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Every neighborhood in Athens has a story of its own. But some have bigger stories than others – like the one behind the neighborhood that has stood under the shadow of the Acropolis for hundreds of years: Plaka.
The Alikokkos district, as it was known prior to the reign of King Otto – the first king of the modern Greek state – reportedly took its current name of Plaka thanks to a marble slab, known in Greek as a “plaka,” which was placed at a certain point on Thespidos Street. This particular characteristic, in conjunction with the relative directness and easy pronunciation of the name “Plaka” compared to the term Alikokkos, naturally led to an affinity for the former.

Fleat market Monastiraki

Fleat market Monastiraki

For history buffs and people of culture, Plaka and its surrounding area is a small paradise of living memories, inspiring visitors to reflect on Greek history and ask themselves “how we made it here.” Ancient temples and agoras, Byzantine churches, and Turkish mosques, characteristic examples of 18th and 19th century homes, together with masterfully restored neoclassical buildings evidence the thread that links the present to the past. Plaka and Monastiraki are undoubtedly the alpha and omega of the Athenian dream. Together with Dionysiou Areopagitou Street – a pedestrian street today, but at one time the Acropolis’ “peripheral road” – the narrow streets of Philopappou Hill make up the most beautiful part of the city, and are perhaps the best reason for someone to fall in love with Athens. It is so “quintessentially Athenian” to bargain for a wooden oval mirror inside the old furniture stores at Avissinias Square, and then happily head over to “Dioskouroi” and wait for the sunset to fall over the Roman Agora. Like it or not, by the time you finish your first ouzo you will probably begin humming tunes by Manos Hadjidakis.

A Taste of Athens’ Hidden Charm
Sure, the tourists and shop owners who have flooded the historic center of Athens – sometimes displaying a questionable sense of aesthetics – may repel some Athenians. It’s their loss, however… because next to the mini Tsolias doll and the kitschy tourist gifts, there lies another grander version of Athens, which is the complete opposite of the Athens that you and I both know: a capital full of architectural monstrosities conveyed with valuable consideration that make up the city’s 1970’s-era uninspired gray buildings. On the other hand, this other Athens has exquisite architectural taste, a vibrant personality, history that leaves even the biggest would-be detractors speechless, color, and a priceless culture that is not for sale at shopping centers or for trade at financial firms. And best of all: it is openhandedly made available to the entire world – Greeks and foreigners alike – for the price of a metro ticket. Get off at the Acropolis or Monastiraki stations and your tour of history will begin…

feature_PlakaSummer is the Season to See Plaka
Strangely enough, although Plaka is located right in the heart of the city center, aside from being infinitely charming, this neighborhood has as much a summer feel to it as the main town of some island in the Cyclades. Who ever imagines themselves wearing a coat in Plaka? Nobody.
It may not be located by the sea, but its atmosphere is a lot more beachlike than many other places right by the waterfront. Take the Anafiotika settlement, for example…

Without exaggeration, its whitewashed walls, bougainvillea and basil plants make you feel more “at sea” than all the shops located on seaside Posidonos Avenue combined. No one knows how this is accomplished, but it is. Summer becomes Plaka very much so. Its images and carefree spirit fill the neighborhood’s narrow streets, its tavernas, and its shops. Savor a meal of “gemista” (stuffed vegetables) at Aeridon Square and you’ll think that your vacation has already begun. And in fact, it has… For what else could this place represent if not a sudden and complete break with what we know today as “modern-day life” and everyday existence in Athens? Its lazy gait, the sweet scent of jasmine, endless dawdling at shops selling wraparound skirts and breeches, or the sleeping bag that you’ve been meaning to buy for the past two years but have never had a chance… Of course, you have not had an opportunity to go camping of late – after all, the years are going by, (sigh) – but a sleeping bag is always useful. Maybe for the kids…

A Look at Its History
There are monuments here that we have all heard of, but in the end, it’s a rarity that we know much else about them, except for the fact that “they are old.” Saint Catherine’s: is one of the best known and most beloved churches in Plaka. It is located in the square that bears its name, and dates back to the end of the 11th century A.D. It was originally dedicated to St. Theodore but was renamed in 1767, when it became a dependency of the St. Catherine’s Monastery in Mount Sinai. Aerides: is a square that is one of the most beautiful spots in Plaka. It was created when archaeologists uncovered the famous Roman Agora. Its name is derived from the monument located east of the Agora, known as the Tower of the Winds, from the reliefs featuring depictions of the eight wind deities that decorate its frieze. This monument dates back to about 35 B.C., but served as a monastery for dervishes since 1750.

monastiraki square

monastiraki square

The Roman Agora: was built during the rule of Octavian Augustus, when the city’s commercial sector was moved further to the east of the Ancient Agora, which was located near the end of modern-day Aiolou Street. Manos Hadjidakis put on famous concerts in the area that is still preserved today, and named two of his albums after the agora. Transfiguration of Christ: a church built between the 11th-12th century A.D. featuring a characteristically high dome, is located on Theorias Street on the foothills of the Acropolis. It is said that Greek revolutionary war hero Odysseas Androutsos is buried somewhere near the church. He was imprisoned in the Acropolis during the War of Independence, when the second civil war broke out. His body was discovered on the rocks of the Acropolis in 1825. St. Nicholas Rangavas: is another 11th century church, located between Pritaneiou  and Epicharmou Streets. Aside from its archaeological value, this church has historically been linked with great moments in the nation’s struggle for independence, since its bell tower was the first to ring in the joyous tidings of freedom in 1821 and 1944. Hadrian’s Arch: is the signature monument in modern Athens. This world famous gateway dates back to 131 B.C. It is a triumphal arch made out of Pentelic marble, which the people of Athens built in honor of Emperor Hadrian. The Temple Of Olympian Zeus: was once a monumental temple with 104 columns (where the gold and ivory Statue of Zeus was housed), whose construction began in 515 B.C. and ended in 132 A.D. Today, 16 world renowned columns are all that remain. The Athenians refer to the temple as “the columns,” but nothing could be further from the truth…

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