ATHENS — Syntagma

The Syntagama area is centred around the square of the same name. This area has always been the epicentre of commercial activity and the area also contains most of the major attractions of Athens including most of the museums. Nearby is the main shopping district centering around Ermou Street and found at the bottom part of Syntagma Square. In this area is Greek Parliament which in more recent times has made it the focus of mass demonstrations about the worsening economic situation. The area is also a transport hub including direct connections to the airport via the metro and buses. Syntagma is a popular area for tourists because it contains lots of hotels, restaurants and shops.

The sights found here are:
Athens Academy
Athens University
National Library
Church of Agii Theodori
National Historical Museum
City of Athens Museum
Numismatic Museum
Syntagma Square
Syntagma Square Metro Station
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Greek Parliament
National Gardens
Roman Bath Complex
Zappeio Gardens and Palace
Church of Sotira Lykodimou
Jewish Museum
Museum of Greek Childrens’ Art

Athens Academy
The Academy of Athens forms part of the so-called ‘Neoclassical Trilogy’ of the City of Athens which also includes the University of Athens and the National Library. The Academy consists of a main section with two wings either side connected by a corridor. The entrance is in the Ionian style with a large pediment depicting the birth of Athena and is built mainly of marble. There is a similarity between this building and the eastern side of the Erechtheion found on the Acropolis. The Academy was built between 1859 and 1885, in two phases. In the front of the building are seated statues of Socrates and Plato as well as two tall Ionic columns of Athena and Apollo.

Athens University

Athens University
This university which is the last part of the ‘Neoclassical Trilogy’was founded in 1837 and was the first University in Greece. The University consists of a group of buildings that form a double ‘T’, with two symmetrical courtyards. The facade is also symmetrical and consists of an Ionian style entrance with an arcade of rectangular pillars on each side. The bases of the columns and capitals of the entrance are replicas of those found in the propylaea of the Acropolis.

National Library
The National Library which was built in 1884 also forms part of the ‘Neoclassical Trilogy’. It consists of three parts with the large middle section housing the reading room with its wonderful glass ceiling. To get to the entrance of the reading room you climb a magnificent Renaissance-style staircase and then you have to pass through a row of columns which were modelled after the Temple of Hephaestus in the Ancient Agora.

Church of Agii Theodori

Church of Agii Theodori
This tiny church is found on the south western side of Klafthmonos Square at the corner of Dragatsaniou and Agion Theodoron Streets. The church dates back to the mid-11th century and was built over the ruins of an earlier building and is possibly the oldest Byzantine church in Athens. The facade of the church is decorated with brick and it has a frieze of kufic-like reliefs of animals and plants and there are brick arches around the windows. There is a plaque built into the west wall of the interior of the church with an inscription saying that the church was renovated in 1065 AD by Nicolaos Calomalos. The simple interior of the church consists of a transitional cross-in-square shape. A more recent addition to the church is the bell tower with its eight-sided dome and double-light windows. The church was damaged during the Greek War of Independence and was repaired in 1840.

National Historical Museum
This museum is housed in the former parliament house of Greece. It was set up to collect and preserve relics and documentary evidence relating to modern Greek history from the fall of Constantinople in the 15th century to more recent times. The building housed Parliament from 1875 to 1935 and then served as the Ministry of Justice until 1962 when it was turned into the National Historical Museum. The collection consists of weaponry, flags, works of art, medals, furniture, folk costumes and everday items as well as some personal items of historical figures.
For information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.nhmuseum.gr

City of Athens Museum
This museum is housed in two of the oldest buildings in Athens and are connected by a covered bridge. The building at number 7 was at one time used as the residence of King Otto and Queen Amalia and the first floor was reconstructed using furniture from their time here. Included in the museum’s collection are paintings, engravings, furniture and everyday objects from medieval to more recent times in Greek history. Unfortunately a lot of the exhibits have descriptions that are only in Greek.
For information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.athenscitymuseum.gr

Numismatic Museum
This museum was founded in 1829 and is one of the most important and rare museums of its kind in the world. It has a collection of more than 60,000 rare coins which date from ancient Greece, the Roman and Byzantium era, the Middle Ages up to modern times. The building housing the museum was the home of the renowned archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann who discovered the ancient city of Troy and proved the truth of the poems of Homer. There are some wonderfully restored frescoed ceilings to see as well as the mosaic floors.
For information about the museum visit the website at: http://www.nma.gr/index_en.htm

Traveller's Tip

Make sure you take time to visit the garden with its replicas of ancient Greek statues. There is also a cafe here which provides a welcome respite from the heat and noise of the surrounding city.
Syntagma Square

Syntagma Square
Syntagma or Constitution Square is found in front of the Parliament and it is considered the main square of Athens. It is a central point to access all the major attractions of Athens particularly a lot of the museums, including the Benaki Museum, Museum of Cycladic Art and the Byzantine Museum which are found along Vassilissis Sophias Avenue which runs from Syntagma Square. At the western part of Syntagma Square is the beginning of Ermou Street which is the main shopping district of Athens and this leads to Monastiraki Square. The square is surrounded by hotels, offices, banks, restaurants and cafes as well as Parliament House. The square has many trees and shady benches and there is also a brown marble fountain in the middle but because it is also a traffic hub with the entrance to three metro stations it can be very busy and noisy. Syntagma Square has always been the centre for demonstrations and particularly over the last couple of years has been the site of political unrest due to the austerity measures imposed by the government.

Syntagma Square Metro Station

Syntagma Square Metro Station
Teams of archeologists worked alongside the metro engineers for years to build Athens’ first subway and also to undertake the largest archeological excavation in the city’s history. They uncovered tens of thousands of artefacts in the process (from between 30,000 to 50,000). Syntagma Square metro station has one of the largest collections. In ancient times this area lay outside the city walls and so it was a natural location for cemeteries from the 11th century BC. The station exhibits are found behind glass walls and they are both reproductions and original items from graves as well as ancient Greek plumbing. In the lower lobby there is a display of the cross-section of the substrata beneath Athens so you can see clearly the myriad layers of human history at this site, starting with Byzantine times, moving down through Roman, ancient Greek, and finally prehistoric, including the open grave of the ancient necropolis which originally existed here.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
This war memorial is guarded by the presidential guards who are known as Evzones and are members of the elite light infantry and mountain units of the Greek Army. They wear a uniform of short kilts and pom-pom shoes which is based on the clothing worn by the klephts who were the mountain fighters of the Greek War of Independence between 1821 and 1829. A changing of the guard takes place every hour.

Greek Parliament

Greek Parliament
Parliament House is found at the top of Syntagma Square. It was built between 1836 and 1842 as the royal palace for King Otto 1 but in 1909 after a fire the royal residence moved to another building nearby which is now the presidential palace. It has been the home of Greek Parliament since 1929. The main chamber of parliament is found on the ground floor which was once the ballroom of the royal palace. The members of parliament sit in five circular sections and there is a visitor’s gallery in the balcony above. The library is open to the public.
To find out more about the Greek Parliament visit the website at: http://www.hellenicparliament.gre

National Gardens

National Gardens
The National Gardens are found behind the parliament. The gardens which occupy a space of 15.5 hectares are a great place to visit on a hot day with shade offered from the numerous trees found here. You will also find a duck pond, a small zoo, a Botanical museum, a children’s library and playground as well as a cafe. The gardens also enclose some ancient ruins including Corinthian capitals of columns and mosaics. There are also statues of Capodistrias who was the first Governor of Greece and celebrated Greek poets.

Roman Bath Complex

Roman Bath Complex
When there was excavation work being done for the building of the Athens metro these well-preserved ruins of a large Roman Bath complex were uncovered. This complex extends into the National Gardens. It was established in the 3rd century AD near the Ilissos River. After the Herulian raids they were destroyed but were rebuilt in either the 5th or 6th century. This is the best preserved Roman bath-house in Athens.

Zappeio Gardens and Palace

Zappeio Gardens and Palace
This building is found in the National Gardens and is mostly used for both public and private meetings and ceremonies. It was built in the 1870s and was the first building to be erected as part of the building works specifically for the revival of the Olympic Games in the modern world. It was used in the 1896 Summer Olympics as the main fencing hall and in 1906 as the Olympic Village. In the 2004 games it served as the press centre. It has a magnificent courtyard.
To find out more about the Zappeio Gardens and Palace visit the website at: http://www.zappeion.gr/en/index.asp

Church of Sotira Lykodimou

Church of Sotira Lykodimou
This church which is now the Russian Orthodox Cathedral is the largest and one of the most significant buildings from the Middle Ages. The church is named for its first dedication which was to the Transfiguration of the Saviour. It is found on the corner of Filellinin Street and Amalias Avenue. It was built in the 11th century on the site of a former Christian basilica. The church is huge and the facade has the brick decorations of many other churches in Athens from the same era including the kufic patterns (these are decorative patterns imitating old Arabic writing). The church contains an octagonal dome and from the interior this dome is decorated in the Arabic style. During the ottoman rule of Greece the Church of Sotira Lykodimou was the main church of a monastery. It has been damaged on many occasions, from natural disasters, wars and looters and the monastery was also destroyed. It was bought by the Russian Governemnt in 1847 and restored as the parish of the Russian community of Athens and some of the interior Byzantine decorations were replaced by Russian ones.

Jewish Museum
This museum was set up in 1977 to collect, research, exhibit and conserve articles and objects about the 2,300 years of Jewish life in Greece. In the collection you will find over 7,000 original artefacts, photographs, documents and archives. On the ground floor is the interior of a Jewish synagogue that was transferred to here from Patras. The first floor is devoted to Jewish celebrations and the second level shows collections dating from the 3rd century BC to the 19th century. The third level is devoted to the Holocaust and includes uniforms and clothes worn by prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps as well as photographs and documents from this time. The last level has collections about the many religious and domestic artefacts concerning circumcision, marriage and death amongst others.
To find out more about the museum visit the website at: http://www.jewishmuseum.gr

Museum of Greek Childrens’ Art
This is a good museum to drop into if you are travelling with children as there are programmes designed for them which include audio visual material and games and activities for children up to 14 years. Exhibitions in the museum include paintings by children up to 14 years and there is a life-size Athens metro that children can interact with on the ground floor.
To find out more about the museum visit the website at: http://www.childrensartmuseum.gr