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Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Just west, beyond  Monastiraki and Thissio along Ermou Street, is the ancient city wall of Athens and the great Dipylon Gate, once the busiest part of the city.  The road from Pireaus and Eleusis lead here. Next to it is the Sacred Gate, a ceremonial entrance or "Sacred Way" used for the Panathenai and Eleusinian processionals. Between the two gates are the foundations of a building known as the Pompeion where preparations for the processionals were made.

City Wall

Along the area near the Kermeikos is where the potters of ancient Athens had their shops and plied their trade (ceramics= keramikos) .  The area, called Kermeikos, just outside the gates, is where the Street of Tombs was located.  Here wealthy and important families buried their dead marking the way with elaborate statuary.  Many of these still survive making it an interesting place to walk about.

The site, along these important roads that led into the city, was a prestigious one. Among the grave markers are the flat, vertical stele of the Classical period and sarcophagi from later Hellenistic and Roman times. Some of the monuments are memorials to soldiers killed in wars such as the large tomb with a semicircular base as you enter the pathway, a Memorial to Dexileos, a 20-year old who was killed in battle in Corinth in 394 BC.  Adjacent to it is the Monument of Dionysios of Kollytos, a pillar stele supporting a bull carved from Pentelic marble.

I love wandering around the Kerameikos, exploring the many grave monuments and imagining life as it must have been, the bustle of people coming and going on those roads.  One of the roads leads to Plato's Academy. Imagine the philosopher and his followers walking there on their way to the Agora.

There's a museum on the site too and it contains many of the interesting artifacts collected from the area including some beautiful ceramics and burial finds such as children's toys, jewelry and other objects.

The site is open daily April - Sept 8 am - 7.30 pm, Oct - March 8.30 am - 3 pm. The museum opens at 11 am. Admission  2 Euro or it is included in a joint Acropolis ticket.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Just behind the National Gardens in Athens city center, a short walk down Rigilis Street from Vassilisis Sofias Avenue, a newly excavated green space offers visitors a chance to stroll in the footsteps of the Peripatetics, the "walking philosophers" of Aristotle's Lyceum.

I first came across this two years ago when I was visiting Athens, but that day the gates were closed and it wasn't until this past September that I was able to go inside and spend a pleasant hour wandering the pathways where once Aristotle lectured.

The pathway circles this green retreat. In the center area are the excavated gymnasium and other former structure that made up the philosopher's school. A meeting place in a grove of trees, it was named "the Lyceum" after its patron Apollo Lyceus ("Apollo in the form of a wolf") It was actually in existence before Aristotle founded the Peripatetic school there in 334/335 BCA and it continued long after Aristotle fled from Athens in 323 BC . It was eventually  sacked by the Roman general Sulla in 86 BCE.

The remains of the Lyceum were discovered back in 1996.  I was aware of the location somewhere 'behind the National Gardens' and often had wondered if they were actually within the gardens.  So now that mystery is solved.  And today you can find it easily (behind the Byzantine museum) and spend a pleasant quiet time meditating or strolling.

I've visited all the places where Athens' famous philosophers frequented.  In the Agora you can find areas where Socrates was known to hang out and not far away from the Agora is the cave that is said to be "Socrates Prison".  You can also take a bus to Plato's Academy, another interesting quiet place where you can wander and contemplate life.

You can read about my walks with the philosophers here in an article that was published in EuropeUpClose

And next time you're in Athens make sure you take time to visit them.

Friday, February 06, 2015

FROM BYZANTIUM TO WAR HISTORY: Visiting Two of Athens Many Museum

 Courtyard of the Byzantine & Christian Museum

 Votive Boat

Silver Votive Offerings
There's a large choice of museums to visit in Athens, from the spectacular New Acropolis Museum, and older National Archaeological Museum to much small but just as significant museums.  Each time I go to Athens I try to visit a couple of these interesting collections of Greek history.  This time I decided to stop by the Byzantine and Christian Museum on Vassilis Sofias as I hadn't been there in a number of years.  The museums was completely refurbished in 2004 and displays a number of wonderful artifacts, altogether 3000 of them including coins.

The beautiful buildings housing the museum were once the home of the Dutchesse de Plaisance, an eccentric French-Philhellene, widow of a Napoleonic general who helped fund the War of Independence.

The exhibits start with the early days of Christianity and follow through the Byzantine era with displays of everything to ordinary daily life in those times to religious icons, parts of early churches, mosaics of floors and wall frescoes, and a Coptic section displaying clothing as well as other artifacts.

Check the website for more details at
The Museum is closed on Mondays and certain holidays. Full admission is 4 Euro, reduced 2 Euro

The War Museum

In contrast, just down the street is the War Museum, a memorial endowed after the 1967-74 junta.  It's open Tues- Sat from 9 am to 2 pm and it's free. But I didn't go inside, just looked at the outdoor displays of planes and artillery pieces. There are some antiquities inside, not all labelled in English, with the history of warfare from the model of a plane that dropped bombs on Turkish positions in the Balkans in 1912 to a display about Cyprus that sends a firm message to Turkey.

More appealing to me was the newly restored Lyceum of Aristotle that 's just around the corner.
I'll post photos and details about this in my next blog.

Pigeons on a Fence

Thursday, January 29, 2015

THE BATH-HOUSE OF THE WINDS and Other Ottoman and Roman Places to Visit in Plaka

There's a lot more than ancient Greek ruins around Athens.  In the Plaka you'll find remains of the Romans and Ottoman Turks as well as the Classical.  The Romans took control of the city in the second century BC and added some of their own architectural splendor, though it could never match the Greek's.  During his reign from 117 - 138 AD the Emperor Hadrian left his mark in many areas.  Beyond Hadrian's Arch which marked the border of Classical Athens, was the Roman city, including the Roman baths. Although it had been begun centuries earlier, he also put the finishing touches on the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Hadrian built a library in the Plaka area and nearby is the Roman Forum with it's notable Tower of the Winds. Years later, a wealthy Roman senator built the Herodes Atticus theatre in honour of his wife. Today the "Herodian" is a popular theatre for nusic concerts and staging ancient dramas.
Roman Forum

Not just Roman ruins can be found in the Plaka.  There are reminders of the Ottoman occupation of the city from 1456 to 1821. Most of these have been left in ruin or turned into museums to house Greek artifacts.

The Tzistarakis mosque, built in 1759, dominates Monastiraki Square. It is now the Museum of Greek Folk Art: Ceramics Collection. Take time to go inside and see the collection of pottery and other artifacts

Tzistarakis Mosque

The oldest mosque in Athens,  the Fethiye Tzami built in 1458 occupies a corner of the Roman Forum. It is now used to store artifacts found around the site.

Across from the Forum entrance are the remains of the medresse, an Islamic  school. During the Ottoman rule and Greek independence it was used as a prison and notorious for it's harsh conditions. A tree inside the courtyard was used for hangings. The prison was closed in the early 1900's and most of it was torn down.
Turkish Medresse

A place that has always intrigued me, is the Turkish bath house. Finally this time in Athens I was lured inside and spent a pleasant hour wandering the halls and rooms.  It was originally built in the 1450's and has been carefully restored. Roman and Byzantine bath-houses served as models for the Turkish hammams though there were some differences to meet the prescription of the Koran. The baths were used in shifts by men and women until an expansion in the 19th century provided more space for what you see today. Restoration work was completed in 1998. It's called "The Bath-house of the Winds" and is located at Kyrrestou 8, a street that leads to the back of the Roman Forum near the Tower of the Winds. It's open Mon & Wed- Sun 9 am- 2.30 pm. Free.

Bath-house of the Winds

Also nearby, around the corner from the Roman Forum at Dhioyenous 1 - 3 is the Museum of Greek Folk Instruments. It displays every type of instrument played in Greek history all attractively displayed in this old mansion. Open Tues & Thursday-Sun 10 am - 2 pm; Wed. noon - 6 pm. Free. There's also a museum shop where you can buy CDs of traditional Greek music.
Museum of Greek Folk Instruments