Going down Panepistimiou Street in the direction of Omonia Square, on your right you come upon three of Athens’ most important and impressive buildings, which “speak” in a majestic architectural language and comprise some of the capital city’s most beautifully preserved monuments. These buildings are not only remarkable architecturally but also represent institutions that have made important contributions to the city of Athens and to the Greek nation.
The building of the Academy of Athens was a gift of Simon Sinas before it housed the Academy. Built according to plans made by the Danish architect Theophilos Hansen in 1859, it was only finished years later in 1885. The building first housed the Numismatic Museum; then in 1914 it hosted the Byzantine Museum before being used for the General State Archives. Finally, it became the home of the Academy of Athens when it was established in 1926. The building has been characterized as the most important work of Theophilos Hansen and has been considered “the most beautiful neo-classical building in the world”. According to Hansen, the Academy building was inspired by the best examples of classical Greek architecture from the 5th century B.C. At the entrance there are statues of Socrates and Plato, while among the columns to the left and right are further statues of Apollo and Athena in her armor.
The building which has housed the National and Capodistrian University of Athens since 1841 (five years after it was established as Greece’s first University) was designed by Danish architect Christian Hansen (brother of Theophilos) in 1839. Influenced by the principles of classicism, the building nevertheless conforms to its surroundings and to human scale and needs. The building as a whole forms a rectangle comprising two “T-shaped” wings to either side with corresponding courtyards. The building was completed in 1864 with the construction of an Ionic portico in front and was decorated with murals by the painter Karl Rahl.
The National Library of Greece, whose archives and collections will soon be transferred to the gleaming new spaces of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s Cultural Center, contains one of the greatest collections of Greek Manuscript Codices worldwide (approximately 4,500 volumes). The building has hosted these treasures since 1903 and was a gift to the Greek State from Panagis Vallianos. Designed by Theophilos Hansen, its construction was supervised by Ernst Ziller and is considered a fine example of mature neo-classicism.
Hidden among the wooded greenery of Mt. Hymettus, the Monastery at Kaisariani , built by the Byzantine Macedonians in the 11th century , is one of Greece’s most significant medieval Christian monuments, in a setting of great natural beauty, so close to the center of the city. A stroll along the forest paths on Hymettus is not only a chance to explore the delights of nature – but of history as well.
The Monastery at Kaisariani was the richest and most important of all the monasteries built along the slopes of Mt. Hymettus from the 10th to the 12th centuries. Its main church (the Katholikon) was erected on the foundations of an ancient temple and incorporates many of its architectural elements. The church is dedicated to the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, and most of its wall paintings belong to the Cretan school of medieval iconography. The wall surrounding the monastery contains, in addition to the church, the monastery’s dining hall and baths – both buildings dating from the 11th century – an old olive press and the monks’ cells. Outside the wall lies the cemetery and a somewhat newer church.
ΤHE LANDSCAPED FOREST
The forest which embraces the monastery covers an area of 4,460 stremmas (over 1,000 acres) at an altitude of up to 760 meters above the sea. This marvelously diverse and beautiful natural treasure consists of naturally occurring trees and plants as well as literally millions of trees planted through the efforts of the Philodassiki (“Friends of the Forest”) Society of Athens and the Ministry of Agriculture. Pines, cypresses, carob trees, redbuds (called “Judas trees” in Greece), oaks and acorns, acacias, eucalyptus, plane trees and olives predominate, while a rich variety of flowering brush and shrubs, grasses and wildflowers give the landscape the appearance of a Mediterranean quilt. Start at the foot of the mountain and climb along its winding paths. Enter the church and gaze up at its dome. Let the beauty of nature and of man’s creations carry you away and fill you with peace.
“The largest philanthropic race in the world, No Finish Line, now comes to Athens to support children in need.” Thus began the official presentation of the race which will take place from the 26th to the 30th of April at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s Cultural Center (SNFCC) – a race which records the number of kilometers you complete and raises money for a worthy organization: “Together for Children”.
Kilometers turn into money for poor families with young children
The race begins on Wednesday, April 26th at 7 in the afternoon and concludes 90 hours later, on Sunday, April 30th at 1 p.m! And for these 90 hours, men, women and children of every age will run, jog or walk – whenever, however long or far, and at whatever pace they choose – around a specially configured 1,000-meter loop at the SNFCC and will contribute money, according to the distance they cover, to the organization “Together for Children”.
The event’s Ambassadors offer support and inspiration
The combination of athletics and philanthropy in such a setting of aesthetic beauty, a glimmering point of pride for all Athenians, with the participation of people of all ages, speeds and abilities, is warmly supported by a number of Greece’s most distinguished Olympians, such as the race’s Ambassadors Nikolaos Kaklamanakis and Katerina Stephanidou. Kaklamanakis’ statement at the official presentation of the race: “This event succeeded the moment it began and will grow even larger and better because it involves people will real values…” – inspires us all to participate.
Orthodox Easter is redolent of jasmine, lilac and wisteria. The days are warm and radiant, while the nights are moist and cool, even in May. And leading up to Good Friday – certainly during the day itself – the sky will often turn grey, and a light rain or drizzle will fall. But in the evening, when the Epitaph emerges from the main doors and slowly makes its way around the church, the rain will usually halt and the air grow fragrant with the carnations and other flowers which deck this peripatetic “tomb” of Jesus. Saturdays are usually bright and sunny, and only rarely is Easter Sunday less than brilliant as well, seemingly by order of God.
The Athens Cathedral embraces Easter this year with its “new” image
The center of Athens is perhaps the ideal place for someone to experience and really “feel” a Greek Easter. Dozens of humble little churches built on a decidedly human scale dot the city center. Often stooping to enter their ancient stone doorways, you feel transported by their candle-lit interiors to the islands or small country villages which are the ancestral home of every Athenian. An exception is the Athens Cathedral in Monastiraki. Although large in scale, the Cathedral, free of scaffolding for the first time in 17 years and wearing brilliant new murals and painstakingly restored icons, is one of the best choices for celebrating the procession of the Epitaph on Friday evening and the Resurrection on the following midnight – holding a candle while standing in its vast marble courtyard under the starry sky.
The “little” churches in the center create a unique Easter atmosphere
Athens’ little churches are many and superb. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the first one in Greece to receive the “holy light” each year. Dark inside save for the flickering light of a few candles and with a courtyard surrounded by flowers and fruit trees, this ancient gem has the power to warm the soul of devout celebrants and casual visitors alike. Nearby, also in Plaka, lies the Church of St. Catherine with its two Roman columns near the entrance. The Church, in cruciform Byzantine style of the 11th Century and with early-Christian influences and elements inside, carries within it the history of the ages – while all the different Epitaph processions of Plaka cross in front of its doors, a moment that will forever live in the memory of anyone who experiences it.
The choices are numerous - and very special
A little ways beyond Plaka, on Ermou Street, we find the 11th-century church of Panagia Kapnikarea; among the pines and olive trees of Philopappos Hill - the Church of Aghios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris; the Russian Church on Filellinon Street; Aghios Georgios and the “hidden” Church of Aghioi Isidoroi on Lykabettus Hill. Aghia Foteini with its view of the Parthenon and whose Epitaph procession reaches the columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus initiates us into the mysteries of Easter worship…