Athens City Breaks Guide

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For more than 3500 years  Athens  has been attracting visitors. Rich in history and home to one of the most famous buildings of the world – the Parthenon, which represents the golden age of  Athens  urban planning, it is impossible to compete with the impressive architecture of the  city . Apart from being just a tourist spot,  Athens  is also home to more than half the population of Greece.  Athens   city  breaks will surely help you know about this extremely beautiful city.

You are sure to fall in love with the jumbled and elegant skyline of neoclassical facades, whitewashed sugar-cube houses, the Plaka quarter – a colorful mixture of flea markets and antique shops, markets that have stalls piled with huge tubs of olive, fresh fish and well stocked tables laid out of the pavement tavernas.

The acropolis is one of the places visited most by tourists. It provides the best of classical architecture that you can find anywhere else in the world. You find the slender ionic columns of the Temple of Athena and the six female caryatids of the Erechtheion included in the satellite buildings. Theater had a great role in ancient Greece. The Roman theater of Herodes Atticus still stages summer shows for theater enthusiasts. After having a cultural feast at the Acropolis, you can visit the Benaki Museum where you can kindle your curiosities, and the National Archaeological Museum will keep you occupied for days. If you are looking to take a break from the hustle of the Athenian life, a peaceful walk along the 40 acres of the National Gardens is the best.

It is believed that modern  Athens  was born in 1834 and restored as the capital of the newly independent Greece. After the second world war, a massive expansion took place that was funded by American money. The Mediterranean climate was responsible for the high temperatures in the city. Pollution and excess traffic were some of the problems that  Athens  began to face. Visitors and philosophers felt that the architectural excellence were overshadowed by the urbanization. However, more than 3 million people visit this city each year and have a quick look at their favorite places.

Apart from the celebrated classical sites, the city
also boasts of Byzanthine, the medieval and ninth century monuments and some of the famous museums in the world. You will also appreciate some of the areas that are immersed in surprisingly natural beauty. Though there is heavy traffic, the village like qualities are very evident in their cafes, markets, tavernas, and in the maze streets surrounding Plaka.  Athens  is also known for its fine restaurants and colorful and varied night life. The port at Piraeus and the metropolitan area are economic powerhouse and industrial areas of Greece. The Olympics in 2004 brought in many new developments that included an airport, new sports venues, extension of the metro system, up-gradation of hotels and renovation of many top museums.

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The Land of Athena

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Have you ever been to the land of Athena? Come join us on our tour to Athena. We begin the tour at your luxurious Grande Bretagne Hotel. From your balcony, you can see The Changing of the Guard which takes place in front of the Parliament. It is quite a unique show! Fifty two National Guardsmen (in white uniforms) accompanied by a marching band, walk down the street. From the identical vantage pointe you can view the Changing of the Guard which is in front of the Unknown Soldier’s monument. This is a wonderful event to witness on Sundays! I have seen this event countless times. The King George Palace also stands across from the Parliament. This hotel can be seen with a similar vantage point, but the Grande Bretagne Hotel is a bit more regal in appearance. In addition, the national gardens are across the street at the Syntagma Square which is where Athenians take a walk and relax during the summer days.

The real estate areas of these properties are called Herodou Atticou which is the most expensive in   Athens . Impressive views of the Acropolis will be seen on top of a beautiful hill with the  city  of  Athens  as a backdrop. Do you enjoy taking photos? This is definitely the spot. Let us go to the entrance of the Acropolis and tour the Parthenon (constitutes a masterpiece of architecture that is renowned worldwide), and the Temple of  Athens  Nike, and other fascinating and historic sites on the “Sacred Rock” overlooking the  city  of  Athens . Did you know that the Acropolis was for many centuries the most important religious  centre  of the  city  of  Athens ? The archeological sites are universal symbols connected with the birth of democracy. And did you also know that  Athens  received its name because of Athena who as become the goddess of wisdom and peace in ancient times? Obviously there is much to see and ponder about in  Athens , especially The New Acropolis Museum is housed on the grounds of the Acropolis and is one of the best museums in the world. This new museum is set in a characteristic neoclassical building. It contains recently a refurbished collection of ancient Greek art and artifacts including more details about the goddess of Athena. This is a must see! You will be amazed at these antiquities.

We also won’t let you miss the other sites: The Dionysus Theatre, the Stills of Olympian Zeus, the Roman Agora, the Greek Agora and the Keramikos. The Museum of Cycladic art and The Benaki Museum and the National Archaeological Museum are also quite significant. How about the Kallimarmaro Stadium? It was originally made out of marble. The Marathon runners of the 2004 Olympics ended their journeys in this stadium. Can you imagine what it would be like to sit in the stands of this stadium? Let’s go in and sit!

In addition, did you know that there is a monument across from the Hilton Hotel? Another important monument we will see is the Marathon man which is made of fiber glass and is located across from the hotel. The “Marathon Man” was built in dedication to the Greek soldier Philidippides who in 490 BC ran from the town of Marathon to  Athens  (about 26 miles) to announce that the Persians had been defeated. He shouted “Nenikikamen” which means “We won” in ancient Greek and then he collapsed of exhaustion and died.

After visiting the above venues, we will visit Lycabettus Hill, passing through the Kolani Square which is in the Soho area of  Athens . Athenians gather in this square to have Greek coffee and chat in the nearby cafes. It also has some of the best shopping stores of known fashion designers. The drive up Lycabettus Hill is the tallest hill in  Athens . It reaches 277 meters and on its peak lays a small white Greek Orthodox Church of St. George which was built in 1852. Near the Greek Orthodox Church stands the St. George Lycabettus is another luxury property. This is another photo opportunity! We then head to the Plaka area where you can spend more time shopping and eating. According to a recent theory, the Plaka owes its name to the large stone slab found in the area of the Church of St. Alexandria. Plus, the best eatery is on the top of a hill, called the Csarda Taverna.

After spending some more time in the Plaka, we travel to the outskirts of  Athens  towards Cape Sounion along the coastline of  Athens . Before reaching Cape Sounion, we will stop at Lake Vouliagmeni which stands at 40 centimeter in elevation and its water maintains a constant 2.4 degrees year-round Celsius temperature. Due to the healing properties in the water, the Athenians swim here all year round.

Cape Sounion has the ruins of the Temple of Poseidon which was built in 444 BC. The view from the temple is spectacular. I never tire of the views. Here you will be able to enjoy the most beautiful sunset. There is a lovely taverna called Akrogiali in Palea Phokea on the way to the cape where we can enjoy lunch or dinner over-looking the blue waters of the Saronic Gulf. The five star Recital Cape Sounion Hotel is located in one of the world’s most celebrated archeological sites. This is another one of our most traveled Luxury Greece tours. After seeing Cape Sounion, you will return again and again as we do!

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Athens Syntagma Square – Athens City Center

The heart of present day Athens is fashionable Plateia Syntagmatos which lies below the imposing mass of the Old Royal Palace. Plateia Syntagmatos, which translated means Constitution Square, commemorates the constitution granted by Othon I in a proclamation from the balcony of the Palace on the night of 3rd September 1843.

The OLD ROYAL PALACE, which since 1935 has housed the Parliament, was designed as the residence of King Othon, at his own and his father’s expense, by the Bavarian architect Friedrich Garther and built between 1834 and 1842.

At the foot of the west facade of the Old Palace is a large square bounded on three sides by walls on which, in evocation of the ancient custom of hanging the victor’s shield in the temple, are set bronze shields flanked by the names of the many victories won by Hellenic arms since National Independence. Built into the center of the retaining wall is the TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER, a relief impressive in its simplicity, which depicts a dying hoplite. This work is by the sculptors Constantinos Demetriades (1881-1943) and Phokion Rok (1886-1942), and was unveiled on 25th March (National Independence Day) 1932.

South of Plateia Syntagmatos lies Leophoros Amalias, which is so called after King Othon’s consort, who, with the horticulturist Friedrich Schmiedt, created the delectable retreat adjoining the Old Royal Palace that we know today as the NATIONAL GARDEN. The National Garden is open daily from sunrise to sunset and the shade of its multitudinous trees provides a cool and peaceful oasis in the heart of the city.

On the east side of the Garden are the busts of Capodistrias and Jean-Gabriel Eynard, a great Swiss philhellene who donated large sums of money to the cause of Greek Independence. Both these busts are the work of the famous Pelopennesian loannis Kossos. Other busts in the National Garden are those of three leading Greek poets of the 19th century: Dionysius Solomos of Zante, who is considered the national poet; Aristotle Valaoritis, also a native of the Ionian Islands, and Jean Moreas, which was the nom-de-plume of loannis Papadiamantopoulos, an Athenian who lived the greater part of his life in Paris.

Contiguous to the National Garden is a large public park called ZAPPEION after the brothers Evangelos and Constantinos Zappas of Epirus, who donated it with its splendid exhibition hall to the Nation. On either side of the entrance to the exhibition hall stand statues of the donors, that of Evangelos by loannis Kossos; that of Constantinos by Georgios Vroutos. Among the many pieces of statuary by famous sculptors is the bust of loannis Varvakis by the master Leonidas Drossis. Varvakis is best known as the founder of the renowned boys’ school, the Lykeion Varvakeion, for the endowment of which he bequeathed his huge fortune. Other busts include those of Constantinos Paparrighopoulos, the greatest historian of Modern Greece, of Stephan Dragoumis, the most prominent political personality during the Macedonian struggle (1903-1909), and of George Souris, the leading satirical poet of his times.

A short distance from Plateia Syntagmatos, on the right of Odhos Panepistimiou, we come to a Renaissance edifice of Italian inspiration. This is the NUMISMATIC MUSEUM, which contains a rich collection of Greek, Roman and Byzantine coins, cameos and seal-stones. Built by the noted architect Erst Ziller in 1878, it was the private residence of the illustrious archaeologist Henry Schliemann.

Still keeping on the right-hand side we come to a five-storeyed building situated at the corner of this street and Odhos Omirou. Here are the premises of the ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY, built entirely in marble. The classical motif of the magnificent bronze door with its richly painted and gilded surround and the ceiling coffered in a delicate blue and gold deserve the greatest admiration. Besides creating the first National Archaeological Museum the Society, which was founded in 1837, has excavated sites all over the country.

Immediately after the Archaeological Society’s premises stands the ROMAN CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL. As the Latin inscription shows, the cathedral was begun in 1853, completed in 1887, and dedicated to St. Dionysius Areopagite. It is a three-naved basilica designed by Leo von Klenze (1784-1864), Bavarian Court architect and master-plan ner of modern Athens, and built under the direction of Lysander Kaftanzoglou (1811-1885), the outstanding Greek architect of the period.

Adjoining this edifice is the OPHTHALMIC HOSPITAL, a Byzantine-style construction designed by Theophil Hansen (1813-1891, the younger of two Danish brothers, both distinguished architects), in 1847, and completed by Lysander Kaftanzoglou four years later.

Just beyond the Ophthalmic Hospital is an ensemble of neo-Classical buildings: on the right the Academy, in the middle the University, and on the left the National Library. All three were gifts to the Nation from wealthy patriots; they are the most sumptuous monuments of Modern Greece.

The HELLENIC ACADEMY OF ARTS AND SCIENCES, a meticulously accurate reproduction of an edifice of the Classical period erected in the graceful Ionic order by Theophil Hansen at the expense of Baron Georgios Sinas, was begun in 1859 and completed in 1875.

The nine sculptured pediments and all the statues before the Academy are the work of the Athenian master Leonidas Drossis. The relief in the central pediment, which portrays The Birth of Athena, and the two gigantic statues of Apollo (right) and Athena (left) standing on tall columns, one on either side of the principal facade, are particularly impressive. The seated figures flanking the short flight of steps leading to the portico represent the philosophers Socrates (right) and Plato (left).

The portico consists of a double row of columns. The coffered ceiling is painted in bright blue and gold and the door opening into the vestibule has a surround of classical inspiration executed in brilliant color and gilding. A statue of the donor Baron Sinas stands on the right of the vestibule, while the interior of the Academy Hall is decorated with eight superb panels by the Oldenburg painter Christian Griepenkerl (1839-1916), depicting scenes from the Myth of Prometheus.

Visitors to the University will be surprised to see a statue of William Ewart Gladstone, standing on the right of the lawn surrounding the forecourt. The dedication on the plinth of this statue immortalizes the prominent part played by the great British statesman in the deliverance of Epirus and Thessaly from Turkish oppression, and their return to the Motherland in 1881.

The statues at the top of the steps leading to the entrance commemorate the great philologist Korais (1748-1833), ardent patriot and “father” of the Modern Greek literary language (right), and Capodistrias (1776-1831), first Head of State (1827-1831) and one of the major architects of modern Greece.

The UNIVERSITY OF ATHENS was founded in 1836, and was initially established in a large house which Schaubert and Cleanthes had built in Plaka (the old quarter of Athens) when they first came to Athens in 1831. This building, at the corner of Odhos Prytaneiou and Odhos Tholou, is still standing and is converted into a museum devoted to the earlier history of the University. The present University buildings were designed by Christian Hansen and the foundation stone laid by King Othon in 1839. The central building was ready for use in 1842, but owing to lack of funds, the buildings as a whole were not completed until 1850.

A colonnade with a handsome portico in Pentelic marble fronted by two Ionic columns with gilded capitals, and a coffered ceiling in blue and gold in harmony with the classical motif of a painted and gilded door surround, gives access to the interior of the main building.

On the upper part of the wall a fresco by the celebrated Austrian painter Karl Rahl (1812-1865) shows the resurgence of arts and sciences under King Othon. Statues of two national heroes, Patriarch Grigorios and the martyred poet Rhigas Pheraios, stand respectively at the right and left angles of the facade.

The NATIONAL LIBRARY, which is built of Pentelic marble on a foundation of poros, consists of a central building in the form of a Doric temple, with two wings. It was planned by Theophil Hansen in 1887 and the work executed under the supervision of Ernst Ziller, at the expense of the Valianos brothers of Cephalonia in 1901. A statue of one of these munificent benefactors, Panayis, stands outside the central building, and those of his two brothers Andreas and Maris inside the entrance hall. All three statues are the work of Georgios Bonanos.

The eminent philologist Andreas Moustoxidis on the island of Aegina formed the nucleus of the Library in 1827. The books were brought to Athens in 1833 and stored in the beautiful church of St. Eleutherius (the “Little Cathedral”). In 1842 they were removed to the first floor of the central building of the University – which had just been completed – where they remained until the National Library was inaugurated in 1903.

In recent years many fine nineteenth century buildings have been demolished and unimaginative concrete structures built on the sites, so that with the exception of the Ionian Bank of Greece on one corner of Odhos Pezmazoglou and the former buildings of the Arsakeion College for Girls (founded in 1836) on the other corner over the Doric portico, built at the expense of Apostolos Arsakis of Epirus in 1848, nothing remains of the splendid buildings that once lined both sides of this street of central Athens.

Athens – A Gourmet Delight

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If you want to experience Greece, then Athens is the city for you. Imagine going to the Parthenon on top of Acropolis Hill to enjoy the breathtaking view. Acropolis is known to be the Sacred Rock. It is situated on top of 512-foot limestone rock. Acropolis was originally built in 1500 BC.

Erechtheum is another impressive sightseeing spot. It is a temple that is built to honor Greek gods: Athena and Poseidon. The Propylea is a huge ancient gateway. It is situated right next to the Temple of Athena Nyke or Wingless Victory.

At night, you can find astounding sound and light show in the Acropolis. This show is held every night in English, and it is performed every night, except on the full moon night. The show lasts for around 30 minutes.

After the show, you can walk to the Plaka which is full of cafes and restaurants. Even if you don’t speak Greek, there is no need to worry. Most waiters can speak and cater English speaking customer. The food here is delicious and inexpensive.

In the afternoon, if you don’t have too much time for all of the sightseeing in Athens, you can stop at the souvlaki shop for gyros and authentic Greek salad. In case, you want to eat on the go, you can buy cheese pie, spinal pie, Piroski bread from the street vendors.

Syntagma Square is another area that is known for great foods. There are many great cafes in this area. Metax is a sweet brandy which is often served here.

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