Walk around famous people!
Socrates, Pericles and Plato are not the only famous Athenians from classic period, but here is a longer list of international and Greek historical celebrities and their relation to Athens.
Ancient Greek philosophers, politicians and generals
Classical Athens was full of important personalities, due to the high educational level of the city and of course its wealth that was concetrated in Athens market- now agora.
Alexander the Great visited Athens, also Diogenes was here teasing Plato in public, before getting to Corinth, where Alexander met him. Also great orators such as Demosthenes and before him Lysias gave birth to law schools, as rhetoric, teaching the ability to convince and later to legislate as well.
Rome had a special relation to Athens, since ancient Greek civilization was much respected, until Roman Cato. Cicero came to Athens, before Sulla, Julius Ceasar and Octavianus Augustus funded construction of Roman Agora that you can visit today. Of course the most important figure for Athenians was Emperor Hadrian.
Athens was a famous place to study, especially for its eastern neighbours, modern Turkey, Phoenicia, Israel, Cyprus, Egypt. When Paul arrived to Athens and gave his speech to Areopagus, he had two fans, Dionysius Areopagites and a lady, Damaris. Two centuries later, Saint Basil of Caesarea and Gregory Nazianzus came to study (probably law and rhetoric) in Athens around 349 AD, with the future emperor Julian the Apostate. Athens remained one of the global knowledge centers since 569 and the closing of all schools.
After some centuries of decline, Athens was honored by the visit of Emperor Constans the Bearded by its inclusion in the Theme of Hellas around 662/3. Moreover Athenian was the Empress Irene with her marriage in 769 to the Byzantine Emperor Leo IV. Emperor Basileios Boulgaroktonos after defeating Bulgarians visited Athens in 1019 and paid a tribute to Panagia Athioniotissa- Parthenon.
Athens was belonging to Hellas theme of the byzantine empire. Michael Choniates was appointed as Athens Bishop in 1182, after his studies in Constantinople, and he also lived during Latin occupation of Constantinople and Greece. After 1204 he left Athens for Kea, where he died in 1222.
Pletho Gemistos, was one of the most notable figures or Rennaissance. He taught in Kaisariani Monastery.
After occupation from Ottomans, the need for schools became really bigger. During the four centuries of occupation, Greeks had no source of education, but their traditions, folk art, religious festivals, songs and dances to keep their Orthodox Greek tradition alive. During that difficult times, wealthy Athenian families invested in education in order to create some income for those who could do nothing to gain their living. One of them was Saint Filothei, from Benizelos family, who established in 1551 a monastery of Saint Andrew as a school for ladies, where the young nuns taught handiwork, weaving, housekeeping and cooking. More women arrived probably after Ottoman occupation of Cyprus in 1571. She establishes a vast support and training network for people in need around Athens, even in modern Filothei area till 1583, when she asks financial aid from Venice, and she received 200 golden coins for it. Filothei was nearly beaten to death by mercenaries in 1588 outside St. Andrew church in Plaka, due to her interventions for women that were in danger. She died in 1589 from her wounds. Her body is kept in Athens Metropolis today.
That was the terror that existed in Ottoman Athens. Only after Independence, Athens had a university again. So in 1614 Aristotelian Theofilos Korydalleas started probably privately only teaching in Athens, after studying in Rome and Padova University. He died in Athens in 1645. In 1672 a member of Mpenizelos family teaches philosophy and rhetoric.
A monk, Grigorios Sotirianos, established a school in 1720.
Another School was founded in 1750 and operated till 1821 by Ioannis Ntekas and teacher another Mpenizelos, Ioannis. In 1758 a new School opened in Moni Pentelis. In 1806, Dionysisos Petrakis became the principal of Ntekas school, who kept the school alive till 1821. In 1813 the School was under the auspice of Filomousos Company. Dionysios Petrakis’ family elected also the first Athens mayor, Dionysios nephew, doctor Anargyros Petrakis. General Makrygiannis claimed Petrakis to be a traitor, since he didn’t let the bells to toll for Revolution of 1843.
A descendant of Anargyros Petrakis is today the Alexander, Crown Prince of Yugoslavia, from his mother, Alexandra of Yogoslavia.
Moreover, during the 19th century foreign diplomats arrived to Athens in order to steal the city’s ancient treasures, such as Lord Elgin, Ambassador Fauvel and more. Some of them also gave incredible portraits and paintings of the city’s past, as well of the areas around Attica.
During Independence War
When Lord Byron arrived to Athens he stayed at Psirri area, later he was hosted in the Cappucini monastery at Lysicratous. Today there are his personal items at Old Parliament Museum, as Kolokotronis and Makrygiannis.
Paparigopoulos’, the first Russian consul in Athens, neoclassical house is at Kydathineon 27, maybe the most beautiful building in the street. Kolettis house is located abandoned at Polygnotou. Odysseas Androutsos was thrown from Acropolis and was guarded at the frankish fort that was demolished from Schliemann later.
After Greek Independence
Foreigners, especially Bavarians arrived in Athens with King Otto. The elements of this period is the neoclassical reconstruction of the city, both around Acropolis and in Athens suburbs, that were built during that period. So wealthy evergetai, architects and professors are the protagonists of this period.
Bavarians arrived to Athens, Otto son of King Ludwig of Bavaria, who (the father) stayed in power till 1848 revolts, and was also the godson of Louis XVI. Ludwig is said to have slept at Kydathineon 27 building at Plaka at his first night in Athens. Otto’s first task as king was to make a detailed archaeological and topographic survey of the city, so he called to Athens Gustav Eduard Schaubert and Stamatios Kleanthis for this task. Otto stayed in reign in Greece since 1862. Schaubert’s house is a museum as well today.
One famous German was Heinrich Scliemann, who discovered Troy, Mycenea and made the Homeric poems revive again. Now his house in a museum in Athens. Schliemann is responsible also for a destroyed monument in Acropolis. Also the famous archeologist Wilhelm Dörpfeld participated in excavations of Athens agora. Many wealthy Greeks as Zappas, Averof and Syggros gave their name to numerous buildings and streets of Athens for their support.
The end of the century also brought the birth of the Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, with the winner Spyros Louis. Athens was a cosmopolitan city again, with Zappeion following the latest European trends of Greek Revival concept.
From the moment somebody lands in Athens, the first name that will hear is “airport Eleftherios Venizelos”. Eleftherios Benizelos (no relation with the historical Athenian family) was one of the most prominent Greek political figures, who despite his mistakes offered a lot, in order to modernize his conservative country. Another politician and athlete, Grigoris Lamprakis, gave his name to Athens Marathon, for his protest walking ALONE from Marathon to Athens Peace Rally on Sunday 21 April 1963. Lamprakis was assassinated a month later, marking one more sad page for Greek history.
More politicians like Antonis Tritsis, who set rules to Plaka area, since few decades ago there were no limits in nightlife, there is also Melina Merkouri, who became the symbol of Greek culture abroad with her movies and her work as a minister of culture. Also poet and diplomat George Seferis, winner of 1963 Nobel prize, lived in Kydathineon.
Architects such as Dimitris Pikionis, who paved the way from Acropolis to Filopappou (1954-1957) , continued the tradition of Cleanthis, Kalkos and Zezos. Modern artists such as Yannis Moralis, Frissiras with the Museum and Theodorakis, still prove that Greek art is here to stay for more centuries….
Also, we shouldn’t forget the visit of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Hans Christian Andersen to Acropolis…
Famous streets and famous Greeks
In Kydathineon street was the house of Seferis, and later Konstantinos Tsatsos, Head of Greek Republic (1975-1980). Also at number 27 it is until today Paparigopoulos House, the place where the first Christmas tree arrived in Athens. Paparigopoulos arrived in Athens in 1843 as the interpreter in Russian consulates and Former Consulate of Russia in Greece. Ludwig, father of Otto was hosted here, as well as the Russian embassy in Athens (Metamorfosi Kottaki was the first Russian Orthodox church in Athens).
One of the many first attendees of the Christmas Eve of 1843 it was General Makryiannis. When Paparigoroulos showed him the Christmas tree, Makriyannis moved his head and said “ its nice, but I don’t let my trees to grow inside the room! Only my weapons!!
In 5 Periandrou street, at an abandoned house today, Greek poet Kostis Palamas lived and died.
Tripodon is another famous street. In number 3 you meet the house of a great Samian, family, Logothetis, while in 32 is the house of the Ottoman judge. The last one Hacı Halil Efendi Shaykh al-Islām or Grand Mouftis protected Athenian men when the War took place and he was considered responsible and was killed.
In the yard of Metamorfosi Sotiros in Kydathineon, dead body of Odysseas Androutsos was buried after his murder from Kolettis, nowadays he is buried in Athens Cemetery. Also the family house of Agia (Saint) Filothei is in the house of the last Ottoman mayor of Athens, Andrianou 96.
Also Kolettis neoclassical house is located at Polygnotoy street. Nobody has to wonder now why Plaka streets are so famous. Ruins of Proclus house, neoclassicism and most of all, cosmopolitansm are everywhere at Plaka.
Famous foreigners in Plaka
Lord Byron stayed at the Capucini monastery at Lysicratous square. George Finley’s house is also in Plaka Kekropos 8 and Thycididou, who accompanied Lord Byron also lived here in Plaka.
Classic Athens Revival concept
Athens, a dream among wonderful ruins, as described in a phrase by the French landscape painter, sculptor, architect, and archaeologist Louis-François Cassas. Athens at that time was a city that survived raids and invasions since Persian Wars, but its last century’s threat was the sack of its archaeological treasures, especially during the Ottoman period. When westerners firstly visited Ottoman occupied Athens, Romanticism came down to Philhellenism, following neoclassicism, ancient Greek Revival, and absolute trade of antiquities. Their Athens neoclassical route was simple: Thisseio, Tower of the Winds, Pnyx, Ancient Agora, and definitely Acropolis, until the modern neoclassical building will appear in the Attic land.
One of the most famous Philhellenes, Lord Byron (whose statue is at Zappeion today) wrote a poem about the destruction of the Parthenon from Elgin, named the Curse of Minerva, a fantastic dialogue between him and goddess Athena. The business of Greek antiquities was the other side of the coin of the Greek Revival in architecture, and it was a global network. In order to successfully trade Greek antiquities, new companies were created, one in Italy in 1807, by Charles Robert Cockerell, an English architect, smuggler, and writer, who arrived in Athens the same year as Lord Byron did, 1811. In order to excavate Greece and send antiquities to the European market, involving English, French, Germans, Austrians, and more. Their goal was basically Aegina, Olympia, and Figalia. Their initial base was in Athens, at the home of Louis François Sébastien Fauvel who was selling items but also guiding people around and providing information.
The famous painting of Fauvel’s house from Kirristou street house showings antiquities shows the dark side of the Grand Tour. Consequently, Greek Antiquities were finally protected in 1827 by law and the Athens National Archaeological Museum opened its gates in 1866.
Dupré visited Greece in 1819, which had still been part of the Ottoman Empire, and recorded his time there with drawings and descriptions of the people from the different levels of society. Therefore, his personal travel diary, named Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, was produced a few years later after his travels, in 1825. It was released in France after Greece had begun to rebel against the Ottoman Empire. His travel book consists of forty illustrations and is accompanied by fifty-two pages of text.
Street art at Plaka streets
Everybody wants to visit Plaka for walking around ancient or modern art in its streets. Modern travelers are tourists are accustomed with the idea of “tour”. Being somewhere, even at a bus- train- airplane- ship and have a person responsible for you, taking care of you, showing you some sightseeing and guide you with stops to museums or other POI’s. A day around the area in definitely not like that.
Walking around the area, you can discover classic history, medieval, ottoman, or modern.
Plaka offers a free lesson of art and history, just by walking around its narrow streets, neoclassical buildings, ancient ruins, amazing museums, churches, festivals, local taverns, sunny cafes. Plaka is like nowhere in the terms of a learning experience, IF someone is aware of Athens history, even the modern one. Plaka consists of a live museum, open 24/7, and offering services that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, not only Mediterranean.
The basic streets – routes that offer these options are of course Kydathineon and Andrianou, that are the hear of Plaka culture. Art Galleries, classic Athens, hills, marble, colors, ruins give you the essence of walking through history. Athens, even without Acropolis (that could be blasphemy) is art by itself.
Here are some suggested art walks, from our perspective.
- Classic Plaka. Use the Classic Athens page and select the points you would like to walk.
- Neoclassical Plaka. There are some building so unique that you should explore them one by one. Here is the relative list.
- Orthodox Plaka. A travel 1000 years back to 11th century temples, here is the list.
- Greco- Roman. Apart from Classic, you have to enter Roman Agora, and then move to Areopagus hill and later continue to Keramikos site, close to Thisseio.
- Ottoman walk. Starting from Monastiraki, move to Fetiye mosque, and later to abandonded Medreses.