If you find yourself in the city center of Athens on March 25, you will see streets adorned with Greek flags and many residents awaiting to watch the city’s grand military parade. Since 1838 when Otto was the King of Greece, March 25th commemorates the official start date of the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire which began in 1821. A national holiday is observed on this day throughout Greece, and the festivities include a grand military parade, as well as organized student school parades across the country. On March 25 in Athens, the grand military parade takes place in the city’s central gathering point – Syntagma Square – and is attended by the President of Greece, important members of the Greek Orthodox Church, as well as other dignitaries.
March 25 & The Religious Observance of The Annunciation
According to the Eastern Orthodox Church, March 25 is a day of great religious significance, as it commemorates the joyful news of the imminent birth of Christ. According to the Gospel of Luke, Archangel Gabriel appeared before the Virgin Mary at her house in Nazareth, to tell her that she would bear the Son of God. The celebration of the event seems to have been established around the 4th century AD, while the first official testimony of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary can be found in the meetings of the Council of Toledo in 656.
In 1821, the Greek revolutionary, Alexander Ypsilantis, chose the 25th of March as the commencement date of the Greek Revolution. These two major events are festively celebrated in Greece with street processions, church services and an especially distinct traditional meal. Because March 25th falls during the period of Great Lent, this day is considered “exempt” from fast, and the traditional meal of the day is "bakaliaros skordalia", which is a delicious salted cod that is fried and accompanied by a flavorful garlic pate. This delicious dish is always included on the menu at the Athenaeum InterContinental, reminding visitors of the day’s customary dish!
Nestled in the shadow of the Acropolis, on the south side of Philopappos Hill, and bordered by the beautiful pedestrian street of Dionysiou Areopagitou and busy Syngrou Avenue lies the vibrant neighborhood of Koukaki. In 2015, according to tourists who choose apartment rentals, Koukaki was ranked as the 6th most interesting neighborhood in the world to stay. Yet this didn’t come as a surprise to the locals of the area because Koukaki has always been a hospitable, beautiful and convenient Athenian neighborhood.
Why Greeks and Foreigners Like Koukaki
Koukaki was named after Koukakis, a local bed manufacturer who owned a factory near the historic Syngrou Fix building – which is today home to the National Museum of Contemporary Art. Second to the famous and historic area of Plaka, Koukaki is the closest and most organized district neighboring the Acropolis; it continues to preserve the glory of its past thanks to the well-preserved and renovated homes, architecturally distinct neoclassical buildings, and characteristic apartment blocks that tell a story from Athens’ interwar period. Despite numerous abandoned buildings, the charm of this neighborhood’s past remains very evident behind some of the half-broken walls. In addition to the famous pedestrian way of Dionysiou Areopagitou, Koukaki also has the pedestrian streets of Diakou and Olympiou which give residents and visitors the opportunity to slow-down and relax at one of the authentic cafes and bars or traditional Greek tavernas. Koukaki also is one of Athens’ easiest neighborhoods to get to and navigate; there are several public transportation options including a number of bus routes along Syngou Avenue (550, A2, A3), two Athens Metro stations (Acropoli and Syngrou Fix), as well as Trolley line 10 that runs in the area. Another advantage of the Koukaki neighborhood is that it’s only a short distance from the sea, which for residents and visitors means a leisurely stroll to Athens’ beautiful waterfront.
A Neighborhood of Cultural Interest
Being located just below the Acropolis, next to the impressive Acropolis Museum, coupled with the fact that it's home to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Koukaki has a particularly intense cultural character. It is precisely for this reason that artists and writers have always been drawn to this vibrant Athenian neighborhood. In Koukaki, one can find galleries, the well-known movie theater “Mikrokosmos” – famous for its cinematic films and particular tribute selections – as well as the Museum of Emotions for children and teenagers.
Every Clean Monday, no matter what the weather is like, Philopappou Hill fills with people of all ages and their kites. The beginning of Lent is an excellent reason to come to this spot with an elevation of 147 metres and enjoy a few hours of relaxation in the oasis of wild vegetation intersected by pathways, right in the heart of the city.
The monuments on the hill
The hill lies southwest of the Acropolis and was known in antiquity as the Hill of the Muses. At that time, there was a temple dedicated to the Muses at that location, and at the top of the hill, the foundation of a fortified enclosure from 294 BC, serving to safeguard the city, is visible. Even more prominent is a mausoleum at the top. The Athenians built the memorial in 115 AD in honour of exiled Syrian leader Gaius Julius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappos, a descendant of the Seleucids who became an Athenian citizen and assumed public and religious offices.
The view and impressive landscaping
Famous architect, artist and visionary Dimitris Pikionis initially designed the landscaping of the public open space that includes two pathways starting at the intersection of Dionysiou Areopagitou and Apostolou Pavlou streets. One of these paths winds up to the Acropolis and the other leads to the opposite direction to provide a view from a distance. Stone construction, sloping roofs and visible carvings allow nature and culture to dominate while managing to visually unite buildings, rocks, stone, and greenery along a route that has etched its own history on the minds of those who traverse it.
Philopappou Hill has been open to one and all —Athenians and visitors alike— since it was first laid out (1954-57). So whenever you’d like to find a place to rest both body and mind, perhaps Philopappou Hill will be just the spot.
Saint Valentine is officially celebrated by the Anglican and Lutheran churches, but regardless of religious convictions, 14 February is a day of celebration for lovers all over the world. The saint, who is believed to have married Christian couples in the 3rd century during the reign of Claudius Gothicus, was either stoned to death or beheaded on 14 February, the day reserved for honouring lovers. Nevertheless, even those who ignore the saint’s feast day can’t help but expect a special day or a gesture that expresses love from their other half.
An excellent opportunity for a relaxing stroll through the city
Forget about flowers, heart-bedecked cards and soft toys with messages of love, or make them more meaningful with an outing with a difference. Meet at one of the most beautiful spots in the city and, armed with a cup of hot chocolate, stroll around without a car to enjoy the ambient sounds. Experience the blessing of being able to walk through the Athens streets in mid-February under the clear, bright Attica sky, alongside the Acropolis, through the Anafiotika district at its feet, Plaka, Aerides, Hadrian’s Stoa, or up to the top of Lycabettus Hill next to St George chapel along the charming route that leads there. Even better, venture to Pnyx Hill, along Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, or up to the Acropolis rock, or the light-filled Acropolis Museum, and further along to Thissio and the National Observatory of Athens. If the weather unexpectedly turns bitter —a rare occurrence for Athens— you can always gaze at the stars in another sky. Head for the Planetarium at the Eugenides Foundation on Syngrou Avenue and get a look at our solar system with one of its special shows. After the show, take the road towards Athens and stop in at the Café Vienna at the Athenaeum InterContinental. Enjoy a cup of hot chocolate, fragrant sweets, and a quiet, relaxing atmosphere that lends itself to idle chat to pass the time. The sounds of voices provide the background to the magic of the moment.
Dinner under the stars
And if the stars at the Planetarium are not enough, the InterContinental terrace in Athens awaits you with 5 stars of flavours and aesthetics. The premium restaurant Première, with its minimalist aesthetics but enriched flavour of its Mediterranean cuisine with French touches and quality ingredients recognised by critics and the public alike, invites you to satisfy your palate while feasting your eyes on a view of the Acropolis. Complete your evening with one of the impressive wines from the Première’s cellar and let Valentine's Day give you a reason to enjoy an exquisite night out.