Since opening in 2009, the gleaming glass of the new Acropolis Museum and the soul-stirring presentation of its priceless contents has been a welcome source of pride for the natives of Athens, a city with one hell of a Hellenic heritage.
We know all about the myriad achievements of ancient Greece, but now it’s the modern-day triumphs that deserve time in the spotlight.
Young, positive artists and creatives – who decided to fight rather than flee – have joined forces, sticking to their passions and breathing new life into the city centre.
The side effects of a less-than-healthy economy have been a fresh love for vintage fashion, the proliferation of low-key but sophisticated wine bars, an uplifting camaraderie, which pervades the city’s edgy new hangouts, and, now that cars are too expensive for many to run, traffic-free streets and cleaner city air.
An intrepid generation of Greek talent is getting the party started again – without bragging about it.
A resident of Athens during the pre-2004 Summer Olympics boom, I enjoyed a spell reviewing restaurants and hotels across this boisterous city.
Everywhere was being gilded or gutted, and the urban sprawl was reconfigured with a fancy new infrastructure.
A colourful nightlife scene spilled into new neighbourhoods such as gritty Psirri and out-of-town gasworks site Gazi, and the air crackled with optimism and ouzo-fuelled hedonism.
Happily distracted by the many macho big-player businessmen popping open the champagne, revellers blithely ignored the mutterings of older hard-working folks worried that their taxes wouldn’t cover all this activity.
A decade on, many bubbles have burst and a lot of the economy’s cash has long since been secreted away to Swiss bank accounts.
Still, I’ll dare to declare that as a result, Athens is giving Berlin a run for its money. Not in terms of financial clout, but certainly for its creativity and contemporary cool. (When the Greek capital’s debts reached nadir and social tensions were spiking, pressure fell on its fellow EU members to bail them out and some joked that Greece should be renamed Southern Germany.)
The resulting doom-and-gloom news reports were misleading: when you’re in the blue-skied city as a visitor it couldn’t feel sunnier – figuratively and meteorologically.
Truth is, the economy’s collapse had a dazzling silver lining, and the city previously considered merely a stop-off for island-hoppers on the way to the Aegean is now a dynamic destination in its own right.
Syntagma Square still has its pom-pom-shoed changing of the guard display at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the hour, every hour. And the Hotel Grand Bretagne looks more elegant than ever, presiding over the north-east corner of Constitution Square.
But now the five-star grand dame has been joined by Starwood’s Luxury Collection with its next-door neighbour, the spruced-up and utterly chic King George.
A few years ago, Athenians would have gasped at travellers being signposted to the seedy lanes just off this main square but now, instead of being lured to the kitsch of Pláka or the glitz of Kolonaki, style-seeking visitors are discovering New Hotel, which won TripAdvisor’s top accolade for 2014, and just south of Syntagma Square, the buzzing bars and hip boutiques of Monastiraki, all of which come blogger endorsed.
When the music-and-cocktail hotspot Six D.O.G.S. opened in Monastiraki in 2009 it marked a new era for the Athens landscape. Now this ’hood is a hipsters’ paradise where new outlets seem to pop up weekly.
Thank Zeus for Daily Secret, an online newsletter set up to alert readers to all the hot new rendezvous in a witty and wise email that leads you to a great-looking website, which might just have you as excited about a trip to Athens as you would be about one to NYC. It was a simple idea, a daily email designed to remind Athenians what they love about their city.
In fact, new local Andria Mitsakos is a designer and publicist who traded Tribeca for an apartment with a view of the Parthenon.
“From Manhattan to Miami to Milan, quite simply Athens doesn’t compare to another city. NYC has its competitive buzz that fuels ambition, which I respect and need, but Athens takes me down a notch.
When you say you’re going for coffee here, it’s because you can dedicate two hours to the person you’re going to see. It’s just more human.”
As the designer behind accessories label Dea Rosa, Mitsakos feels the city offers never-ending inspiration.
“Living in Athens, you can’t escape the ancient energy that haunts you here.”
Athens has the energy of a city in a constant flux of metamorphosis. It goes beyond the folklore stereotypes delivered through Greek tourism and it awakens visitors’ emotions and rewards the sophisticated traveller seeking to study urban transformation.
I’ve never felt more optimistic about the city that gave birth to the fundamental concepts of our civilisation and about its ability to keep inspiring its citizens.
“What is a hipster?” The question has been posed and answered time and time again, but as an N+1 symposium on the topic averred, “All descriptions of hipsters are doomed to disappoint.” Even so, everyone has the image of a hipster in their head: large sunglasses, stylized haircuts, old-timey barbs, skinny jeans, pastel shirts. Sure, that’s reductive and it doesn’t necessarily encompass the entire demographic, but you know you know someone (or several people) who fit the bill.
So does photographer Léo Caillard. He photographed hip Parisians in trendy garb, and mapped their clothes onto nude Hellenic sculptures taken from the Louvre. The result? “Hipsters in stone.”
The series of doctored photographs imagines the ancient Greeks as they might appear in an Urban Outfitters catalog. Caillard drapes the marble persons in fitted flannel shirts, slim slacks, and denim. He frames their finely wrought mugs with pairs of Ray-Bans that accentuate their apathetic gaze. The full beards and wispy mustaches complete the look.
Caillard, whose portfolio consists of digitized portraits, says he thought of the idea during his bimonthly walks through the Louvre. “I was looking at all the Greek sculptures and thinking it would be quite fun and interesting to dress them,” he tells Co.Design. He wondered what clothing would add to the figures, and how contemporary fashion could alter their dispositions.
The sculptures were shot in-situ at the museum, before Caillard set out on a casting call around Paris looking for models who matched the proportions and physique of the artworks. The live models were then photographed in Caillard’s studio wearing typical hipster costumes. Using Photoshop, he transposed the clothes onto the statues, adjusting for lighting and shadow. The digital wizardry makes the sculptures pop like they never have before.
As for his own definition of what the hipster is or “means,” Caillard is vague. He says that the concept of the hipster is “the complete opposite of an iconic Greek statue from the past,” but stops short of explaining how. (Admittedly, the differences should be apparent.) For him, “it’s the mix of the two concepts, very far from each other, that I find pretty interesting.”
A cup believed to have been used by Classical Greek statesman Pericles has been found in a pauper’s grave in north Athens, according to local reports Wednesday.
The ceramic wine cup, smashed in 12 pieces, was found during building construction in the northern Athens suburb of Kifissia, Ta Nea daily said.
After piecing it together, archaeologists were astounded to find the name “Pericles” scratched under one of its handles, alongside the names of five other men, in apparent order of seniority.
Experts are “99 per cent” sure that the cup was used by the Athenian statesman, as one of the other names listed, Ariphron, is that of Pericles’ elder brother.
“The name Ariphron is extremely rare,” Angelos Matthaiou, secretary of the Greek Epigraphic Society, told the newspaper.
“Having it listed above that of Pericles makes us 99 per cent sure that these are the two brothers,” he said.
The cup was likely used in a wine symposium when Pericles was in his twenties, and the six men who drank from it scrawled their names as a memento, Matthaiou said.
“They were definitely woozy, as whoever wrote Pericles’ name made a mistake and had to correct it,” he said.
The cup was then apparently gifted to another man named Drapetis (“escapee” in Greek) who was possibly a slave servant or the owner of the tavern, said archaeologist Galini Daskalaki.
“This is a rare find, a genuine glimpse into a private moment,” she said.
Ironically, the cup was found on Sparta street, Athens’ great rival and nemesis in the Peloponnesian War that tore apart the Greek city-states for nearly 30 years.
General of Athens during the city’s Golden Age, Pericles died of the plague in 429 BC during a Spartan siege.
The cup will be displayed in the autumn at the Epigraphical Museum in Athens.
The Ancient Agora, located north of the Acropolis in Athens is often overshadowed by the Acropolis but for eight centuries was the primary meeting place of the city. It was at one time the heart of Athens and was the focal point of administrative, commercial, political and social activity.
The ancient marketplace was founded in the 6th century BC. It was the center for civic activities including philosophy, religion, arts, and athletics. St. Paul preached here and Socrates addressed his public here as democracy was born. Socrates was later indicted and executed in the state prison here in 399 BC.
The Ancient Agora was devastated by the Persians in 480 BC. A new one was built in its place almost immediately but was then again destroyed in AD 267 when it was destroyed by the Herulians, a Gothic tribe from Scandinavia. The American School of Classical Studies began excavations of the Ancient Agora in the 1930’s and the vast remains of public buildings have been revealed.
Today the Ancient Agora is one of the top tourist attractions in Greece. Unlike the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora is a grassy area and a nice escape from the congested city streets. Admission to the Ancient Agora is included with the purchase of a ticket to the Acropolis.
Some of the top Ancient Agora sights to see include:
Stoa of Attalos
The Stoa of Attalos was built by King Attalos II of Pergamum (159 BC-138 BC). It’s an impressive two-storey stoa. People gathered here every four years to watch the Panathenaic Procession. It was reconstructed in 1956 by the American School of Archaeology and now houses the Agora Museum that displays finds from the Agora.
Temple of Hephaestus
The Temple of Hephaestus is the best-preserved Classical temple in Greece. It was dedicated to Hephaestus, god of the forge.
Church of the Holy Apostles
The Church of the Holy Apostles was built in the early 10th century to commemorate St. Paul’s teaching in the Agora. It was returned to original form between 1954-1957.
Stoa Basileios was built in 500 BC. It housed the office of legal affairs concerning ancient cults. Most of it was destroyed when the Goths invaded Athens in AD 267.
Odeon of Agrippa
Odeon of Agrippa is a theater built in AD 15. It featured statues of serpent-tailed Giants and Tritons on huge plinths. Two Tritons and a Giant still remain today.
This is a circular building where the 50-member executive committee of the first parliament lived and worked. The name translates to “beehive”.
The still functioning Great Drain collects runoff from the Acropolis, Areopagos and Agora when it rains and sends it to the Eridanos River.