Athens Center of Renessaince
is not only the Acropolis, although that alone is an excellent reason
for visiting Greece's capital.
There is much more to this array of thoroughfares than mere shops, stores and businesses however, lots of fascinating discoveries may be found by the intrepid, and we list some of the finds we think worth a stroll for, down traffic-free streets.
Ermou Street has long been the most fashionable shopping street in the capital, very long and starting very smartly in the heart of town leading directly off Constitution Square (Syntagma) opposite the Parliament building, and ending shabbily but fascinating somewhere out near the Ceramics Museum. Halfway along Ermou the small and wonderfully preserved Byzantine church of Kapnikareas stands, in its own tiny square. This is one of the best preserved Byzantine structures in the capital and dates from the 11th century.
Ermou now enjoys the status of precinct and the fashion conscious flock there to buy or browse, shoes and jewellery, fashions and materials, all mingling together in what is now a quiet street where one may amble across from one side or another, only the occasional minibus (very convenient and cheap) to break the flow.
M & S can be found here, nearby a BHS store and Mothercare vie for trade along side some of the capitals most favoured shops such as Salon Vert (for materials), several shops for crockery and kitchenware, and some of the best known shoe shops such as Bournazos, Moschutis and so on.
From Syntagma to Athinas Street, to Stadiou, this golden triangle has already proved popular with shoppers, shopkeepers and those who longed for a less busting city centre. The bustle is still there, but it feels more like a shuffle and a lot quieter now that private cars and taxis are not allowed into the hallowed walkways. There are three mini-bus lines, the 100, 150 and 200 traversing the streets, all circular routes, they are frequent and cheap (100 drs round fare) and are less obstructed than pre-zone days when it was sometimes quicker to walk.
There are obvious places on a visitors map such as Syntagma Square and the Parliament building, and the Evzones quaint stepped changing of the guard, the Mitropolis or Cathedral of the Greek Orthodox Church on Mitropoleos Street, the Old Parliament Building and Museum (beginning of Kolokotroni Street) and the City of Athens Museum on Klathmonos Square (officially 25th March Square after the date of Greece's Independent Day) which all fall within or just on the verge of the zone. Inside the zone there is much more to fascinate.
A walk down Praxitelous will show you a different side of Athens and turning into Evripidou, one reaches the Meat Market which has a life of its own. This is part of the Central Market (circa 1879) and which also has a fish and vegetable market besides. Several small tavernas open for lunch can be found by the sharp one of the best kept secrets being in the arcade at Evripidou, or for a speciality shop with a difference, go further down Evripidou to No 31 to Bachar and see the mass of herbs from all over Greece and beyond, an Aladdins cave of spices displayed in overflowing barrels and sacks.
Athinas Street is a mishmash of old buildings and hardware shops, the contents of which spill onto the pavement. To the left leads to Monastiraki Square the famed Sunday Flea Market and Plaka area beyond. To the right is Kotzia Square which has long been excavated and is soon to be paved over and greened for our further convenience. The headquarters of the National Bank of Greece are here and housed in a splendid building too.
Serafidhes is the name for the men who sell socks, clocks, and watches, belts and other paraphernalia from glass cases placed willynilly along the pavement. The uninspired Town Hall or Dimarcheio is here at Kotzia as are numerous street vendors sprawling ever present along the pavements. The other side of Kotzia is Eolou Street which one may traverse to reach Sofokleous where the Athens Stock Exchange (much revamped inside over the past few years, even foreign investors have sat up and taken notice of its modest yet exciting tradings).
Eolou leads back to Evripidou and then Klathmonos Square where the tiny chapel of St Theodore is located. This is a contemporary of Kapnikarea Church on Ermou. Also dating from the 11th century, it was rebuilt of stone and brick with Cufic ornament a century later.
To see the area from a vantage point, it's fun to take any of the three mini-buses from any stop and travel the circular route to see for yourselves the changes between the traffic free zone and the outer rim where one could still sit in a traffic jam during the daytime, or just arm yourself with our map and set off. Wherever you roam you can be sure that the new traffic free commercial centre is a bonus point in this city of ours.
AN "AEGEAN ISLAND"
An Aegean type island village which owes its existence to the wishes of Otto the first King of the Greeks. Upon coming to this country Otto decided to built himself a palace. Wanting his palace to be solidy built, he enquired as to who were the best builders in the country. He was no sooner informed that the people of Anafi, a small island in the Cyclades, were famous for their building skill, than he invited the best of them to the capital, to start work on the palace. The builders had to have somewhere to live while works lasted. Knowing that it would be years before they set eyes on their beloved Anafi again, and being quite homesick, they decided to recreate it, at the foot of the Acropolis. So, they built small white houses in the exact style they used in their home village. And there they remain. Anafiotika, meaning the Anafians neighbourhood, is a unique and very charming neighbourhood at the highest point of the Plaka area which you are urged to visit.
THE UNIVERSITY MUSEUM
At the corner of Theorias and Klepsydras Streets stands the building that originally housed the University of Athens (1837-1842). This building, which houses the Athens University Museum today, was the home of the architect Kleanthes (1832-1833).
THE KANELLOPOULOS MUSEUM
It was founded in 1976 after the donation to the Greek state of the private collection of Pavlos and Alexandra Kanellopoulos. It is housed in the neoclassical mansion of the Michaleas family. The Kanellopoulos collection contains antiquities and works of art from the prehistoric period to modern times.
Whatever time you may decide to come up here, you will be well compensated, since your walk will have all the necessary ingredients of an interesting and very romantic experience: trees and plants, the momument of Philopappos a Roman governor of Athens and everything a great view can offer. And from the top of Philopappos Hill the view offers no less than the Parthenon and the other glorious monuments on the Acropolis.
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