Traveling Classroom Foundation
Wednesday September 20th 2017

National Gardens

It seems to be a good day for a walk; not too hot and the humidity is tolerable. We have decided to go to Syntagma Square and then explore the shady paths through the National Gardens, south of the Parliament. At the square we make a detour to see the archeological exhibit in the Metro station. This may seem to be a rather strange place for a museum, but it makes perfect sense.

Syntagma Station is a showcase train station for the new rail line, which greatly expands and modernizes the Athens subway system. In the course of tunneling for this new line it was frequently necessary to stop work in order to allow archeologists to inspect artifacts and antiquities uncovered during the excavation. These antiquities have now become part of a wonderful exhibit that commuters can pause to visit. The exhibit catalogs the layers of civilization — from early Greek to later Roman — unearthed by the Metro project.

After spending some time in the cool underground museum, we emerge on Amalias Street in front of the National Parliament (the Vouli). Fortunately, we have arrived just in time for the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier. The honor guards are Evzones, a highly trained elite corps dressed in the traditional mountain costume, with tasselled caps, kilt and leggings.

There are two Evzones standing at attention in the shade of small guard houses (rather like the royal guards at Buckingham Palace in London). Three soldiers dressed in regular army uniforms position themselves in front of the guards and, on our left there were three more Evzones marching along Irodhou Attikou enroute from their barracks. When they arrive at the guard station, the Evzones on duty begin a strange, high-stepping, slow-motion march away from their guard houses. The two new guards also commence a precise ballet of marching steps and rifle handling.

Finally, the new guards move into position in front of the monument and those who have been relieved fall into formation behind the Evzone who brought the replacements. They march off to the cadence of clicking cameras and under the watchful eyes of the three soldiers in regular uniforms (they were sergeants, so I guess they were evaluating the guards).

When the ceremony is completed, we walk to the entrance of the National Gardens. This park, once the private garden of Queen Amalia, is more like a varied forest with occasional duck ponds and shaded picnic areas. In the southern part of the park is the Zappieon, in which the builder combined Doric and Ionic elements to produce a structure that reminds one of a classical temple or a fabulous palace. In fact, this building was constructed to provide conference space for international business meetings. Happily, it is open to the public, so we can wander about in the building and marvel at the brilliant colors used to design the walls and ceiling. Most people don’t realize that the white marble temples and statues we see in photos and in museums were not intended to be white. When they were first built, these buildings and decorations were painted very much like the Zappieon — in bright blues, reds, yellows… After the cool interior of the Zappieon, we find that the sun is very hot now.

We walk through the woods and across to the southern entrance of the park. Here we pause to see the unfinished temple of Zeus Olympeon and Hadrian’s Gate, the eastern entrance to the city during Roman times. By this time it is a bit late to explore further … and we are getting tired. The problem is that we are at the eastern base of the Acropolis and our hotel is on the opposite side. It is impossible to climb over the famous rock, so we decide to hike around the southern perimeter.

The first thing we pass is the famous Theater of Dionysus, where the greatest plays of ancient times were performed for large and appreciative audiences. Farther along, past a stoa and several minor temples, we pass the Odeon of Heroditus Attikus — another famous theater. This one was built in Roman times by a wealthy patron of the arts. It is still used for theatrical and musical productions throughout the year. Finally, trudging down the hill on the far side of the Acropolis, we find ourselves at the Thession temple. By this time we are very wearly and ready for a break. We find a small sidewalk cafe under the trees and order much water and soft drinks, as well as some snacks to rebuild our energy. After resting here for a half hour or more, it should not be much of a walk through Monistiraki to the Hotel Cecil.

Related Tags:
Previous Topic:
Next Topic:

Leave a Comment

More from category

Warrior Monks of Crete
Warrior Monks of Crete

A road trip with friends took us to the south coast of Crete and a monastery famous for much more than religious [Read More]

Windy Island — Day 2: History
Windy Island — Day 2: History

On our second day, we looked forward to exploring towns in the southern part of Karpathos.  All of these are very old, [Read More]

Windy Island — Day 3: Here and Now
Windy Island — Day 3: Here and Now

Shortly after breakfast, we walked up the street to an old stone well to meet our bus.  Pigadia is known for its wells [Read More]

Way Station
Way Station

The ancient Cretans, known as “Minoans” today, created a far-flung shipping and trade network with Europe, Africa [Read More]

Ancient Sailors
Ancient Sailors

Until recently, it was thought that humans began sailing the Mediterranean Sea around 12,000 BCE. But scientists now [Read More]

Symbol of Freedom
Symbol of Freedom

We decide to visit the Arkadi monastery, perhaps the most important shrine of Cretan independence. Our journey takes us [Read More]

Festival
Festival

On the Greek Orthodox calendar, this day marks ‘The Assumption’ – when the devout believe Mary (the mother of [Read More]

Insider

Archives