officially Plateia Syntagmatos, or Constitution Square, is perhaps the
emotional home of modern Athens. It is dominated by the imposing facade
of the Parliament building, or Vouli, which was built as the new royal
palace following independence, officially opened in 1836. The use of Pentelic
marble on the facade with a Doric-style prolylaia above street level echoes
use and form in the ancient city. In front of the building, the
Memorial of the Unknown Soldier
commemorates all Greeks who have fallen in war. Decorated with a modern
carved relief of a Classical theme, the marble is inscribed with the words
of an oration by Pericles, to honour the dead of the wars of the Peloponnese.
It is said that the tombs of these ancient soldiers lie under this very
spot. The tomb is guarded day and night by the Evzones, traditionally
dressed soldiers who became Royal Guards, and then presidential guards
following the War of Independence. The formal changing of the guard takes
place every Sunday at I0:45am, however the members of the Evzones have
a duty switch every hour during the day, when two new guards take the
place of the old. This is one activity that you shouldn't miss on your
trip to Athens.
The Grande Bretagne Hotel, on a nearby comer of the square, was built in 1842 and has become an Athens institution during its lifetime.
Behind the Parliament building are the verdant land-scaped
grounds of the National Gardens. These gardens were formerly for exclusive
use of the Royal Palace but now form an oasis within the city with formal
gardens, water features and a children's playground. In the south of the
garden you will find the Zappion Hall, an imposing Neo-Classical building
that was designed by architect Hansen, as a National Exhibition Centre
in 1888. It now houses a modem conference centre.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus is dedicated to Zeus, the king of the Greek gods. It was imperative that his temple should be fitting for his position, and its dimensions, 250 m long and 130 m wide, with columns of over 17 m in height, are truly majestic. The temple took 700 years to complete and it was emperor Hadrian who finished the task in the 2nd century AD. Originally 108 columns surrounded an inner sanctum that protected a gold and ivory statue of Zeus. Today only 15 are still standing, but their Corinthian capitals have a wonderful form and elegance. In ancient times, the temple sat close to the banks of the River Ilissos thus creating an even more beautiful vista. Today the river still flows, but its path lies beneath the city.
Nearby, along Vas.Olgas, is the impressive Panathenean
Stadium, sitting in the lea of Ardhitos Hill. The stadium was constructed
for the ancient Panathenaic Games, when each of the surrounding city-states
sent delegations to compete. During Roman times, beast-baiting also took
place here. Dating from the 3rd century BC, the complex was refurbished
for the games of AD 144 but was disused and left to decay after the fall
of the empire. When the modern Olympic Games were convened in 1896, the
stadium was refurbished as the flagship arena, and today it stands as
a symbol of the global athletic movement. Witness the heroic statues that
stand in the entranceway, Athens hosted the Olympic Games in 2004.
Surrounding the lower slopes of Lycabettus on the south and west sides is Kolonaki, perhaps the most fashionable district of central Athens. Apartments and houses here are much sought after as they sit among chic boutiques, designer stores as well as trendy restaurants and bars. It is one of the best parts of the city to eat out in the evening with a range of good international eateries in addition to traditional Greek tavernas.