The only people who ever get anyplace interesting are the people who get lostHenry David Thoreau
After the impressive and warm reception of our first article about the secret sights of Athens, the team searched again and identified seven new places in the city, unknown to most visitors and locals. We believe that the result (which came not without adventures, like when we were trying to photograph the interior of Giannarou Mansion or to spot Pan’s relief) will impress you. We present the seven new sights in chronological order.
Pan’s Sanctuary (Ιερό Πανός) : At the junction of Athanassiou Diakou and Ardittou Streets, at the traffic lights from where Vouliagmenis and Kallirois Streets start, in a verdant area and in lower level from the road, is the Church of Agia Fotini (in the location once known as Vatrachonisi). Going down to the church, you will see on your right a sign showing the location of the ancient Sanctuary of Pan, which can not be determined when it was built. It is actually a large rock (which blocks the pavement on Ardittou Street) with two carved sides and a small natural cave at its base. The Sanctuary was first identified and explored in the late 19th century. A shelter was probably supported in the notches of the rock, while excavations inside the small cave showed that it was used for burials. In 1911, according to the related bibliography, archaeologists located on one of its two polished vertical surfaces, a relief representation of Pan, the ancient tramp-footed god of wildlife. Unfortunately, the unmaintained relief exposed to pollution has almost disappeared and it is very hard to distinguish it. So the next time you cross Ardittou Street and wonder why this rock blocks pedestrian crossing at this point, you will know why they do not destroy it. (Junction of Athanassiou Diakou and Ardittou Streets, Mets)
Meton’s Solar Clock (Ηλιοτρόπιο / Ηλιοσκόπιο του Μέτωνα) : Meton was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, geometer and engineer, who lived in Athens in the 5th century BC. According to the testimonies of ancient historians, Meton installed in Pnyx (Πνύκα) the first Heliotropio / Helioscope (solar clock) of Athens, the foundations of which are still visible just behind the podium of Pnyx. Meton determined the dates of the equinoxes and the solstices based on the specific location of the Heliotropio. From this position, the sunrise during the summer solstice is seen from the top of Lycabettus, while six months later, during the winter solstice, the sun rises from the top of Mount Hymettus. The annual apparent movement of the sun on the horizon creates an arc of 60°, the bisector of which is aligned with the rock of Acropolis. In this way, at the equinoxes, the sunrise aligns with Acropolis’ rock. With his calculations, Meton introduced the Attic Calendar in which the summer solstice played an important role to ancient Athenians, because it marked the beginning of the new year. Also, the oldest known astronomical computer in the world the Antikythera Mechanism (ο Μηχανισμός των Αντικυθήρων), constructed in the 2nd century BC, performs calculations based on the Metonic circle. Thousands of visitors come to Pnyx every year but almost none of them knows the importance of this small construction just above the main podium. (Pnyx, Thissio)
Propylon of Hadrian’s Reservoir (Πρόπυλο της Ανδριάνειας Δεξαμενής) : The Hadrian’s Aqueduct (Ανδριάνειο Υδραγωγείο) in Athens was built by the Roman emperor Hadrian and was completed by his successor, Pius Antoninus in the 2nd century AD, aiming at the water supply of the city of Athens from the rainwaters of Mount Parnitha. The aqueduct started from the foot of Parnitha and crossing a large part of Attica ended at Lycabettus, where the Hadrian’s Reservoir was built and is located today at the centre of the neighbourhood of Kolonaki (Κολωνάκι), at the area named Dexameni (Δεξαμενή), which means reservoir in Greek. From there the water was channeled by water bridges to the rest of the city and basically to the Roman quarter of Athens, which included the area that currently occupies the park of Zappeion (Ζάππειο). The Hadrian’s Reservoir had a monumental propylon with Ionic columns which according to the testimonies existed there until 1778. After its complete demolition, the left part of the propylon was incorporated in the lost fountain of Boubounistra (Μπουμπουνίστρα), which was located approximately at the junction of the later Othonos and Amalias Streets. This part of the propylon now survives hidden among heavy vegetation in the National Garden of Athens (Εθνικός Κήπος της Αθήνας) and bears the Latin inscription “IMP CAESAR T AELIVSAVG PIVS COS III RIBPOT II AOVAED VCTVMINNOVISCONS V MMAVIT”, which refers to the foundation of the aqueduct by Hadrian. (National Garden of Athens, Syntagma Square)
The ancient calendar of Little Metropolis (Το αρχαίο ημερολόγιο της Μικρής Μητρόπολης) : Little Metropolis, formally the Church of Agios Eleftherios (Άγιος Ελευθέριος) or Panagia Gorgoepikoos (Παναγία Γοργοεπήκοος), is a Byzantine church located at Mitropoleos Square, next to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens and a well-known landmark of the city. The church is built on top of the ruins of an ancient temple and various dates for its construction have been proposed in the past, from the 9th century (under Empress Irene of Athens) to the 13th century. The church has a typical Byzantine layout, being cross-in-square and its walls are built exclusively of marble spolia. However, the unknown and most impressive element of its exterior decoration is on the facade and above the main entrance. It is a frieze made of Pentelic marble with representations related to the Attic Calendar. Some archaeologists believe it to be a work of the 2nd or the 1st century BC, and that was taken from an unknown ancient building. The sculpture is divided into sections corresponding to the calendar months and each section has the figure of a month and the related zodiac sign. Also, the sections have depictions of the agricultural occupations and the festivals corresponding to each month. It seems that two months of the calendar are missing and were probably destroyed during their relocation. Finally, the Christian crosses carved on the frieze is obvious that were added during the Byzantine period. It is really fascinating that such a secret is hidden in one of the most touristic areas of the city. (Mitropoleos Square 8, Monastiraki) [See also the photo at the top of the page]
Church Tower / Residence (Πύργος / Οικία Τσώρτς) : The Tower, located in the centre of Plaka (Πλάκα) is an 18th-century Ottoman building – the only one surviving of its kind in Athens – that belonged to Sir Richard Church, an Irish general and ardent philhellene. This idiosyncratic house in Athens, which survived the Turkish occupation in Plaka was originally owned by the English historian of the Greek Revolution of 1821, George Finlay. The house gives the impression of a tower with its quirky chimney and small windows, features of its Ottoman origin, and was a peculiar sight in its time, surrounded by the humble houses of the other Athenians. Church Tower was originally a garrison (karakoli in Turkish) – a Turkish police outpost – and was repaired after the Revolution. Sir Richard Church, after the fall of Messolonghi, came to Athens in early 1827 to help in the Greek Revolution. From the Third National Assembly of Troizina he was elected “commander-in-chief and director of the forces of the land forces of Greece” and was sent to Faliro to help Karaiskakis. Upon the arrival of Kapodistrias, Church was appointed leader of Western Greece. After the election of Otto as King of Greece, he was appointed Councilor of the State and after the Revolution of September 3, Senator. Today despite being declared protected by the Greek State, the building looks elongated and is full of graffiti. (Scholiou 5, Plaka)
Giannaros / Giannarou Mansion (Μέγαρο Γιάvvαρου) : The mansion of Giannaros at the corner of Othonos and Filellinon Streets, in the busiest part of the city, is an impressive building even to today’s standards. The seven-storey building of the journalist and publisher of the newspaper “Esperini” was built in 1917. It was the tallest building of its time in Athens and the concern it caused resulted in the issuance of a decree limiting the height of buildings. At the same time, it was one of the first buildings in which the then emerging reinforced concrete was used, together with the Hotel Ilion Pallas (Ξενοδοχείο Ίλιον Παλλάς) at no. 11 of Stadiou Street (no longer a hotel) and the Mansion Ephesiou (Μέγαρο Εφεσίου) at no. 28 of Stadiou Street. It has been described by many as the first Greek “skyscraper”. Nevertheless, the building, although impressive, is quite simple in terms of its external decoration. In photographs of the 1920s and 1930s, the imposing building stood out in a city that until then had low construction and in many areas the poor homes of the refugees of the Asia Minor Catastrophe were the majority. An interesting detail is that in the building the probably oldest surviving elevator in Athens is still operating. (Filellinon 1, Syntagma Square)
The house of the poet Kostis Palamas (Το σπίτι του ποιητή Κωστή Παλαμά) : If you pass by this unknown corner of Plaka and see this beautiful and abandoned house, you may notice the marble sign stating that one of the most important Greek poets, Kostis Palamas (the poet of the Olympic Anthem), died here. The house has two floors and was built in the 1920s. It has the characteristics of a neoclassical urban house of the interwar period with cornices and iron decorations on the balconies. In 1935, Kostis Palamas, at an advanced age, was forced to move, after being evicted from his previous residence at Asklipiou Street, where he had lived for more than forty years (1894 – 1935). Palamas, lived in this house in one of the two apartments on the second floor, sharing the house with other tenants. But apart from the poet’s last residence, this house has another significance for the history of Athens. On the day of his funeral on February 28, 1943, at the height of the Nazi occupation of Athens, thousands of Athenians gathered outside the house on Periandrou Street, flooded the surrounding streets, and accompanied him to his last residence, paying last respects to the great poet. The official authorities, trying to limit the meaning of the popular gathering, were represented at the funeral by the Nazi-controlled Prime Minister, members of the government and representatives of the German and Italian army. Thus, from this house began the greatest anti-Nazi protest of the Athenians, which gave them a historic opportunity to send a strong message of resistance to the occupying forces. Fortunately, the house has been declared a historical monument and there are plans by the State to turn it into a centre of the study of modern Greek literature. (Periandrou 5, Plaka)
All the above sights (and the ones mentioned in our previous article) are an inseparable part of Athens’ history. For the visitors, it is a way to discover Athens and make their visit unique and exceptional. But for the Athenians is a new way to rediscover their city and learn to love it again.
Map of the 14 locations of the secret sights of Athens