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Thursday, September 09, 2010


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Syntagma Square is Athens' central square. Its name means "Constitution Square" which is derived from an uprising on Sept 3, 1842 when the people demanded that King Otto, the first king of Greece, grant a Constitution.  This area, in front of what was the Royal Palace (now the Parliament) is well known today as the gathering place for protests and, unfortunately in recent times. riots.  Around the area are fashionable cafes and restaurants as well as some of Athens' most outstanding New Classical Buildings.

The Parliament Building dominates the square. It was constructed from 1836-42.  The kings used to reside here until a fire destroyed the building.  In 1924/23, the building was reconstructed and used as the Parliament.  Out in front is the Monument of the Unknown Soldier bearing an inscription with excerpts from Pericles' Epitaph.  It is  here that the select troop of the Evzones, wearing traditional uniforms, stand guard.  The changing of the guard ceremony takes place every hour and on Sunday mornings, it is accompanied by a military band and a large regiment of Evzones.
Across the Square is the Grand Bretagne Hotel, built in 1842 which was original built as a private residence.  It has been used for notables and celebrities visiting Athens and is now a luxury hotel.

Stairway and Courtyard of the Schlieman House

I took a stroll down one of the main roads leading from Syntagma to take photos of some of the neo-classical buildings.  Panepistemeion Ave. a  busy road linking Syntagma to Omonia Square.  Along here are some of Athens' unique landmarks including the Catholic Church of Agio Dioysios (1853-1865) and the former home of Heinrich Schlieman, the German archaeologist and philhelene who excavated Troy.  It now houses the Numismatic Museum.

"The Three Temples of Learning" (The Athenian Trilogy) are on are this street.  These are beautiful buildings that are prime examples of the Greek architectural style.  The Athens Academy is decorated with painted freizes.  Two high columns on either side support statues of Apollo and Athena.  t the front steps leading up to the building sit Plato and Socrates.

Athens Academy

The University building (1839-64) has a circular stairway and fountain court.  Next to it, the National Library is the largest in the country.  On the facade is a six columned portico in Doric style.  These buildings were designed by the Hansen brothers, two Danish architects who lived in Greece.

From Syntagma Square if you walk up Vassilis Sophia Ave. you will see exquisite buildings that house various embassies.  These neo-classical mansions were formerly owned by wealthy families.  There is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the French and Arab Embassies and others.  The Italian Embassy building was once the residence of Prince Nicholas before the royal family was expelled in 1917.  One of the most impressive of these buildings is the Beanaki Museum, one of the leading museums in Athens.  It displays more than 45,000 exhibits that belong to Ant. Benakis and other donors.

Across from the embassies you can enter the National gardens, an oasis in the centre of he city covering an area of 160,000 m.  Over 500 varieties of different plants, trees and bushes from around the world grow there.  It was formerly the palace garden but is now open dawn-dusk for the enjoyment of the Athenians.

The Zappeion

I love walking through the gardens and this day I walked right through to the Zappeion, an attractive building also designed by a Hansen brother (1874-1888). It's now used as an exhibit and conference hall.  Across from the Zappeion on Vassilios Olgas, you'll see the Olympic sized swimming pool, and tennis courts used for the first modern Olympics as well as he nearby Panathinaiko Stadium where the first modern Olympic Games were held.

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