Walking through the neighbourhood of Gods
As soon as you start walking around Plaka’s stone-paved, narrow streets, you will have the feeling that you are travelling back in time. This is Athens’ oldest and, thanks to the restoration efforts which went into its buildings in recent years, most picturesque neighbourhood. You will be delighted by the beauty of the neo-classical colours of its houses, their architecture, their lovingly tended little gardens, the elegance, and the total atmosphere of the area. In Plaka, even the air is different; lighter, clearer, scented, like a gift from the gods. When you decide to take a walk around, be sure to bring a map along, because Plaka is a labyrinth and you may get the feeling that you are lost in its maze of narrow streets and alley ways. No need for alarm though. It is easy to orientate yourself: uphill is the Acropolis and downhill are Syntagma and Monastiraki.
What does PLAKA mean?
The origin of the area’s name is not really known thus allowing various theories to have developed concerning it. According to the most recent one, Plaka owes its name to a large stone slab (plaka in Greek) found in the area of the church of Ayios Georgios of Alexandria. near the ancient theatre of Dionysos.
Philomousou Etairias Square
Plaka’s central square was named after the Philomousos Etairia (Friends of the Muses namely the 9 patron goddesses of the Arts) which was founded in 1813. Its aim was to encourage Greek-oriented studies and the preservation of the archaeological treasures of Athens. You will find the square at the crossroads of Kydathenaeon, Farmaki, Olympiou Dios and Anghelou Geronda Streets. The square is full of cafes, restaurants. You will also find many shops selling souvenirs, miniatures and copies of well known works of ancient Greek art, jewellery of traditional Greek design, Komboloya (worry beads).
The Children’s Museum, a child’s paradise. In its attic you can see a reconstructed room complete with old furniture, radio and heater of an old Athenian house. It is appropriately called the “grandmother and grandfather room” and in it children can dress up in period costumes. On the first floor there is a reconstruction of the worksite of the Athenian metro. which is currently being extended all over the city. Here the children get an idea of what the future metro stations are going to look like and can enter a tunnel wearing a workman’s helmet. The Museum also houses a playground and a library. If you have a child, this is a stop you cannot afford to miss.
Just outside the eastern side of the Roman Agora you will come across the octagonal monument, Andronikos Kyristes’ clock. Built during the 1st century BC, housed an hydraulic clock. Each of its eight sides was decorated with representations of the eight winds. That is why the monument was nicknamed Aerides (winds).
The monument of Lysikrates
In ancient Athens the staging of theatrical performances in the theatre of Dionysos was sponsored by wealthy citizens called choregoi. The choregos who sponsored the best performance of the year was presented with a prize by the city. When wealthy Lysikrates won the prize (334 BC) he decided to build a monument to house it where it remains to this day. Its construction by Lysikrates was only the beginning of the monument’s long and eventful story. In 1658 a Capuchin monastery was founded here by French friars of that order and in 1669 the monument was bought by them. It was in this monastery that Lord Byron stayed during his second visit to Greece. It was in its gardens that in 1818 the first tomato plant in Greece grew after Father Francis brought the seeds from abroad. In 1829 a foreign traveller in Greece was granted permission by the friars to take the monument with him but fortunately it proved too heavy. Later, Lord Elgin put his mind to the same task but was again stopped, this time by the monks.
According to the traveller Pausanias, the temple of Olympian Zeus was founded by Deucalion, one of the mythical ancestors of the Greeks. Around 515 BC the Peisistratids one of the dynasties of tyrants (absolute rulers) of ancient Athens endeavoured to replace the old temple with a new, more impressive one. But tyranny was abolished and the construction. The construction of the temple was resumed by the Roman architect Decimus Cossutius employed by Antiochos IV Epiphanes King of Syria. When Antiochos died in 163 BC the temple was once more abandoned without a roof and pediments and it was finally completed by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in AD 131.
Arch of Hadrian
After the construction of the temple of Zeus the Athenians honored Hadrian by building, in AD 131 an arched gateway in the north-west corner of the enclosure of the temple. The arch, built of Pentelic marble (Penteli is one of the mountains surrounding the basin of Athens) , bears two inscriptions. The one on the side facing the Acropolis (west facade) reads:
“This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus”
while the other the side facing the sanctuary an the extension of the city by Hadrian reads:
“This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus”
On Panos Street; it houses an eclectic collection of artefacts and a rare collection of icons.
Greek Folk Art Museum
The rich collections in this Museum cover the period from 1650 to the present. They include textiles, embroideries, costumes, silverware and puppets. Also folk paintings, works by Theofilos Hadjimichael, wood and stone carvings.
Anafiotika is the cluster of small houses built on the slopes of the Acropolis above the Plaka. It’s like being on a Greek Island. It’s named Anafiotika because the original inhabitants were stone masons who came from the island of Anafi to build Athens in the mid 19th century. Just continue up the steps between Kouklis and the Byzantine.