Athens, Greece Evening Walking Tour - with Captions! [4K|UHD]
Welcome to Athens, we start at the Hellenic parliament, seat of the Greek Government since 1934. It was originally the Royal palace for Greece’s car-crash first King, Otto, upon completion in 1843. The royals moved out in 1909 when it suffered fire damage. The Royal Family was abolished by referendum in 1924, giving parliament a handy new HQ. It looks out over this, Syntagma Square which translates as Constitution Square. Beyond this is Ermou street, Athens’ biggest shopping street It’s named after the constitution Otto was forced to sign in 1844 after an uprising in Athens, making the absolute monarch a constitutional monarch. Otto did not have to enforce it however, and tried to gather as much power as possible This was frowned upon, and Otto was deposed following a wave of discontent on the 10th of October 1862 We will begin this walk by walking down Ermou Street to Monastiraki Square.
Otto was a Bavarian prince chosen as King by Britain, France, and Russia in 1832 aged 17, following the war of independence (1821-29) Other candidates were a French Duke, a Dutch Prince, and an Irish man called Nicholas Cod’d who claimed descent from the last Byzantine Emperor. Nick didn’t get the job, which was offered to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, in 1830, uncle of England’s soon to be Queen Victoria. He turned it down and became king of Belgium instead. In 1832 Otto accepted the crown, and is seen as ineffective today, despite ruling at a difficult time for European monarchs . After the walk I cam back here and bought some corn on the cob. :)
1848 saw uprisings in France, Prussia, Italy, Denmark, Austria, Hungary, Sweden, Poland, Ireland, and others, where protesters demanded democracy. Otto didn’t help himself though, being Catholic with a Lutheran wife when the public was mostly Orthodox, and putting many revolutionary heroes in prison for treason. Also, by trying to balance the interests of the British, Russians, and French who had made him king, he gave them influence over Greek politics Hoping to win land from the Ottoman empire, he allowed troops to fight for Russia, and against Britain and France during the Crimean War (1853-56). Russia lost, and Britain’s blockade of Athens’ port made Otto even more unpopular with the people. Childless, he also had no heir the Greek orthodox church would accept. In 1861 an economics student tried to assassinate the Queen and was openly hailed as a hero.
In 1862 a coup overthrew Otto while he was visiting the Peloponnese region of Greece, and he was taken back to Bavaria on a British warship. He took the fancy royal hats and other regalia with him. He left one important legacy however, moving the Greek capital from Nafplio to Athens. Athens was a village of 4,000 surrounded by idyllic countryside and thought-provoking ruins, now look at it! Much better. Thanks Otto! Having learnt their lesson of bringing in minor foreign aristocrats to rule, the Greek National Assembly replaced Otto with 17-year-old prince William of Denmark.
William took the name George I, and reigned for 50 years before being assassinated in Thessaloniki in 1913. This is the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea- or Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It was built in around 1050AD, and in the 1,000 years since has never hosted such contrasting music as this. :)
It was built over an ancient Greek temple to either Athena or Demeter. Our friend Kingo Otto wanted to demolish it, but his Dad Ludwig I of Bavaria objected and so it was saved. Panagia means Virgin Mary, but the origins of Kapnikarea are a bit murkier It could be from “Kapnikon” a Byzantine tax on hearths as an attempt at a progressive income tax, or because its founder collected the tax It may also be taken from “Kapnismeni” which means smoked in Greek and refers to fire marks on the building. Ultimately though, no-one knows.
The interior was stunningly painted by Kontoglu and his students in 1942, though as we can’t go in, you’ll have to take my word for it. We are now at Monastiraki Square and to the left is the Church of the Pantanassa, built in the 10th century. The church was known as the Great Monastery, and then later as monastiraki ("little monastery"), which eventually became the name of the whole area. Straight ahead is the Monastiraki Metro Station. Use lines 1 and 3 to get here. Ahead is the Tsisdarakis Mosque, built in 1759 by the Ottoman governor of Athens Mustapha Agha Tzistarakis.
More about this square later, this is the first of three flying visits where more facts will collide with your eager brain. For now, we enter the famous flea market, home of the Athenian bargain. One person’s bargain is another person’s tat, and each will be satisfied here by the hundreds of quirky items and tourist trinkets alike.
Rather than a flea market, the area is made up of a large collection of shops. On Sundays, it takes on a more flea market feel. If books are your thing, then there are several in the market, and many books will be in English. There is a great record store here! I used to really enjoy going to music stores to buy CDs and to look for bootleg Nirvana music.
I enjoyed going the music stores here at the flea market and flipping through records and CDs like the good old days. Vintage clothing is also available, as are antiques. Be wary however as if an item seems to good to be genuine, then it’s likely fake. This is ELLYZ café, as consistently pink and flowery inside as out. Their signature are Pink Cakes, which hare highly rated locally. Here on the left was a really cool music stores with lots of CDs, vinyl and cassettes. Now we are going to walk back towards Monastiraki Square along the border of the ancient Athens Agora. The entrance to the Agora is here on the right. I will have a separate video on that coming soon.
This building is the Stoa of Attalos, a reconstruction of the covered meeting space built from 159BC- 138BC. It was rebuilt by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in the mid 1950’s and is now the Museum of the Agora. The train line you just saw was the metro servicing Monastiraki station, poor placement I know. If eating in the area, look out for Souvlaki on the menu, a cheap and well-loved meal. In essence, it’s vertically rotisseried meat like a kebab, in a round pitta with lettuce tomatoes, onions and Tzatziki. Tzatziki is a cucumber-yogurt-garlic sauce and versions of it are served with meals across the former Ottoman Empire.
Souvlaki can be bought cheaply as street food, or for more money in a sit-down restaurant. Souvlaki Kalamaki is similar, but the meat is cooked on a skewer and served without extras. I walked by these cassette tape coin purses earlier and thought they were kind of cool. I just remembered I still have the guy's card in my wallet so I might as well pass on his info. You can find his wallets at www.etsy.com/shop/Cartssette.
Up ahead is the Library of Hadrian, founded in 132AD. We are seeing the west wall, lining which would have been reading rooms and lecture halls. Three churches have been built on the site since. The middle two musicians are playing bouzouki, a six or eight stringed instrument central to Greek Rebetiko music.
Rebetiko songs are the synonymous with Greek music from the late 1800’s to the 1950’s. We are now re-entering Monastiraki square near the Tsisdarakis Mosque. It’s said columns from The Temple of Olympian Zeus across town were used in construction, though nearby Hadrian’s library is more likely. Soon afterwards, an outbreak of the plague hit Athens and when locals found out ancient columns had been used, they were livid. Superstitious beliefs led to the conclusion that this masonry re-cycling and the plague were linked.
The Governor of Athens who ordered construction of the mosque was banished from the city by the Ottoman Sultan to appease locals. This wasn’t enough however, and various stories tell of the governor, Mustapha Agha Tzistarakis, being assassinated or executed. The mosque is now part of the Museum of Greek Folk Art. Given the current pandemic, hopefully the director has protection.
We are now back on the main Ermou street, which runs from parliament 1.5km to Thēseio metro station. This is Pittaki Street in the Psiri district of the city. This was formerly a dusty and dirty street lined with warehouses and small businesses.
Then in 2012, charity Imagine The City decided to revamp it. Locals donated lights and shades, and they were hung across the alleyway. It’s now home to the Little Kook coffee shop, which is fairy tailed themed and changes decorations seasonally. This is Iroon square, in the centre of the Psiri district. The square was built in the 1850’s, though its thought the area has been inhabited on and off since the ancient Greeks We can’t say Socrates came here, but we can say Romantic Poet Lord Byron did. Byron moved to Psiri in 1809 and stayed in Athens until March 1810 during which time the “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” poet had a number of affairs.
He wrote sections of his famous Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812) in Athens, though possibly while in the Plaka district we will see later. Byron visited Athens as part of the Grand Tour, a tour of Europe taken by young European aristocrats. While in Athens he was witness to Lord Elgin’s removal of the Parthenon Marbles, immortalised in his poem, The Curse of Minerva (1811) Elgin took about half of the Parthenon frieze, fifteen metopes, and seventeen pedimental fragments, in addition to a caryatid and a column from the Erechtheion. Here are a few lines from Lord Byron's poem about the incident: “These Cecrops placed, this Pericles adornd, That Adrian reard when drooping Science mournd. What more I owe let Gratitude attest— Know, Alaric and Elgin did the rest. That all may learn from whence the plunderer came, The insulted wall sustains his hated name” Bryon became a hero in Greece by refitting a fleet of warships and joining the War of Independence against the Ottomans.
He raised £20,000 for the war, in part by selling his country house Rochdale Manor in 1824 - £2.24 million or $3.078 million today. The ‘Byron Brigade’ was composed of 230 soldiers but their benefactor died of a badly treated fever before they saw any action on the 19th of April 1824. He was 36. Although his Greek crusade was a failure, he failed to unite factions against the Ottomans and spent vast sums, he remains a hero in Greece. He also left a legacy, through his children on computing. His daughter, the mathematician and writer Ada Lovelace invented computer programming in 1843, which has proved quite useful since. We are now leaving the newly trendy resturant district of Psiri, and heading back towards Ermou street.
If your looking for Psiri, it goes by many names. It is called Psiri, Psirri, Psyri or Psyrri depending on where you look, but don’t worry Google maps recognises them all. Greece has long had relatively high unemployment, hitting a 20-year low of 7.6% in 2008, just in time for the global financial crisis.
Unemployment peaked at 27% in 2013, and was down to 16% by 2020, and then COVID hit. As government debt is so high in Greece, authorities struggle to provide the necessary economic stimulus to get things moving. This means that household incomes are low against the EU average, and the nation is more vulnerable to crisis, and therefore protests. We are now back in the Monastiraki Flea Market As you can see, shops are closing and the chances to procure a bargain souvenir are fast dying, but the evening is young. Haggling is accepted here, but it’s their livelihood so be kind when trying to save yourself €5 on a hat. Remember the economics!
We are headed for our last tour of Monastiraki square, so be sure take it all in. Surrounded by buildings that span 2,000 years, Monastiraki square is one of the oldest in Athens. With the vibrant Psiri district, flea market, and ancient Agora all a short walk away, it’s a must visit, even for a vibe absorbing drink. In the square ahead is a chance to get authentic Greek coffee.
Greek Coffee is a strong brew of coffee with the grounds at the bottom of the cup. I was not a fan. :) The grounds are left in the cup, so the coffee is best drunk slowly over a long chat, or period of relaxation. The coffee is poured into an ibrik, an elegant kind of pot, which heated half buried in hot sand to heat the coffee. Some of you connoisseurs may be thinking it sounds similar to Turkish coffee, Cypriot coffee, Serbian or Bosnian coffee, and you'd be right. The former Ottoman countries share a lot and there only so many ways to make coffee.
We’re back at the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea now, where musical tributes continue. There is no laws or permits around busking in Athens, but natural selection seems to have preserved only the best this evening. We are not yet in the famous Plaka district yet, despite what this hotel may claim, Monastriaki has one last surprise.
I filmed this walk over two different nights because my camera does not do well in low light. Down this road are the atmospheric Plaka stairs, but first we have a cathedral to see. Nothing suites a warm Greek evening like a Chris Isaak song. :) This is the metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, one of the worlds finest Orthodox churches. King Otto laid the foundation stone on Christmas day 1842, and the building completed on the 21st of May 1862 72 churches were demolished for marble so the cathedral could be built, and Otto enjoyed it for five months before being deposed.
It houses the bodies of Saint Philothei and Patriarch Gregory V, a Greek leader of the Orthodox church Gregory was the archbishop of Constantinople for three spells: 1797-98, 1806-08, and 1818-21. Despite condemning the Greek war of independence, the Ottomans blamed him for failing to suppress it. Consequently, straight after conducting the Easter Liturgy he was removed form the church of St. George in Constantinople and hanged in his Patriarchal clothing. Gregory was also made a saint. We are now heading uphill towards the Plaka stairs. Right at the next junction will take you to the 17th century Bathhouse of the Winds, the only intact Ottoman hammam in Athens.
Its now a museum which costs €2 for adults and is free for children. Its closed Tuesdays. If you keep to that road you’ll hit the Roman forum, but we’re off to the Plaka stairs just up ahead. Here we are, the Plaka stairs.
It’s a staired street rising towards the acropolis and lined with cafes and restaurants of every color, a great place to sit and people watch. Beyond the steps is a viewpoint at the foot of the acropolis, I’ll meet you there. This lookout is in the ‘village’ of Anafiotika, built as part of King Otto’s campaign to revamp his new capital. He commissioned Aegean islanders from Anafi as masons, as they were though to be the best builders.
They did a great job, and when some moved in they called it little Anafi--Anafiotika. The village gives a great view of the city and Mount Lycabettus, formed when Athena dropped a mountain meant for the construction of the acropolis. At the top there is a theatre, where everyone from Bob Dylan to The Prodigy have played, a restaurant, and a 19th century chapel of St. George. Every Sunday, evening Epitaph processions are organized by Greek Orthodox churches across the city, some of which pass through Plaka.
It gives the streets extra atmosphere, as priests, choirs, military bands, and regular believers chant hymns as they travel through the streets. We now head back into the restaurant maze of Plaka, from which we’ll walk to the finish point at the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates Lysicrates was a wealthy patron of the arts, and the monument was put up in 335/334BC. It is the first known use of a Corinthian column (column with fancy bits at the top) on the exterior of a building. We will see it in about 10 minutes. New York’s Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument is a giant version of it, as is the Dugald Stewart Monument in Edinburgh Finally, a bronze miniature is given to the winner of the Driehaus Architecture Prize, rewarding outstanding traditional and classical architecture across the world. For now, we head into the shopping area of Plaka.
Unlike Ermou, this is a chain-free zone, full of independent retailers selling less souvanier-ish things than the Flea market. In tourist places like this, you will see ATM’s being advertised- do not use them. They offer poor conversion rates, and charge large fees. Banks such as Monzo, Revolut, Starling, and other offer debit cards you can load with your home currency and use abroad without fees.
These banks are not available in south America, Africa, or Asia (minus Japan), but similar banks are popping up all the time. Brettos is the oldest distillery in Athens, started by Michail Brettos in 1909. This square gives you chance to wash down those Greek wines with some good food from one of the many restaurants. Greek wine is, in general, fruity and similar to merlot, with added spice. Nemea is popular, and the closest wine growing region to Athens. Greece has a number of fine wines, which may be down to extensive practice- wine has been made here for 6,500 years. Ancient Greeks drank wine diluted with three parts water to one part wine, and thought it barbarian to not do so.
Even diluted, three bowls was enough according to the poet Eubulus: “The fourth bowl is ours no longer, but belongs to violence; the fifth to uproar; the sixth to drunken revel…. …the seventh to black eyes; the eighth is the policeman's; the ninth belongs to biliousness… …and the tenth to madness and the hurling of furniture.” He made no comment on ice cream, so eat away. Eubulus gave those words to Dionysus, the god of wine, fertility, festivity, and insanity, so he knew his limits.
Up ahead is an outdoor theater that has temporarily closed due to covid. Dionysus was also the god of orchards and fruit, vegetation, theatre, and religious ecstasy. Busy guy. Around this corner and up the hill is the ancient Lysicrates Monument, copied the world over, and the end of out walk. It’s in a park at the joining of Byron street (on the left) and Shelley street (right), a friend and fellow English romantic poet who never visited Athens.
I hope you enjoyed this walk! Thanks for watching. Please remember to subscribe. I would really appreciate it! Grazie!