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A city that charms its guests and stirs their emotions

The city took its name from the Goddess Athena, goddess of wisdom, strategy and war, and protector of the city. The financial, political and administrative centre of the country, and an all-powerful city-state in antiquity, Athens is a major centre of culture. A visit to the first ever museum dedicated to Byzantium, a stroll around the National Garden and a trip to the Olympeion archaeological site will take you back through time.

In one of the most central points in Athens, easily accessible using any of the different types of public transport available, is the Byzantine and Christian Museum. The only one of its kind, the museum has international standing as one of the most important museums of Byzantine and post-Byzantine art. It has, since 1930, been housed in the “Villa Ilissia”. It was founded at the beginning of the 20th century and its collections, which include more than 30,000 artefacts drawn from the Greek world and areas where Hellenism was a force, cover a huge period of over fifteen centuries (4th – 19th c.).
The sheer richness and quality of the exhibits, which include icons, sculptures, ceramics, ecclesiastical textiles, paintings, jewellery and architectural elements (wall paintings and mosaics), allows visitors to familiarise themselves with different aspects of Byzantine art and learn about the conditions in which the art was created.

 

national Garden

 

The permanent exhibition is divided into two main parts: The first is devoted to Byzantium (4th -15th c. AD) and contains 1200 artefacts and the second entitled “From Byzantium to the modern era” presents 1500 art works dating from the 15th to 20th century.

As you walk away from the Byzantine Museum towards Syndagma Square you will come to the National Garden. Work to create the Garden was begun in 1836 by Queen Amalia, who wanted a park which matched European standards. She commissioned specialist landscape gardeners from Bavaria and France to design and create the park. This eclecticism led to the decision to introduce trees and plants from all over the world, while efforts were also made to incorporate Greek species growing wild.

 

National Garden

 

Nowadays, the National Garden covers an area of 15.8 hectares (about 40 acres) and has more than 50,000 trees and shrubs of 520 different varieties. As you stroll through the richly planted grounds you will come across six pools, a fascinating sundial and the first greenhouse ever constructed in Greece, built under the watchful eye of Queen Amalia. As the site of the garden was in ancient times part of the riverside area of the River Ilissos, parts of the aqueduct built by Peisistratos have been found on occasions together with remnants of a Roman villa.

If you decide to take a trip to the park with your family, do not miss out on the chance to take a stroll to the Children’s Library. The library has an interesting collection of botanical publications and also organises workshops and discovery sessions for people to “explore” the park. Next to the entrance into the park in Irodou Attikou Street is the National Garden’s cafe, with seats and tables set out beneath a richly planted pergola. If you feel like exploring further, head south toward Zappeion Mansion and the monumental temple of Olympian Zeus.

 

Olympeion

 

The Olympeion archaeological site covers an area of approximately 6 hectares (about 15 acres) on the southern side of Athens between the Acropolis and the River Ilissos. The site, which contains both the Olympeion and the Parilissia Sanctuaries, can only be entered at the gate house on Vasilissis Olgas Avenue. The site includes the Temple of Olympian Zeus, from which it takes its name, as well as Roman baths, classical dwellings and a 5th century AD basilica. There is evidence that Zeus was worshipped at the site from the beginning of the 6th century BC., when work to construct the monumental temple began. The work was, however, not completed until Roman times, in 131 AD, when it was finished by the Emperor Hadrian. Of the stunning 110-metre long temple only 16 of the 102 original columns now survive, one of which collapsed during a storm in 1852. Also surviving at the site are the foundations of a temple built during the Classical era which is associated with the Temple of Apollo Delphinios, a small Doric temple associated with the worship of Cronus (temple of Cronus and Rhea), the sanctuary of Panhellenios Zeus, etc. In the 3rd century AD, during the reign of the Roman emperor Valerian, the so-called Valerian Wall was constructed, which was most probably built along the line of a Classical Themistoclean wall. Outside the grounds of the Olympeion, on the northwestern side, stands a triumphal arch widely known as Hadrian’s Gate. This was built by the Athenians to demonstrate their gratitude to Hadrian for the wealth of construction work he carried out in their city.

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