Although we covered a number of lesser-known Athens attractions in our two previous articles (Revealing the secret sights of Athens and Revealing more secret sights of Athens), the diversity of the city never ceases to astound us, and exploring its streets and neighbourhoods is a never-ending adventure. In our most recent piece, we showcase 7 additional new locations in the city that most of us haven’t heard of but are well worth seeing.
Ancient Bridge of Kifisos River (Αρχαία Γέφυρα Ποταμού Κηφισού): In the modern Iera Odos, and specifically in the location of the Elaionas Metro Station, there is an excavation that is of particular interest due to the discovery of three impressive stone pedestals of the arched bridge of the Ancient River Kifisos, probably from the 4th century BC, together with parts of one of its bows. Testimonies about the use of the bridge are preserved in several ancient texts. Specifically, on the bridge during the return of the procession of the Eleusinian Mysteries from Eleusis to Kerameikos, the so-called “bridgings” (gefyrismoi/γεφυρισμοί in Greek) took place.
During the “bridgings”, the Athenians who did not participate in the Mysteries gathered on the bridge of Kifisos and waited for the return of the pilgrims. As soon as they saw them, they began to curse and make obscene gestures at them, mostly out of anger for not participating, and generally did what they could to provoke them. The last of the procession, who were returning on carriages and had now done their duty to the goddess Demeter, answered them with similar insults and gestures. The words spoken by those on the bridge were called “bridgings” while the responses of the participants in the procession on the carriages were called and remain known to this day as “from the carriages” (ex amaxis/ εξ αμάξης in Greek, which means swear at someone) (Elaionas Metro Station, Egaleo)
Agios Ioannis of the Column (Άγιος Ιωάννης της Κολόνας): Crossing the always bustling Evripidou Street among the people, the cars, and the smells of the spices, it is difficult to notice the small church of Agios Ioannis (Saint John) and even more difficult behind the tall trees of its courtyard to notice the ancient column projecting through the roof. But it is one of the most interesting attractions in the centre of Athens. The church is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and celebrates on August 29. The church was built in the 6th century AD, and its sanctuary was formed around an ancient Corinthian column. According to archaeologists, the column belonged to a sanctuary of Asclepius that existed at the site along with a monument dedicated to the ancient Athenian physician Toxari. Toxaris was considered a healer of fever and helped the Athenians during the plague of 430 BC.
In the Christian religion, Saint John, like Asclepius, has healing abilities. This continuation of the cult is also evident in the testimonies of the travellers of the 19th century. According to these testimonies, when the Athenians were sick with malaria, they would stick white and red ribbons to the pillar with wax, which, if untied, meant that the saint would cure them. Saint Judas Thaddeus, the disciple of John, is also honoured in the chapel. Today the chapel is open to the public, and on the day of the saint’s feast, it is filled with believers, mainly elderly residents of the center. Its small, green yard is a small oasis of calm from the noise of the city. (Evripidou Street 70, Athens)
Agioi Pantes at Ampelokipoi (Άγιοι Πάντες Αμπελοκήπων): The small Byzantine church of Agioi Pantes (All Saints) in Ampelokipoi is an architectural gem among the colourless apartment buildings of the area. Its construction dates back to the 11th century, while in the following century the Monastery of the Confessors developed around it. The church was built on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to Aphrodite, whose statue was the work of Alkamenes, a student of Phidias and according to tradition, it was crafted under the supervision of his teacher. In ancient times, the area was called “Gardens” (Kipoi/Κήποι in Greek) and in the area of the temple there was also the holy spring of the goddess. Several architectural members of the ancient temple were found in systematic excavations, carried out from 1922 to 1964.
From the excavations, the most important find is a monolithic altar, preserved to the left of the central entrance of the current church, where the gifts to the goddess were placed during the Arriforia celebration. In this celebration, two girls started from the Parthenon with gifts from Athena and brought them to the fountain of Aphrodite in the Gardens. From there, they took other gifts and returned to the Acropolis. With this symbolic act, they connected the gods of love and wisdom. According to the testimonies of foreign travellers in the 19th century AD, despite the fact that the temple was in a dilapidated state, outdoor Christian ceremonies were held there, where many Athenians gathered. In 1957, the Ministry of Education and Religion decided to restore the temple under the supervision of the distinguished archaeologist Anastasios Orlandos. The temple today functions normally and is a monument of unique historical value for Athens. (Tsocha 39, Ampelokipoi)
Logothetis Mansion and Agios Elissaios (Αρχοντικό Λογοθέτη και Άγιος Ελισσαίος): Very close to Monastiraki Square and opposite the Library of Andrianos is the once-magnificent mansion of the Logothetis family. Nikolaos Logothetis worked in the Ottoman fleet, but when he fell out of favor, he fled to Athens, where he married the daughter of the consul of Great Britain and then became a consul himself. An arch of the mansion gate, a fountain, a stone external staircase, and the chapel of Agios Elissaios (Saint Elissaios) have been preserved from the old mansion. This mansion is important to the history of the city for two reasons. The first is that Elgin had stored the Parthenon sculptures in his yard before transporting them to England.
And the second reason is that the small church of Agios Elissaios, which was demolished during the Occupation and restored in 2005, is directly connected to the great Greek writer Alexandros Papadiamantis. In this small, unpretentious church, Papadiamantis met the holy father Nikolaos Planas in 1887 and participated as a cantor in the vigils he organised for the first time in Athens. He was the right chanter, and the left chanter was his cousin, the writer, academic, journalist, and translator, Alexandros Moraitidis. Zacharias Papantoniou, Pavlos Nirvanas, and other important writers of the time hurried to hear them sing in this little church in a unique and overwhelming atmosphere. The site currently belongs to the Museum of Modern Greek Culture but is not open to the public. (Areos 14, Monastiraki)
Kolettis Residence (Οικία Κωλέττη): This beautiful house is perhaps the most beautiful building in Plaka, but unfortunately, it has succumbed to the wear and tear of time. It is located next to the Ancient Agora of Athens and consists of two floors and a large green courtyard. A clay female statue in a blue alcove dominates its facade. This is the residence of the first prime minister of Greece, Ioannis Kolettis, who settled here in 1834. According to historians, Kolettis was a cunning politician who did not hesitate to use any means to achieve his goals. His house was the processing centre for numerous swindles and is considered the place where nepotism in the Greek political system was born.
However, the Kolettis Residence is also connected to an urban legend of the city. According to this legend, a friend of Kolettis gave him a monkey as a gift, which proved to be very annoying every time the Prime Minister invited people to his house. He would take the guests’ gloves, hats, and walking sticks and hide them. So in the society of Athens at that time, when someone was annoying, they called him “the monkey of Kolettis”. Today, the building belongs to the Ministry of Culture, and the last plans that existed concerned its conversion into a museum for the Greek poet Cavafy. Unfortunately, for the time being, it remains only a sad ruin with a glorious past. (Polygnotou 13, Plaka)
Cell of Papadiamantis (Το Κελί του Παπαδιαμάντη): Alexandros Papadiamantis, the prominent Greek writer, spent a large part of his life in Athens, in the historic church of Agioi Anargyroi (Saint Anargyroi) in the centre of Psirri. Because he was struggling to pay the rent of his house and after an unfortunate incident, he took refuge here in the early 1880s, where the monk Nifon, who came from Skiathos and was his childhood friend, was working. Nifon offered him hospitality in the same room in the church yard where he also slept. The small room is known as the “Cell of Papadiamantis” because it is similar to monastic cells. In this cell, Papadiamantis wrote some of his most important works (such as his most famous work, Fonissa) and at the same time participated as a cantor in the church services.
The room was renovated in 2021 and is now open to the public. In this humble room, thanks to the efforts of the late priest Panagiotis Bekiaris, it has been preserved. The visitor is impressed by the simplicity of the space. A small room and a thatch in the attic were the refuge of this great writer, who lived as a monk in the centre of one of the poorest areas of the city. His heroes are the people he saw around him every day—poor, tortured, vulnerable, failed, and marginalised people. In his Athenian works, as many of his scholars have pointed out, nature and its beauty are absent, for the very simple reason that his Athens, that is, Psyrri and its surroundings, had no trace of nature. (Church of Agioi Anargyri, Psirri / Entrance to the site is free)
Stefanopoli Residence (Οικία Στεφανόπολι): If you walk through the narrow streets above Evangelismos Hospital in Kolonaki, you will come across an impressive abandoned mansion with the words “X.A.N. – Antonio J. Stephanopolous Foundation – Ioannis A. Stephanopolous Donation” (in Greek) written on the door. This was the house of the Stephanopoli family, which played an important role in the fight for women’s rights in Greece. Ioanna Stefanopoli (25.10.1875-27.03.1961), a militant journalist and the first female student at a Greek university, lived in this house. She was the daughter of Antonio Stephanopoli, publisher of the French-language newspaper Messager d’Athenes. Stephanopoli finished girls’ school and, after a struggle, was given permission to finish high school with home lessons as there was no girls’ high school at the time. In September 1890, she was one of the first three women to apply for admission to the University of Athens. The applications of the other two were rejected, but the case of Stephanopoli was referred to the Senate of the University. The Senate, amid strong reactions from many of its members, who considered her entry into the university to be an anointing, finally allowed Stephanopoli to enrol in the Faculty of Philosophy. She eventually only took a few months of lessons and then finished her studies in Paris.
The journalist then became involved in all important political developments through her newspaper. Her top achievement was a series of articles that established the opinion in the international press that the Dodecanese islands are purely Greek. In fact, through her articles, she established the name for the islands “Dodecanese”, which until then were known as “Eastern Sporades”. Today, the house belongs to X.A.N. (YMCA) and, like many others in the city center, it is abandoned and underutilized. (Anapiron Polemou 3, Kolonaki)
All the above attractions, as we have written before, are an integral part of the history of Athens. For visitors, it is a way to discover Athens and make their visit unique and exceptional. But for Athenians it is a new way to rediscover their city.