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Omonia Square and Beyond

Platia Kotzia

Dimarchos Square, Athens, Greece Beyond the Athens Market on Athinas street is the Platia of the Dimarcheo, or City Hall Square, the government center for Athens. The square, which is known as Platia Ethniki Andistassis (National Resistance) or more popularly Kotzia Square until recently was a total disaster. When they were building a parking lot they discovered antiquities. The archaeologists rushed in, excavated it and then left it for years as a giant fenced in pit for people to throw their garbage in. But now it has been covered up and is one of the most impressive squares in Greece, surrounded by some beautiful neo-classic buildings from the turn of the century. In the early days of travel to Greece this platia was the tourism center with all the tourist shops which gradually moved to Monastiraki and then to Plaka. Though the marble Panathenaic Stadium usually gets the credit for being the site of the first modern Olympic games in 1896, the first revival of the ancient Olympic games actually took place in Platia Kotzia in 1859.

Athens, Greece Dimarchos Square In the nineties the square unfortunately became a hangout for drug dealers and junkies at night and the area got a bad reputation. But it was always perfectly safe by day since it is in the primary shopping area of Athens and now that they have moved all the undesirables to the area by the train station Platia Kotzia can be visited at any time. Be sure to check out the sculptures on display here and the pet store with the exotic parrots and toucans. There are a couple great cafes on the square, especially the one next to the pet store where you can buy a cheese pie and spend hours being entertained by the pigeons who fight each other for it. Across the square from the pet store are a couple classic cafeneons just on the other side of the ruins. The impressive National Bank of Greece on the bottom (or maybe its the top) of the square is on Eolou Street one of Athens popular pedestrian shopping streets which leads you right back past the Central Market and all the way to Monastiraki and the Plaka.

If you go another block on Athinas street or Eolou you come to Lamvropoulos, a 6 floor department store and a good place to hang out if you want to shop in the summer and not leave air-conditioning. There is a nice little cafe-restaurant on the topfloor.

Hotels Near Platia Kotzia

The Greotel Pallas Athena  which is right on Athinas Street is a 4-star hotel that has double rooms for under 100 euros. The 2-star Economy Hotel is a block off Athinas and is what its name impies, an economy hotel, though the back streets behind the city market can be a little seedy at night so you may be happier a few blocks down at the Hotel Attalos and pay not much more to be in a friendlier area closer to the sites or split the difference and stay at the Hotel Cecil which is a little cheaper. Also nearby is the modern 4-star Hotel Fresh which was good enough for Jamie Oliver to stay at and film a segment of his show on the roof where he grilled souvlakia next to the pool.

Omonia Square

Omonia Square, Athens, Greece If you continue down Athinas street from the Central Market, you will come to Omonia square, Athens oldest. It's worth a trip, just as you can't go to New York without taking a peak at 42nd street. If you are from New York it will remind you more of 14th street. Whether or not you visit Omonia is not going to make or break your holiday and families with small children may want to stay closer to the Plaka and the Acropolis. Not that it is necessary to avoid in the daytime, it is just that.... well why bother? At night it is probably a good area to stay away from. Lately the police have been moving immigrants out of the square and into internment camps and drug addicts towards other areas. But I have Athenian friends who won't come here after dark. Anyway why should you unless you are staying at one of the cheap hotels in the neighborhood? Omonia square is surrounded with fast-food restaurants and cafes. The pedestrian streets on the other side of the square are interesting in a third-world kind of way. There are several major hotels that have been bought up by big hotel companies and renovated and the whole area was undergoing renewal when the bottom fell out of the Greek economy. The hotels are still open and a good deal really though the surroundings are pretty seedy. Beneath the square is the metro. There is a health food store on Panepistimiou-Venizelos Street just off the square. Directly opposite Agios Konstantinou Street passes the National Theater and ends at Kariaskakis and Metaxourgiou Square. If you continue down Theodorou Diligiani Street you will come to the Larissa Station where you get the trains to northern Greece or the buses to Albania. Its not the best area though there are a number of nice hotels that do much of their business with foreign travel agents and automated-booking sites from people who can't resist the low prices. So lets head back to Omonia.

Athens, Greece: Omonia Square in the early 1900s Omonia square was at one time quite beautiful and a centerpiece for the city. If you go downstairs into the metro station you can see old photos of it in the glory days. When Athens embraced the automobile, Omonia was one of the major casualties and the square became less people friendly and eventually it was not even automobile friendly as cars converged on it from all directions. They have been trying to recapture the bygone days and have rebuilt the square several times in the last few years either to 'get it right' or to make sure a construction company owner or city official does not go to bed hungry. The current version of Omonia square is a mystery. First of all nobody knows if it is finished or not. (That gives you an idea of the architecture). They want to ask the people who built it but apparently they can't be found. I personally would have loved to see a few more trees so it would slightly resemble the old photos but there are none. In fact it looks like a lot of concrete was used to get that Eastern Europe during the Cold War look. My sources tell me nobody is happy about it so we can look foreword to yet another look for Omonia in the near future. See also The New Omonia Square: What tha!!!????

On the opposite side of Omonia the traffic pattern gets very interesting because the only way for the large avenues that lead to Patission and Syntagma to connect with the new smaller and more civilized Athinas Street is by following the signs which lead cars through a series of small, crowded back streets. In other words cars are discouraged from going to Athinas Street, which is a good thing.

Little London

A block from Omonia in a feat of engineering skill that will be studied in city planning departments in Universities all over the world the traffic planners have actually managed to have one street where traffic is reversed. On the small street that connects Eolou and 28th of October street between Stadiou and Panapistimiou the lanes are reversed so it is as if you are driving in England. This is not mentioned so you can visit it as a tourist attraction but so that you won't get run over when crossing the street because you were looking the wrong way (the right way actually). There's a Starbucks here too or there was until the anarchists burned it down. But don't worry,there are others.

Hotels Near Omonia Square

As I wrote above you can get a lot of hotel for the money if you want to stay in the triangle between Omonia, Kariaskaki Square and the Larissa Train Station. For example the 5-Star Luxury Athens Imperial hotel has doubles for 90 euros. That is what you would pay for a 2-star in the Plaka! You can pay almost half that at the 3-star Crystal City Hotel on Kariaskakis Square and even less at the 4-star Athens Lotus Boutique Hotel. The 4-star Novus Hotel advertises rooms for 56 euros! The 3 star Apollo Hotel and the Athens Minoa Hotel have rooms for under 40 euros. The 4-star Polis Grande Hotel between Omonia and the National Museum advertises doubles for 70 euros! These are crazy prices for a European city, but the trade-off is that you are at least a half hour walk from the sites and shopping areas (though the metro is right there) and you probably want to take a taxi right to the hotel when you come home from dinner because you don't want to be wandering around lost after dark. You can find even cheaper 2-star hotels by searching Metaxourgio Hotels if cheap is more important to you than convenience, surroundings and yes, safety. Staying at a cheap hotel is no bargain if someone steals your wallet, credit cards, camera on the way from the metro to the hotel and until the city of Athens decides to clean up these areas and protect the tourists you should stay in the areas I recommend on my Hotels page.

The Polytechnic and Nov 17th

Athens, GreeceStudents confront tank at the Politechnion on Nov 17 1973. If you come from Omonia take a right on Panipistimiou and your first left you can walk a few blocks up 28th of October street and be at the Polytechnic University where the demonstrations of Nov 17th 1973 eventually brought about the fall of the Dictatorship. The students barricaded themselves inside the University and broadcast on a clandestine radio for their fellow Greeks to rise up and overthrow the government. They were joined by many and for 2 weeks the country looked like it might break into revolution but finally the army was called in. On the night of Nov 17th a tank burst through the gate and many students were killed. The gate has remained locked since then. Though not a popular tourist destination it is a symbol of resistance. Every year on the anniversary a march begins here and goes to the US Embassy which supported the dictatorship, led by the mothers of the students who died, dressed in black. You can click on the photo to enlarge it so you can actually see the students confronting the tank, many of whom died a few moments after this picture was taken. See my section on Rebellion in my History of Greece.

National Museum of Archaeology

Athens Archaeological Museum demonstration If you are not adventurous enough to visit Exarchia you can continue walking up 28th of October street and you will come to the National Archaeology Museum. As you have noticed I have broken a couple golden rules of travel writing. First I have used a picture of my daughter and my niece which would classify this as a personal photo and rendered this page unprofessional. You will also notice the demonstration in the background (museum workers protesting against high taxes in case you are interested) something you don't normally see in a travel guide. But the picture serves the purpose of illustrating that even if you come upon a demonstration you are not the target and in no danger no matter what your nationality. There are marches almost daily, a sign of a healthy and free society since it is in the nature of all governments to be somewhat self-serving or corrupt and the nature of all sane people within that society to voice their discontent. As for the museum itself, a visit here is a must and you need at least two or three hours to see it as it contains just about every important ancient piece that you have seen in your ancient history and art textbooks and some pieces that you may have never seen that I guarantee will impress you. If you don't hire a guide at least get the book so you will know what you are looking at. Probably the most popular piece in the museum is the 2000 year old computer that was found in the sea off the island of Kythira and is known by anyone who has read the works of Erich Von Daniken.

Beyond the Museum: Kypseli

King Constantine, horses assBeyond the museum is Areos Park and Kypseli which is one of my favorite areas. Kypseli, despite being one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the world has Fokoinios Negri, a long avenue that was turned into a park and bordered by cafes and restaurants including a few of my favorites. Areos Park is the largest in Athens and also contains the law courts, a place you don't want to end up in. On the corner of Alexandras Avenue and 28th of October-Patission Street is the tiny Egypt Square where you can catch the buses to Rafina, Lavrion, Marathon, Oropos and Sounion.  (See my Kypseli pages which I think are among my best because I spend so much time there.) Pedeon Areos is the former military parade grounds and the largest park in Athens and features a massive statue of King Constantine, perhaps Greece's worst king, whose military inneptitude enabled the country to lose all that it had gained in Asia Minor through the diplomacy of Eleftherios Venizelos. Cyrrently it is undergoing an historic rennovation and when it is finished should be the most beautiful park in Athens. For now half of it is behind scaffolding but you can still walk down the wide tree-shaded avenues and see the old men who play tablis (backgammon) and cards here like it is a big outdoor cafeneon.

The 5-Star Park Hotel on Alexandras Avenue overlooks the park and is one of those hotels that you can find bargain rates because of its less than stellar location. But if you can stay in a 5-star hotel for 120 euros you should go for it since you can walk on the main avenues all the way to Syntagma Square..

From Omonia to Syntagma Square

University of AthensPanepistimiou Street is one of two main avenues that connect Omonia Square to Syntagma Square. It means University Street but it is also called Eleftherios Venizelos Street after the man who was probably the Abraham Lincoln of Greece. You can read more about him at History of Greece: Venizelos. Like Lincoln, the way you feel about him depends on where you stand socially and politically. Some love him and some hate him, even today. His house is still on Venizelos Street and the only reason he is not buried in Athens rather than his home island of Crete is because the government was afraid there would be riots when they brought is body back from Paris in 1932, where he was living in exile. Panepistimiou- E Venizelos Street was at one time a dry riverbed that they finally covered up in 1858. The river bed is still underneath in a tunnel and in fact the metro tunnel is underneath that. In 1867 the State Treasury which was located was robbed by a team of thieves who entered the tunnel near Omonia Square. To find the exact spot to break into the building they found a merchant who was having trouble getting his money from the treasury, and paid him in cash for the check. Then one of the robbers went into the building and when told he could not cash the check he threw a tantrum and banged his cane on the floor to let the others know the location. They waited until the building was closed and broke through the wooden floor. But they were caught the next day.

Klathmanos Square, AthensIf you walk back up Panepistimiou- E Venizelos Street from Omonia you will pass the University of Athens on your left. If you want to see what Ancient Athens looked like in it's golden age these buildings will give you a good idea. Just beyond is the Roman Catholic Church of Saint Denis. Across from the University in the concrete park-like area called Platia Korai is a Starbucks and a metro station. If you walk through Platia Korai and cross Stadiou Street you are in Klathmanos Square which is now known for the electronic shops and the Byzantine church of Agio Theodori. In the mid 1800s the houses around the square were rented to civil servants. When each political party replaced the previous, the civil servants were also replaced and sat in the cafes on the square lamenting their jobless future. The square became known as 'the Weeping Square" (Klathmanos). In the beautiful neo-classical building on the square, the first residence of Greece's first royal couple and known as 'the old palace', is the Museum of the City of Athens which presents the history of the city from the end of the middle ages to the present. In the center of the square is a giant modern sculpture that signifies I don't know what but is impressive nonetheless. There is a cafe in the square and behind it, by the Byzantine church of Agio Theodori there are some cool little cafes and bars that are fun at night.

Hotels Between Omonia and Syntagma

The recently renovated Hotel Titania, on Panapistimiou, near the University of Athens has an Olive Garden Restaurant on the roof and is one of the nicest hotels in the area for those having trouble finding availability in or near the Plaka. It has that NYC mid-town feel to it, especially when you walk out the front door. Otherwise it is slim pickings til you get to Syntagma Square.

Exarchia

Alexander Grigoropoulou Street, ExarchiaBehind the University on the other side of Akadamias Street is an area of esoteric bookshops, guitar stores, cafes, fast-food, and eventually you find yourself in Exarchia if you go left and Kolonaki if you go to your right. Though there is way too much traffic for such small streets and you may be turned off at first it is kind of an interesting area that is worth exploring, especially if you are young. On Emanual Benaki street there is an excellent little ouzeri called Lesvos, which as the name suggests features food and ouzo from the island of Lesvos and a great place to eat and hang-out day or night. Continue up Benaki and you will pass some heavy metal CD and vinyl shops and a number of cafes that finally lead you to within a block of Exarchia square. Though Exarchia gets a bad name because this is where the so-called 'anarchists' battle the police at night, and the US Embassy has gone so far as to warn Americans not to go there, if you are of college-age you might take this as an invitation. Those who do visit Exarchia in the daytime will find a neighborhood full of hip cafes, restaurants, galleries, computer, music and art stores, lots of graffiti, clubs, bars and the kind of stuff you will find in any urban University area. Many young people visit the Shrine to Alexander Grigoropoulou, the boy who was shot by the police which set off the riots of December 2008, on the corner of Mesolongiou, now unofficially renamed Alexander Grigoropoulou Street and Tzabella street. The whole area is pretty remarkable as a no-frills center of counter culture. If you are over 30 and come from a small town and are exploring Athens with your family I would probably tell you to steer clear. But those of student age and mentality who want to see what New York's East Village was like before the yuppies took it over, and who find the Plaka boring should find Exarchia kind of cool in the day and scary but thrilling at night with its bars, clubs, restaurants and often the smell of tear gas as cops in riot gear get into position to engage the enemy, which hopefully they won't think is you. See my Exarchia page

Hotels in Exarchia

You will probably want to be of college age, an artist, a revolutionary, a rock musician or a writer to stay in this area but there are several good hotels and because most tourists prefer to be where they feel 'safe' there are some bargains here. The Best Western Museum Hotel, is of course a Best Western which implies a certain high standard and has singles, doubles and triples for under 100 euros and quads and suites for about 120 euros. Despite its reputation as a hotbed of anarchist activity, Exarchia is really just an urban college town on acid and it is a real neighborhood where people watch out for each other and I would stay here over Metaxourgio or Larissa train station if those are your only options due to finances. The 3-star Exarchia Hotel has singles, doubles, triples and quads for between 60 and 100 euros. The 4-star Melia Athens Hotel has doubles for under 100 which is not bad for a hotel in the center of Athens with a pool. For real bargain hunters the Dryades Hotel on Strofi Hill, the highest part of Exarchia has doubles for around 50 euros and has free wifi.

Panapistimiou Street

House of Henrich Schlieman and Numismatic Museum If you return to Panapistimiou Street and go right towards Syntagma further on is the Iliou Melathron, the Palace of Ilion and Home of Henrich Schlieman (photo) on your left. The Schlieman Mansion is considered to be the finest work of the architect Ernst Ziller, built between 1870 and 1881 in a style that combines neo-classical and renaissance architecture and now houses the Numismatic Museum. For those who don't know, Schlieman was the German archaeologist-adventurer who discovered Troy and Mycenae and Numismatic means coins. The Numismatic museum is considered one of the best in the world with 600,000 coins housed in one of the most beautiful buildings of Athens decorated by some spectacular wall paintings of the Pompeian style as well as geometric style floor mosaics. Eleftherodakis Books, across the street, is certainly worth a visit if you are running low on reading material or you want to see a selection of books that are unique to Greece as well as books that will make you feel like you are in Barnes and Noble. There is a cafe on the top floor. Lately they have become more of a Greek bookstore but you can still find many English language books sandwiched among the Greek books. For a purely English language bookstore, similar to Skakespeare and Company in Paris then go to Compendium on Nikis and Nikodimou street in the Plaka.

Giorgos Xilouris, son of Nikos Xilouris Between Panapistimiou and Stadiou streets there are a couple stoas (like streets but covered so they are indoors) with different themes. In the Stoa Pezmazoglou at 39 Panepistimiou, right across from the University there is a very interesting little music shop called Nikos Xilouris. Xilouris is to Cretan music as Hank Williams is to country music and this tiny store is full of his CDs, DVDs, books and memorabilia plus music by other Cretan, Rembetika and Laika musicians. The shop is owned by his son Giorgos Xilouris (photo) and is a great place to buy Greek music or just to stop in and say hello if you are a Xilouris fan. Between Amerikis street and Voukourestiou Streets is an immense building that takes up an entire city block. It is now a department store called Attica, one of if not the biggest department store in Greece. If you take a left on Voukourestiou Street and cross Panapistimiou-Venizelou you can go straight up to Kolonaki and Mount Lycabettos. If you go up Omirou street you will pass a cool Latin jazz club, and at #36 Cafe Boheme, an excellent bistro-style restaurant open for lunch and dinner which on weekends and some weeknights becomes the biggest party in the world's smallest club. They have live music on Wednesdays too.

Megalokonomou Historical Photo Shop, AthensIf you cut over from Panapistimiou-Venizelou to Stadiou street you will come to the Virgin Music superstore and Kolokotronis Square with its statue of Greece's revolutionary hero on horseback outside the Old Parliament Building which is now the National Historical Museum. Designed by the French architect Boulanger and completed in 1875 the museum covers Greek history from the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to World War 2 and contains historical paintings, furniture, traditional costumes, and weapons that belonged to some of your favorite heroes of modern Greek history and definitely worth a visit. In 1905 Prime Minister Delyianis was stabbed fatally in the stomach on the steps of this building by an assassin who was upset at the closing of the casinos of Athens. Behind the museum is an outdoor cafe and a small stoa with a couple bars that are hopping at night. If you wander around the back streets you will eventually find the Square of Agios Giorgos which has a couple cafes and an ouzeri and the photography shop of K Megalokonomou, full of Greek historical photographs and portraits. If you are interested in modern Greek history he sells a book of his photos in the shop which has been there since 1926.

If you continue up Panapistimiou or Stadiou street you will find yourself at Syntagma Square. To get back to Athinas Street just turn right down Karagiorgis Servias street until you can't go any further. The street will change names several times but as long as you don't change streets you will get there. Along the way on the corner of Voulis you will see a plaque on the wall in memorial to Athanasios Axarlian, a 22 year old student who was killed when a rocket fired by November 17th glanced off the limo of Finance Minister Ioannis Palaiokrassas in 1992. Axarlian had come to Athens to escape the war in Yugoslavia where he was a student. If you go left on Voulis Street you will come to the Plaka. If you go right on Voulis Street you will come to Ariston, my favorite tiropita shop and if you turn down Lekka, right near the Hotel Achileous is one of my favorite little restaurants called Triantafillo tis Nostimias at # 22.

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