Plaka is the oldest and most beautiful neighborhood in Athens. Clustered around the slopes of the Acropolis, it incorporates labyrinthine streets and neoclassical architecture. Plaka is built on top of the residential part of ancient Athens. It is referred to as the "Neighborhood of the Gods" because of its proximity to the Acropolis and many other archaeological sites. Part of the charm, however, are the secrets the oldest neighborhood of Athens hides in each of the paved alleys just waiting to be discovered on your Athens sightseeing tour of Plaka!
Where Plaka is Located
Planning a first-time trip to Athens and wondering where Plaka is located? The Plaka District is located on the northeast slope of the Acropolis. It was developed mostly around the ruins of Ancient Agora of Athens in an area that has been continuously inhabited since antiquity. Adrianou Street, running north and south, is the largest and most central street in Plaka. It divides the district into two areas: the upper level, Ano Plaka which is situated right under the Acropolis and the lower level, Kato Plaka, which is located between Syntagma and Monastiraki.
How Plaka Got its Name
There are many different versions of how Plaka got its name. One of them speaks of a large “plaque” found near the church of Agios Georgios Alexandreias. The predominant version speaks of the Arvanite origin of the word. In Arvanitika (a dialect of Albanian and Greek) the word “pliak” means “old”, so when the Arvanites who came to stay in the area in the 16th century called it “Pliak Athena”, meaning “old Athens”, and the name stuck across the neighborhood.
A Neighborhood from Another Century
Plaka is not only the oldest neighborhood of Athens but also the only one where you can see the streets and buildings as they were a hundred years ago. This is because, after the war, the buildings of the neighborhood were preserved in their entirety, resulting in the architectural magnificence you can admire even today - on your Athens sightseeing tour of Plaka. In the mid-20th century, with Plaka’s sudden tourist development, the government took drastic measures in order to protect and preserve the neighborhoods “color” by paving the streets, restricting billboards and, later, banning nightclubs in order to avoid intense noise pollution. Yet, in the oldest neighborhood of Athens, you can still find the perfect taverna and have a taste of an authentic Greek lunch or a traditional kafeneio to enjoy a true Greek coffee culture experience!
The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates and the Capuchin Monastery
When on your Athens sightseeing tour of Plaka, don’t miss the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, also known as, albeit mistakenly, the "Lantern of Diogenes". The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates was erected by the choregos (sponsor) Lysicrates, a wealthy patron of musical performances in the Theater of Dionysus, to commemorate the award of first prize in the 4th century BC for one of the performances he had sponsored. Apart from being a sponsorship prize, it is also the first known monument of the world to use Corinthian order on the exterior of a building. When the site was acquired by the Capuchin Monastery at the end of the Middle Ages, the monument was incorporated into it. Thanks to the resistance of the Catholic Abbot, it was rescued from the “aspirations” of the well-known Lord Elgin during his second visit to Greece. The monastery was burned in 1890, but the monument was saved. It now stands in a little garden on Tripodon Street in Plaka.
The Bath House of the Winds
The only one of the public baths in Athens that has been preserved until today, it became a hammam (Turkish bath) during the first period of Ottoman domination and remained in operation until 1965. In ancient times, the building was called the “Clock of the Sun”, and it was a solar clock with a vane. When the new streets of Athens were planned in the 19th century, believing that it was a temple in honor of the god Aeolus (hence the “Airs”), they named the road that starts from there “Aiolou” (or Eolou). Today, when on an Athens sightseeing tour of Plaka, you can visit it and become introduced to the monument’s history through its innovative interactive exhibition.
The First University of Athens
In the shadows of the Acropolis, the 18th-century neoclassical residence of Kleanthis and Schaubert hosted the first University of Athens. This house was restored by Kleanthis and Schaubert, architects to whom Ioannis Kapodistrias assigned some of the city’s urban planning after the establishment of the Greek state. It was named “Othonian University”, while the building later became known as the “Old University”. It now functions as the Athens University History Museum. The Museum’s permanent exhibition includes rare items that are associated with the institution.
The Oldest Open-Air Cinema in Athens
Cine Paris, in Plaka, is said to be the oldest open-air cinema in Athens. In the 1920s, a hairdresser who was a former resident of Paris thought of organizing a summer cinema called “Cine Paris” in Plaka. In the 1960s, it moved to the building where it stands to this day, and the historic, almost eternal cinema closed for two decades. However, in 1986, its new owner reopened the doors of its rooftop for us to enjoy movies overlooking the Sacred Rock.
The Famous Inhabitants of Plaka
Overlooking the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the two-storey house at 5 Periandrou Street was once the home of the great poet Kostis Palamas. Palamas wrote the lyrics to the Olympic Hymn which was first performed at the 1896 Summer Olympics, the first modern Olympic Games. This is where he wrote many of his poems and where he passed away in 1943. A marble slab, which is there to this day, reads, “In this house died, the national poet Kostis Palamas”.
9 Kydathinaion street is the residence of the families Seferiades and Tsatsos. The ground floor of the two-storey building was allocated to Giorgos Seferiades, known as Giorgos Seferis, one of the most prominent poets and winner of the first Nobel Prize in Greece. Seferis' famous stanza from Mythistorema was featured in the Opening Ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. The upper floor became the residence of Ioanna Tsatsou, sister of the poet, and her husband, Konstantinos Tsatsos who served as President of the Hellenic Republic during the period 1975-1980.
The personal archives of Nobel Laureate poet Odysseus Elytis have finally found a home at 4 Dioskouroi Street. The two-storey building will be called Elytis’ House and will display an exact representation of the poet's study room and an exhibition of his archives.
A Neighborhood within the Neighborhood
Anafiotika is an autonomous neighborhood within the neighborhood of Plaka. Its white cubic houses were built by the Cycladic people, most of whom were reverend craftsmen called by Otto to build the palaces and new buildings in Athens. Having nowhere to stay, the Anaphites secretly built these rare examples of architecture in the shadow of the Holy Rock. It is said that some of them were built overnight and many inhabitants of Plaka became very angry with the craftsmen for building their homes randomly around the Acropolis. However, even the authorities turned a blind eye on the excuse that the King allowed them. Finally, the neighborhood, which to this day has no street names but only numbers, was placed on the statutory list.
Plaka for Kids
For families with children who would like to enjoy an Athens sightseeing tour of Plaka, there are two children’s museums located in the heart of the neighborhood. The Hellenic Children’s Museum is a multi-thematic, interactive museum specially designed for children. The Museum of Greek Children’s Art is one of the few museums in the world that exhibits exclusively drawings and 3D artworks created by children 5 to 14 years old.
Book an Athens sightseeing tour and discover the secrets that lay hidden in the alleys of Plaka - the oldest neighborhood of Athens:
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