During the tour you will experience how Athens –a small town of 10.000 citizens in the early 1830s- transformed into the capital of the new Greek State in 1834. You will visit some landmark buildings that were pivotal to planning a contemporary European capital from scratch after centuries of oriental influence.
Next are the neighbourhoods where the footprint of the Ottoman Empire is still present, to understand how the old city and its traditions mixed – or didn’t– with western European values and ideas.
As the walk continues you will grasp a true sense of orientation in the city and start making sense out of the apparent chaos of modern day Athens and its people. Behind the sometimes disconcerting, great contrasts, you will discover the missing link between the glorious ancient past and the frantic, modern present.
Still, the mythical, ancient city is omnipresent: Sometimes you ‘ll see it and sometimes you won’t, but you will always be feeling it, stepping on ancient streets, crossing its 2.500 years old walls, descending underground to an ancient river that keeps flowing since the early days of the city, and walking along sacred tombs revealed only recently.
The walk starts in Syntagma, and look at the Old Royal Palace as an integral part the city’s re-launch after the devastation of the 1821 War of Independence. It was this building which provided a focal point for the urban planning of the country’s new capital, a design based on the aesthetic ideals of ancient Greece and promoted by its newly-crowned Bavarian king.
From here, you will head to Kolonaki, where the rich and famous of Athens have always settled, making the local square the city’s leading place for seeing and being seen over the last two centuries. Here is where, in addition to pampered pets and flashy sports cars, you’ll spot the latest in fashion and personal devices – after all, this is where the expensive trends begin.
The next stop is Exarchia, a hotbed of rebellious young thinkers. Thanks to the proximity of the local university, this area is where students gather to argue the issues of the day, and where sometimes argument turns to organized protest. But it’s also the home of one the city’s earliest apartment buildings, a wonderful example of Modernist architecture in an area of town that has always been associated with forward-thinking and social experimentation.
On Panepistimiou, the Neoclassical Trilogy of Athens consists of three superb buildings: the University, the Library and the Academy, designed by the Hansen Brothers of Denmark. Built over a period of more than 60 years, these structures reflect the vision of modern Athens as a successor to the glory that was Ancient Athens.
The newly gentrified neighborhood of Psyrri used to be devoted to small businesses, like the hardware stores you can still find here and there, but now they’re all interspersed with trendy eateries and funky little bars. It’s also an area where you can see some of the city’s best street art, or come across a new jewelry designer.
The tour ends at Monastiraki Square, a perfect amalgam of everything Athens has to offer. In addition to the cafés and souvenir shops (yes, this is a tourist spot, but it’s more than that, too) that lead to the entrance of an extensive flea market, this square boasts a 10th-century church that once served a monastery on this site and an 18th-century mosque, built during the Ottoman occupation of Athens. By the end of our tour you will have understood the true soul of Athens and its people, a city of many contrasts standing still as a gateway between the East and the West.