First time in Athens and you need to know where to start your city exploration from? Syntagma Square is the obvious answer to your question!
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Syntagma Square lies in the very heart of the city of Athens stretching before the symbol of the Greek State, the Hellenic Parliament. It is the second larger square of Greece (after Spianada Sq. in Corfu island) and slightly larger than St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. It is named Syntagma Square which can be translated in English as 'Constitution Square' and it is surrounded by monuments reflecting the vast and turbulent history of Greece in general and Athens in particular. Follow us on this trip and get to know how much history can be found on one spot at the most central point in the bustling city of Athens! If you are visiting Athens soon, please do not forget to read our Athens travel guide.
A Brief History of Syntagma Square
Syntagma square - credits: PitK/Shutterstock.com
Despite today’s location, during antiquity, this area was at the fringes of the city of Athens. If we could time-travel back in time, we would probably see the ancient river Eridanus flowing towards the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos and the walls of the city standing in front of us. The ruins of the latest walls can be found right next to the Parliament’s building, dating back probably during the reign of Emperor Valerian. Most of the things we know about the ancient history of Syntagma Square come from the excavations that happened for the construction of the Athenian Metro system. The whole area was excavated and a plethora of artifacts, such as funerary goods, shrines, silos, pottery workshops, graves, roads, part of the ancient Athenian aqueduct and public buildings were carefully documented and enriched our perception of ancient Athens. A small ancient inscription at one corner of the square, dedicated to the Muses, stands as a reminder of the ancient past.
During the late Ottoman times, Syntagma Sq. was still outside of the city. The area though was quite popular due to the presence of a spring that supplied the city with freshwater, known as Boubounistra, and was constructed of marble blocks collected probably from a public building of Roman times. After the War of Independence and the establishment of the new Greek State, the newly appointed King of Greece Otto decided to declare Athens as the new capital of the Kingdom of Greece. Then, the area of Syntagma, then known as Perivolakia (roughly meaning 'gardens'), was chosen as the construction site of the Royal Palace (today’s Parliament).
Originally, the square belonged to the premises of the palace along with the Royal Gardens - are National Gardens as they are referred to today. For its decoration, the Lord of Bute offered to King Otto and Queen Amalia, five bronze statues depicting gods, athletes, and animals. The original ones were found during the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum and the copies were cast in Vienna. Only one statue on Syntagma Sq. belongs to a Greek sculptor, the young man eating grapes, a work of Demetrius Philippotes.
The reign of King Otto was not as progressive as the Greeks wanted it to be. The young King, following the advice of his counselors, chose to follow a strict rule accumulating the political power of the country on him. Eventually, the people of Athens supported by heroic figures of the Greek War of Independence questioned the authority of the royal couple and with the help of the civil guard. It was September the 3rd of 1843 when the people of Athens occupied the Square and demanded from the King to form a Constitution for the country. After those events, Otto was forced to give in to the people’s demands and from then on the Square of the Palaces became Constitution (Syntagma) Square.
Syntagma Square - credits: lornet/Shutterstock.com
The center of the square is dominated by a marble fountain blocking the way to the monumental staircase leading to the Monument of the Unknown Soldier. There, a cenotaph is being guarded constantly by the elite force of the Greek army, the Evzones. The most important buildings surrounding Syntagma Sq. are Grande Bretagne - the first international hotel of the city - and the former Ministry of Transport where Georgios Papandreou made his speech announcing the liberation of Greece from the Nazi forces in 1944. For those, however, that want to probe a bit deeper into the history of the area, a walk in the metro station of Syntagma will definitely surprise you!
The changing of the guards
Evzones - credits: Dmytro Shapova/Shutterstock.com
As already mentioned, in the eastern part of Syntagma Square is the Monument to the Unknown Soldier. The Monument to the Unknown Soldier is a burial monument to the invisible victims of the nation's war. It is located under the main entrance of the Greek Parliament building and is guarded honorably on a twenty-four-hour basis by the men of the Presidential Guard.
The burial monument of the Unknown Soldier is located between two monumental stairs, which connect the area of the monument with the facade of the Parliament, while on the wall created behind the tomb there is a relief of a naked hoplite with a helmet and shield in a supine position. To the left and right of the representation are engraved two phrases from the Epitaph of Pericles.
On the wall that surrounds the monument on all three sides, brass shields are fixed from time to time, while on the chiseled porphyry walls of the wall are engraved in sections the names of the places where the most glorious and deadly battles of the Greek defense and liberation wars have been fought.
The expressionless Evzones, with their eyes fixed on the horizon, have been established internationally as the symbol of the Greek Armed Forces and Greece in general, causing the admiration not only of tourists who visit them daily but also of all Greeks. They are one of the most popular "live" attractions in Athens.
The official Guard change ceremony takes place every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. in front of the Monument of the Unknown Soldier, having been preceded by the receipt - delivery of the flag inside the camp, in the square of Evzonos Konstantinos Koukidis. Around 10.20 a.m. a stream of Queen Sophia from Herod Atticus to Syntagma closes in sections and is filled with the squads of Evzoni parading in perfect stride to the sounds of band music, heading towards the Monument, presenting a wonderful spectacle that causes excitement and admiration. Daily, an unofficial change of guards takes place every hour, giving the tourists the opportunity to snap as many photos as they like.
Attractions near the square
The Panathenaic Stadium - credits: Anastastios71/Shutterstock.com
The location of Syntagma Square at the most central part of Athens means that it is within walking distance from some of the most significant and popular attractions of the capital city.
Right next to the central building of the Greek parliament, and close to the ‘Syntagma’ metro station, you will find the luscious National Gardens. There, you will breathe in the fresh air the impressive selection of trees and plants from all around the world offer.
Next to the National Gardens, lies the Panathenaic stadium, also known as Kallimarmaro, the UNESCO World Heritage Site that hosted the first Olympic Games of the modern Greek state.
Continuing in the same direction, you will come upon the impressive Temple of Olympian Zeus. It was built with the aim of being the largest temple in ancient Greece and succeeded in its goal. 500m from The Temple of Olympian Zeus, lies the famous Acropolis rock and across from it the modern Acropolis Museum.
Climb the imposing rock and marvel at the thousand-year-old monuments, such as the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Propylaia, the Parthenon, and the Erechtheion. In order to explore the Acropolis in its full potential, you can enjoy a Private Mythology Tour of the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum.
Hotels in and Around Syntagma Square
Couple in Athens - credits: Page Light Studios/Shutterstock.com
Athens’ top-notch tourist infrastructure offers a wide variety of accommodation, especially in and around Syntagma Square. From the long list of offerings, our top recommendations include the luxurious Athens 1890 Hotel & Spa that combines high-quality services and impressive facilities. What’s more, Athens Capital Center Hotel, Athens Was, Elia Ermou Athens Hotel, and Wyndham Grand Athens are equally great, enveloping their guests in comfort and opulence.
Specifically designed for foodies of the world, Ergon House Athens combines high-end accommodation with a delectable deli and gourmet restaurant offering local dishes that satisfy all tastes. Moreover, New Hotel, Wyndham Athens Residence, COCO-Mat Athens BC, Andronis Athens BC, Athens Ikon Hotel, and Electra Metropolis, offer incredible design combined with warm hospitality, top-rated services, and modern facilities.
Things to do in Syntagma Square
Koulouri - credits: vovidzha/Shutterstock.com
Starting your walk to explore Athens from this point, there are some things that you should definitely do:
- Buy a koulouri (circular bread encrusted with sesame seeds) from the vendors selling them, in front of the Metro entrance. If you would like to find out more about local delicacies and favorite bites why not join us on our Athens for Foodies Tour? We get off the tourist trail and take you to where we locals love to eat.
- Begin a long walk towards Ermou Street. It is one of the most famous Athenian streets, full of shops, cafeterias, and restaurants. Your walk will end in Monastiraki Square a lively crossroads of new and old. If you want to discover the history beneath your feet and all around you as you explore Athens then let one of our talented, erudite guides show you the way on our Athens Orientation Tour.
- Buy a coffee (Athenians really love to do that - walking while holding a cup of coffee) and have a walk in the National Garden flanking the Greek Parliament.
- Watch the changing of the guard -in classical Evzones costumes- which takes place once every hour in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Then, feed the pigeons that gather in front of the monument with your remaining koulouri sesame seeds!
Plaka neighborhood - credits: Milan_Gonda/Shutterstock.com
Although Athens is the capital of Greece and, as most capital cities, it is dominated by concrete, near Syntagma Square, you will have the opportunity to discover a world of beauty. The surrounding areas of Plaka, Thiseio, Koukaki, and Monastiraki are a sight to behold.
Plaka is the oldest neighborhood of Athens, something that becomes apparent from the moment you step foot in it due to its neoclassic architecture and picturesque cobbled streets. The island-like district of Anafiotika in Plaka is the highlight of the area, where visitors and locals alike visit in order to enjoy the tens of cafes and restaurants the neighborhood boasts.
Koukaki is arguably one of the trendiest neighborhoods of Athens, with its many fashionable cafes and bars being frequented by the locals on a daily basis. It is an ideal choice for a night drink and one of the most sophisticated places to enjoy the famous Athenian nightlife.
Following Ermou street, the most commercial street of Athens and the ultimate destination for shopping, you will end up in the vibrant Monastiraki Square. There, you will marvel at the many monuments, including the Tzistarakis Mosque, the Library of Hadrian, and the Monastery of Pantanassa. You will also have the opportunity to have a look at the popular flea market, where you can buy all the souvenirs you need to take with you back home.
From ancient rivers, sculptures, and forgotten walls to Royal palaces, underground treasures, and hidden gems of the past, Syntagma Square is definitely a place of history the visitor should absolutely explore! Waste no more time, plan your own Athens exploration or check out one of our tours around Greece.