neighborhoods of Athens

The origins of Athens seem to date back to the seventh century B.C. when a settlement was first mentioned, named after the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena. Two centuries later it was a powerful city-state. It had economic strength, since its merchants sailed all around the Mediterranean trading for goods. And it was an intellectual center that produced artists and playwrights, doctors and philosophers. In later centuries Athens lost its preeminence as part of the Empire of Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, and it declined to not much more than a small village. Its fortunes revived in 1834 when it was chosen to be the capital of the newly independent country of Greece. Unfortunately, the city has sprawled over the last century into a megalopolis of more than 3 million persons. Greece is not a wealthy country, so much of this sprawl consists of unattractive modern apartment blocks, with poor and unkept quality roads and sidewalks.

This map shows the central part of Athens. You can see where our apartment was on the bottom of the map. It was about a 15-minute walk to the Temple of Olympian Zeus and to the Olympic Stadium, and anothe 15 minutes to the ancient sites of the Acropolis and the Agora, or to the Plaka and Monastiraki neighborhoods, and to Syntagma Square. Farther north was the University of Athens neighborhood and the National Archeological Museum, and we took the underground metro to visit these sites.

Here are two views north from the Acropolis hill, showing how far modern Athens spreads out.

These are two views of the Plaka and Monastiraki neighborhoods, which are by far the prettiest,
with lots of pedestrian streets, hotels, souvenir shops, and restaurants.

The shops and restaurants of the Plaka and Monastiraki neighborhoods stay open late at night,
and from these neighborhoods are great views of the steep sides of the Acropolis, lit up at night.

When the Olympic Games were revived in modern times, the opening ceremony for the first games were held here in 1896. It was restored for the occasion, but the original stadium dates on this site back to the fourth century B.C., and it was restored to what it would have looked like in antiquity.

Another great neighborhood and quite trendy was the area called Thysseio, west of the Acropolis.
This is the view (above) of the Acropolis from the restaurant where we had lunch.

The University of Athens is north of the center of Athens. It was founded in 1837 for the new capital of Greece. Its original buildings were an attempt to show what the ancient monuments of Athens would have looked like in their day, painted in bright colors.

Also in central Athens is Syntagma (or Constitution) Square, in front of the Greek Parliament. When Greece gained its modern independence, a king was chosen for it by the other European states. He was King Otto, a younger son of the King of Bavaria, and he ruled from 1832 to 1862, when he was deposed by the Greeks, who replaced him with a younger son of the King of Denmark. That dynasty ruled Greece from 1863 to 1973, when its last king was overthrown and Greece became a republic.

In Syntagma Square on Sunday mornings is the Changing of the Guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The former Royal Palace, on the right, is now the Greek Parliament.

The soldiers wear woolen kilts and pom-poms on their shoes.

Not far from Syntagma Square are the National Gardens (formerly the Royal Gardens). Within the gardens is the Zappeion (below), an exhibition hall built in the 1880s.

Below is a photo of our apartment in Athens. It was very nice, clean, and spacious, with the bedrooms and a bathroom on a lower floor and the living room and kitchen with a half-bathroom on an upper floor. Each floor had two balconies, one on either side of the building.

We had breakfast each morning sitting on one of the balconies. Here are the views from it, looking in one direction, where there was a Greek Orthodox church that rang its churchbells loudly and regularly, and in the other direction, where we were one of countless apartment balconies.


Click here to continue with the Acropolis of Athens.