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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 

Friday, January 23, 2015


In the past years there has been a great deal of gentrifying of old areas around Monastiraki that have now become popular 'hip areas' with Athenians and tourists.  These areas are located near Monastiraki and you can walk there or take the metro.

Old church built on site of ancient shrine

THISSIO is located at the west end side of the Agora and was named after a nearby ancient temple - the Temple of Hephaestion also known as the Thesseion.  It's a charming neighbourhood with neo-classical houses and many street restaurants, some with great views of the Acropolis.  Stop and have a drink of iced frappe at one of the cafes at Thission Square. The central pedestrian zone, Irakleidon St. has lots of cafes and bars  as well as traditional tavernas.

The National Observatory is nearby, the oldest research institution of Greece. The building is located on the Hill of the Nymphs where a sanctuary once stood.

Thissio Park is at the north-west section of the Agora. It was first planted with trees in 1862 and  was once the place where Greeks celebrated Easter.

You should visit the Islamic Museum of Art located in an old neo-classical building in Thission near Keramikos.  It's a change from the usual Classical and ancient displays in Greece but there is a section of the old city wall there and an ancient tomb as well.

 Psiri Square

PSIRI is located north of Monastiraki, just off Athinas Street. It is an older area that has been gentrified with several good reasonably priced hotels, restaurants, wine bars and other attractions such as the Museum of Greek Gastronomy located at 13 Ag. Dimitriou St. It's worth a visit and you can have special meals there to learn more about unique Greek food. 

The Museum of Greek Gastronomy

If you like cheeses, try the Karamanlidika Tou Fani Restaurant where you can sample cheese, cold-cuts and gourmet products with traditional tastes, or Bougatsadiko were you can try delicious authenit 'bougatsa' a pie-like delicacy. The Orea Penteli is a traditional Greek taverna in the heart of Psiri Square, just a l minute walk from Monastiraki.  They serve excellent gyros accompanied by Greek wines. To 21 is a popular hang-out with live music every day.

GAZI where the old Gas Works is located can be reached by foot from Monastiraki or from the Thesseion Metro Station. This is an interesting area to browse around and the Gas Works has been turned into an exhibition centre for art shows and other events. Gazi is now considered one of the trendiest areas of Athens.

exhibition centre 

Gazi has lots of popular eateries and wine bars. I visited Cartone for lunch one day and enjoyed a delicious lunch with my favorite Mythos beer. If you prefer a change and like Asian food, Gazi has a Chinese restaurant, Asian Taste, where you can enjoy Cantonese food while taking in an excellen tview of the Acropolis.

KERAMEIKOS was given its name because back in the ancient days it was where many potters had their shops (kerameikos=ceramics). Today it's most notably know as being the site of the ancient cemetery built just outside of Athen's original city gates.  The site itself is open daily 8 am - 8 pm, admission 2 euro. There is a small museum on the site. It's worth a walk around to see the dozens of monuments erected for the notables of the ancient times as well as portions of the old city wall and gates.

The Kerameikos Ancient Cemetary

Wall of Ancient Athens

Inside the Kerameikos Museum

The bull was a gravemarker for Dionyskos of Kollytos

I toured around these areas a number of times during my recent stay in Athens, mainly because I was doing research for the Athens Guide e-book which I wrote for an American publisher.  It was fun exploring new territory and I'll definitely check out a few more of the restaurants next time I'm in town!

NEXT:  Roman & Ottoman Plaka

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Tourist Office

I'm as familiar with Athens as I am of my own home town, Vancouver, and consider it my 'second home'.  But as I was working on an Athens Guide e-book for an American publisher, the last time I went to visit I had to spend extra time exploring and making note of things that would be useful for a tourist.

Athens can be overwhelming but it isn't that difficult to find your way around, in particular since most tourists are most interested in the old part of the city and the ancient sites, all of which are walking-distance from most hotels if you are located near the Plaka or Syntagma Square areas of the city.

There is a very good tourist office located on Dionissiou Areopagitou pedestrian walk that runs along beside the Acropolis.  The New Acropolis Museum is nearby, across the road.  The entrance to the Theatre of Dionysus is right there and just up the street is the entrance to the Theatre of Herod Atticus (The Herodian) where you can see some outstanding performances during the summer months.
 New Acropolis Museum


Entrance to Herod Atticus Theatre.

The entrance to the Acropolis is through the area of the Theatre of Dionysus and the tickets include this site as well as the Ancient Agora on the other side of the Acropolis.

I used to live on Vironos Street (Byron's Street) that runs right into the Areopagitou.  Across the square where the roads cross are lots of good tavernas (on Makrigiani as well as on the Areopagitou. And this is where you can board one of the cute little tourist trains or perhaps take a ride on a horse and buggy. 
 Vironos Street

Gypsy Boy

I enjoy walking along Areopagitou to the end where it turns down past Filopappou Hill toward the area of town known as Thissio.  This is a popular part of the old city and one I will explore along with the newly gentrified parts of town called Psiri and Gazi.  There's lots to see here, new restaurants as well as places of interest. 

As you walk along Apostolou Pavlou Street, on the right hand side is a part of the Agora that is partially excavated with some interesting things to see as well as a great view of the Acropolis and Parthenon. On the left had side there are also some bits of ancient Athens that are often by-passed by tourists who don't know they exist.

View of Lykebettus from Thision.

Acropolis View 

Church built on site of ancient sanctuary

Entering Thissio there are several outdoor tavernas where you can sit and enjoy a cold frappe and the remarkable view of the Acropolis.  Then you'll come to the road that leads into Monastiraki, passing by the entrance to the Ancient Agora, into the flea market and bazaar.

 Thission Street cafes

Enjoy an iced frappe

 Street painting

Entrance to Monastiraki from Thission

Make your way through the busy shopping crowds to Monastiraki square where you'll see the big old Mosque that is now a museum. During the Ottoman occupation, this was mainly the Turkish part of town.  Some of the best souvlaki shops are in this area and my favorite is Bairaktaris, at the corner of the Plateia Monastiraki.  It's one of the oldest tavernas in the area and the walls are lined with photos of celebrity visitors and wine kegs setting up a real old-world atmosphere.  And the souvlakis are delicious!

 Mmm good gyro on pita!

 Guess who is in this photo? (Joan Rivers!)

Outside Bairaktaris Taverna

If you wend your way up the busy street past the Mosque you'll come to a different part of the Plaka, with several Roman ruins, including the Library of Hadrian and the Roman Agora.
This part of Plaka is one of my favorite places to browse, and if you're an archaeology/history buff like me you'll enjoy it too!  There are also many pleasant tavernas under the trees where you can enjoy a glass of krasi and a delicious Greek meal.

There's so much to explore in Plaka and you need to spend a couple of days here if you really want to enjoy it all.
You can tour around this area on the Fun Train! 

NEXT: Exploring the Roman and Turkish parts of PLAKA.