Akadimia Platonos: Where modern Athens embraces its ancient past

Akadimia Platonos (Ακαδημία Πλάτωνος) is an area in the northwestern part of Athens. It owes its name to the hero Akadimos (Ακάδημος), and the school of philosophy, the Academy, founded by Plato (Πλάτωνας). This area was defined by the hill Ippios Kolonos, near today’s Lenorman Street, and by the ancient banks of the river Kifissos.

In the 6th century BC one of the three Gymnasiums (Γυμνάσια) of ancient Athens was founded here and a sacred grove defined by a precinct was created. It hosted many sanctuaries and altars, dedicated to Akadimos, Eros, Zeus, Prometheus and Hephaestus. The place was considered sacred, because according to the legend Theseus had hidden Eleni here. In fact, out of respect for this long tradition and its identification with the Dioscuroi, Eleni’s brothers, the Spartans did not destroy it when they invaded in 413 BC in Attica, during the Peloponnesian War. Around 388 BC Plato founded his famous School of Philosophy in the Gymnasium. In the Academy there were various scientific fields with subjects of study philosophy, mathematics, natural sciences and politics. Its main function was to teach Plato’s philosophical ideas, but it also challenged its scholars to develop a new understanding of the universe. Therefore it is one of the first known schools dedicated to the fundamental discovery of the universe. Plato’s Academy operated for about a thousand years, flourishing especially with the so-called Neoplatonic philosophers, until 529 AD, when by order of Emperor Ioustinianos all the educational centres of Athens were closed forever, thus defining the real end of the ancient world.

Roman buildings near Agios Tryfonas
Roman baths

Today the site is an open archaeological park, where the visitor could walk among ancient monuments and modern recreation areas. As you wander through the park, you can see a children’s party at the same place where the ancient athletes practiced or two elderly gentlemen talking on the stones where the ancient philosophers sat. Young couples, groups of children playing ball, cyclists and modern graffiti coexist with important ancient monuments. All these elements create a unique space of interaction for our ancient heritage with the modern life of the city. An interaction that transcends the boundaries of the park, as the ancient monuments continue in the alleys of the neighbourhood, being an integral part of its daily life.

Palaestra of the Gymnasium
Gymnasium

But let’s take a tour of the park to locate its most important monuments. We start our tour from the modern church of Agios Tryfonas (Άγιος Τρύφωνας) located at the south end of the park. From here, we first encounter some buildings of the Roman era, which are certainly related to the sports and educational functions of the area. Next, we see the ruins of Roman baths, before we find ourselves in the large clearing that used to be the main building of the Gymnasium (Γυμνάσιο). Some parts of the large rectangular courtyard of its Palaestra (Παλαίστρα) are preserved. Palaestra was the place where the students practised in Greek wrestling. According to some modern studies, the northern part of the Palaestra was the building of the library of Plato’s Academy.

Warehouse with the findings of the excavations
Scattered ancient ruins
Iera Oikia

We continue our tour and meet a small modern theatre, a playground and a fenced archaeological site where a settlement of the Geometric era has been found. Right next to it is the warehouse with the findings of the excavations that took place in the area (both places are not visitable). From this point, we cross Drakontos Street and move to the second part of the park, where the most important monument is located under a protective canopy. It is the Iera Oikia (Ιερά Οικία/Holy House) of Geometric times (circa 700 BC), built of unbaked bricks, as well as a second house of the Early Helladic period with arched shape (circa 2500 BC). These two buildings are remnants of the sparse habitation of the area before the Gymnasium was established here.

Scattered ancient ruins
Mural by WD
Digital Museum of Plato’s Academy

Around the Iera Oikia we see scattered other ancient ruins and the impressive mural with the dragons by the artist WD (Wild Drawing). Then we cross Monastiriou Street at its junction with Tilefanous Street and meet the Digital Museum of Plato’s Academy (Ψηφιακό Μουσείο Ακαδημίας Πλάτωνος). This is a digital, educational, interactive and multimedia museum and its aim is on the one hand to highlight the historical and archaeological elements of the Akadimia Platonos and on the other hand to approach the world of Plato’s philosophy and ideas using modern technology (visit the official site for more information and opening hours).

Ancient ruins on the corner of Efklidou Street
Tetragono Peristylio

After the museum we descend Monastiriou Street until its junction with Efklidou Street where other ancient buildings have been discovered in the yard of a house. From this point starts another part of the archaeological park surrounded by the houses of the neighbourhood. In this last section is the partially preserved Tetragono Peristylio (Τετράγωνο Περιστύλιο/Square Peristyle) of the 4th or 3rd century BC, measuring 40x40m. The architectural form and function of this building are not clear, but according to one interpretation this was the real Gymnasium.

Old house on Platonos Street
Old houses on Platonos Street

But our tour should not stop here. It is worth leaving the park and getting lost in the alleys of the neighbourhood and the surrounding area of Kolonos (Κολωνός), where between the modern high-rises, the small houses of Athens, built between 1900 and 1935 with one floor and a small yard, look like living-dead creatures. The facade of these houses had a front door and only two or three windows. They give the impression that their construction respected the sanctity of the surrounding area and for this reason they were humble without unnecessary ornaments. Some of these houses are still inhabited by elders who refuse to leave them, but most of them have fallen into disrepair over time. It is an image of Athens that is fading and worth preserving in every way.

Mouries
Mouries

But, in order to have a complete experience of the area, it is worth doing an extra kilometre (via Monastiriou and Kimonos streets) to be in the hospitable arms of Mouries (Μουριές). This place (Keratisniou 15, Kolonos) was for many years a traditional cafe, which when the owner died, his children (with their mother as a cook) took over and turned it into a tavern. The food here, homemade and delicious, is a journey through time to an era of purity and authenticity. It does not matter what you order because everything is made with the same care. But apart from the food, the place itself has a simplicity and honesty that wins you over from the first moment. Even if it is your first time, the place immediately feels familiar. We only hope that the place does not lose its authenticity over time, because its fame has spread, and Athenians from all corners of the city come for a taste of old Athens.

One last shop before you leave Akadimia Platonos should be the small traditional dairy workshop of Giannis Kontos (Γιάννης Κοντός) right next to the park (Kreontos 9) with perfect authentic sheep yogurt and delicious rice pudding made with fresh milk. It is one of the few old-fashioned dairies left in Athens.

Akadimia Platonos and the surrounding area are exceptional and we believe a still unexplored part of Athens. It is a place where the ancient and the modern city mingle in a unique way. All the periods of Athens’ history have left their distinctive mark in the area, and the shadow of the ancient ancestors falls heavily on the streets of the neighbourhood. You can feel it in the way the modern inhabitants respect and care for the ancient ruins that have become part of their daily life. However, we are sorry to realise that the Greek state does not seem to care for the importance of the area and has neglected its needs. A recent example (October 2021) is the severe floods that hit the area after heavy rains and caused a lot of damage.

Either an Athenian or a visitor, Akadimia Platonos is a place you must visit to understand the true essence of this city and its unbreakable connection with its ancient heritage.



byfoodandtravel