Athens: antiquity at your fingertips

Little streets

To land in Athens airport during the morning (after a destroying sleepless night at Rome-Ciampino airport), allows not to waste a day travelling. The best way to reach the city center is bus X95, which for the fix price of 5€ brings you till the very central Syntagma square, where the Greek parliament stands. Here it is possible to admire regularly the changing of the guard, surely much more curious of the ones you can see in other capital cities, for the traditinal – and quiet funny – uniforms. Every area of the center is a particular reality in itself.

L'antica cattedrale di Atene
Ancient cathedral of Athens
Acropoli vista dall'Agorà romana
Acropolis seen from roman agora

PLAKA. The central, turistic area that every city of art must offer to its visitors. We visit it on the first day, discovering the flavour of our first souvlaki for lunch and of fried donuts of a peddler for afternoon-snack. You can lose yourself in the little streets without getting bored: while from a corner an old little orthodox church appears, from an other one columns of ancient ruins come out. Here we found the ancient cathedral (small and fascinating) and the new one, big but less attractive. You can go around the ancient agora and the roman agora, imagining between the ruins Socrates who walks philosophizing with his followers. Just look up from the souvenir shops to be dazzled by the charm of Acropolis, which overhang the center from the top of the hill.

Tempio di Atena Nike
Temple of Athena Nike
Aggiustando il Partenone
Repairing Parthenon
La storia dell'arte a portata di mano
Art history at your fingertips
Fotografarsi con la storia
Taking a picture with the history
Dove vorresti vedere un'opera
Where you’ll like to watch an opera

ACROPOLIS. The hill which is the hub of Greek capital city it has always been a reference for the people. Place dedicated to Gods, and in particular to Athena, protector of the city and its inhabitants, even after 3000 years maintains its charm and greatness. On you can enter for free (so, if you go there during the winter as we did, when there are few turists, it is surely the best day to visit it). The simple act to climb the hill between the ruins of the two theatres gives a hint on why it has been choseen exactly this one as spiritual place. And you completely understand it when, reached the top, you find yourself in front of the stateliness of Propylaea (the imposing entrance to the temple area). Here, the little temple of Athena Nike, in its minuteness and elegance is surely one of the most beautiful examples (between the conserved ones) of this architecture. Even if Parthenon is invaded by cranes and scaffolding, just the idea of its totality leaves you breathless: it enchants that a so huge thing can be at the same time so harmonious. Erechtheion, with its loggia of the Caryatids, makes remind in a nice way what you learned on art history books, helping you to discover the beauty in its most archaic forms. The same thing happens out of the complex, in the very new and complete museum of Acropolis, which preserves every fragment of the ancient complex.

MONASTIRAKI. The most characteristic area. The big peatonal street which from Acropolis goes down along the fence of ancient Agora, next to the temple of Hephaestus (the only totally preserved one), when we walk on it on Sunday is full of th most curious stands. There are those who paint by hand t-shirts and those who creates jewelr using every kind of material, but beween the local artisans and the cooked mais sellers, we are impressed by Juliàn e Lorena: a couple who from 12 years are travelling with their motorcycle and their dog around the world, and they’re now showing te pictures of their infinite steps. We feel similar to them for the desire to explore and to know, even if to reach the level of the Argentine friends of Por Siempre La Moto, we still have to make a lot of street. In the circular Monastiraki square we found ourselves immersed among street artists who gives music and dance to the sunny day.

Viaggiatori veri
Real travelers

All around the hawkers sell even in january fresh coconut, but also nuts and a strange hot beverage. The streets branching from the square are all different and particular. There is the one with souvenir shops, the one with the floor of a thousand colors, the one which hosts the street market: with shops of fashionable shoes, you find traditional clothes, objects worked in wood and ceramics, every kind of frippery and even a grumpy old man who insults you if you don’t buy any of his Drachmas, that maybe you’d simply like to admire, thinking about how had to be to visit this Country before Euro.

PSIRI. Restaurants, bars, every kind of places: it is the district of nightlife. Coming back from our trip to Cape Sounion, trying to park the rental car on Saturday night, we find ourselves between the streets of this area. Never do it! So much are the people  on the street that it’s difficult to walk, imagine to drive! Cars parked on the sidewalk, people walking everywhre: we lose one hour to exit from this chaos. On Sunday evening, we discover it again for dinner. We found on our guide a tavern in this district which seems very nice: we don’t find it but we encounter something better. We end into Aischylou Grill House. The ceiling seems the living room of a medieval castle: big wooden beams claim huge circular wooden chandeliers. Along a wall there is a very long grill where they’re cooking every kind of meat. The waiter speaks a little bit of Italian, he’s very gentle and smiling he gives us some advice, while some musicians are playing Sirtaki. While we’re eating (15€ apiece for an entrance of fried vegetables, a really good moussaka and a huge mixed grill) somebody starts to dance and, after offering us the sweet, the waiter invite us to join them in the Greek dance. Young and old people (including an almost a century years old lady, who moves on the rhythm with her stick) we move in a circle on the rhythm of the music, and we end up even outside, making a show on the street between laughter of us and of the others. Back at the table, after some small talk with the Greek guests of the next table, who remembe to us: Stessa faccia stessa razza: Italiani e Greci uguali (same face, same race: Italians and Greek equals), we pay and we go to the exit. The waiter doesn’t agree: making us laughing he makes us return to sit and he offers to us a second sweet and a anice liqueur. Greek welcome, for our short but intense experience, will remain in our heart.

Andrea Cuminatto

pictures of Eleonora Burroni

Leggi questo articolo in italiano: Atene: l’antichità a portata di mano



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