Saturday, September 7, 2013

Revisit to the Pláka of Athens, Greece

When visiting Athens, one of your first destinations should be the Acropolis and the Pláka District. Compared to the noisy and congested modern city, in the Pláka, you have a sense of village life before the cars and mobile phones and pollution.  To refresh your geography, the Acropolis is the limestone hill on which temples and sacred precincts have existed for 3000 years.  Classical Athens was situated around the Acropolis, and the Pláka is the last remnant of the 1800s village that clung to the slopes before 20th century urban sprawl.
First, here is a 1951 photograph of the Acropolis taken on Kodak Plus-X black and white film.  The big temple is the Parthenon.
View from the University of Athens History Museum (site of the original 1800s university).
Walk in the Pláka, look up, and the Acropolis looms above you.  History is everywhere. The two photographs above were taken from The University of Athens History Museum. The building is one of the few remaining from before the King Otto era. From 1837 to 1841, it served as the first university of the independent Greek State.  The museum is free, and the building is air conditioned if you need a cool break.
The narrow lanes wind up and down, and are really pleasant.
View north with Mount Lycabettus in the distance
Sadly, look in the distance, and the frenetic, uncontrolled post-World War II urban construction is all too evident.  Thousands of elegant homes, mansions and early 20th century Art Nouveau buildings were demolished and replaced with rapidly-constructed concrete boxes.
Still, take your time, look around, and stop for a relaxing drink or meal under an umbrella.
Temple of the Winds, 1951
Here is the Temple of the Winds, another 1951 scene.  This view does not look very different today.
I have written about the flea market in the Monastiraki District before.It is a bit dull compared to the 1950s (see the link) but still worth a visit.
It is definitely worth a visit to see lovelies like these two.
Emerge from the flea market, and you are in Monasteraki Square, now a popular meeting spot with easy access to the Metro.
Turn around and look south, and there is the Acropolis dominating the skyline.  The building in the foreground is a former mosque, one of the few remaining from the Ottoman era.

Editorial note:  The US media is full of ominous stories about the terrible state of the Greek economy, strikes, civil disobedience, and general gloom and decay.  The stories may be true to some extent, but as a tourist, you are mostly sheltered. The Greek people are as friendly as ever, the restaurants a bit less expensive than five years ago, the food as good as ever, the wine better, the scenery as magical as ever, and the ladies weigh less than 300 lb. Moral: don't believe the scare stories in the media.

Update, October 2016:  Conditions have deteriorated badly in Athens. In 2015, it looked almost "normal." One year later, the city looks distinctly grungy, as if buildings have not been pressure-washed or painted in years. In rural Greece, trash is everywhere. Street repair is of a much lower standard than before. Graffiti has been sprayed on almost all flat surfaces as well as on busses and trams. The area between Omonia and Monasteraki has a distinctly Middle-East flavor and crime there has increased. I am changing my previous opinion and now recommend tourists not travel to Greece until it can sort out its financial and security issues. It's really sad.

2013 photographs taken July 2013 with a Nexus 4 phone, reprocessed with ACDsee Pro software.The 1951 photographs were taken with a Canon rangefinder camera with 50 mm Serenar lens.


  1. I love the pictures in this post! Thanks for the interesting story about this place as well.

  2. My wife and I spent 4 days in Athens in November of this year. When we first got there we frantically tried to book a flight back to Rome. I'm so glad that we couldn't book that flight. Athens was great!! I would go back in a heartbeat, try checking out the Psiri neighborhood, and if you are looking for a place to stay try the O&B hotel off of Ermou. Go to Greece, it is well worth it!