April 27, 1941 at 4 Kifissias Avenue

Athens, besides the major ancient sights and monuments that make up its "touristy side" often seems to be a "secret city" for the visitor and many of its inhabitants alike. It's taken me quite some time to only recently start to uncover and decipher its little secrets, corners and interesting historical snippets that are not evident at first sight and nobody often has a clue about, until you stumble upon some interesting article or book excerpt.

I've written about a couple such instances in my previous post on Alexandras Avenue, but I left the best for last. I am generally not a history buff, so I don't care much about historical facts and dates unless something clicks to me, for whatever reason that may be. One such "click" came a few years ago, when I was browsing a book on the local history of the neighborhood of Ambelokipi. The author, a long-time local resident of this Athens district, had made a meticulous job of tracking down and recording almost every little detail one could possible find on the neighbourhood. What impressed me the most was this little gem of information dating back to WWII and the start of the 3.5-year occupation of Athens: When, in April 1941, Nazi Germany was forced to attack Greece to finish off what Mussolini's Italy had failed to achieve, the Nazi army had a rather swift victory and were able to approach Athens in just 3 weeks from the day of the invasion. In the morning of Sunday, 27 April 1941, as Nazi tanks were rolling down  Kifissias Ave., at what was then the surrounding countryside of Athens, the city's authorities had decided to surrender, judging that a battle would be in vain and would only bring more pain and suffering to the inhabitants of the city. The Athens Police Commander and the Head of the the Nazi brigade entered a small kafeneio (coffee-shop), located at 4 Kifissias Ave. and this is where Athens' surrender was officially signed. I've read that the owner of the coffee-shop was so frustrated that afterwards he broke the marble table top of the table (where the surrender was signed) with his bare fist and it stood there for many years after the event. Unfortunately, this place has now (fairly recently) been turned into a regular sandwich chain store and there are no signs of the old coffee-shop. 
All I could do is take a couple of snapshots and let you recreate the scenes in your mind, as they must have taken place exactly 71 years ago...
If you stand in the median of Kifissias Ave. and look "upwards" you can imagine the Nazi tanks and jeeps roaring their way into 1941 Athens and the shock that the city's inhabitants must have felt back at that time...

4 Kifissias Ave.: The coffee-shop were Athens' surrender was signed, now turned into an Everest sandwich store

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Walking along Leoforos Alexandras (Alexandras Avenue)-part 2

(Updated 2014-08)
This is the second, upper, part of my walk along Alexandras Avenue [click here for last week's post (part 1)] which probably has to do with sports and politics more than any other street in town. But before that, the first thing you notice is one more hotel, the second of two along this main Athens avenue. It is Zafolia Hotel, a 4-star city hotel located at numbers 87-89, on your left hand side as you ascend.

There's not much to see around here. Mostly some interesting views and perspectives into the back streets of the residential neighborhoods of Neapoli (to your right) and Gyzi (to your left). You may also start your ascent to Lykavittos Hill if you venture to the right from here, if you want to walk up the hill.
Panagiotara St., at the Gyzi neighborhood, seen from Alexandras Ave. Blocks of flats left and right.
If you stay the course and walk up Alexandras you will notice a green-white painted  two-storey house to your left. The building houses a fan club of Panathinaikos Sports Club and was painted in the colours of the team about 2 years ago.

Building hosting a Panathinaikos F.C. fan club
A few blocks on, you will notice some large buildings to the left and right. The one to the right is pretty clear...
It's the old soccer stadium of Panathinaikos F.C., the most successful team in Athens and one of the two top teams in Greece, in terms of both fans and trophies. In fact, the stadium is nick-named after the street as  Leoforos Alexandras or simply Leoforos. It was built in 1922-24 and was the first soccer field in Greece to have stands (wooden ones) -built in 1928, at the side of Alexandras Ave.-, the first one to have concrete stands -in 1931-, the first one to have floodlights - in 1948- and the first one to have grass - in 1958. (Source: The Club's official site , in Greek- click to see some old pictures). There was also an indoor gym -the first one in Greece- constructed under gates 6 and 7 to house the club's other sports (basketball, volleyball) in 1958 to 1961. Due to its narrowness, the gym immediately got the nickname "The Indian Tomb", after Fritz Lang's movie which was playing in Athens cinemas those days and it stuck ever since.

The old Panathinaikos F.C. soccer stadium

Leoforos Alexandras: The old Panathinaikos F.C. soccer stadium
The club's fans have many good memories from this stadium, the main one being the 3-0 victory against  Red Star Belgrade on 28 April 1971 and subsequent advance to the European Cup Final (and some not so good ones...) and some of them are depicted in the boards surrounding the structure. It is set to be demolished and replaced by a park, as part of a land-swap and urban regeneration scheme. Panathinaikos is currently hosted at the "Athens Olympic Stadium" in the northern suburb of Maroussi but when the whole scheme goes through the club will move to a new stadium in the western neighborhood of Votanikos.

Moving to the left side of Alexandras, just before you reach the stadium, lies a big glass and marble structure which is Greece's Supreme Court for Civil and Penal Law, the so-called Areios Pagos. The court was erected in 1981 in the place of the former "Averoff Jailhouse", a jailhouse erected for underage delinquents in 1894 but which was also used as a place of torture against Greek rebels during the WWII occupation of Greece by the Nazis.
The Areios Pagos building on Alexandras Avenue, looking back.
Right after it, at 165-169 Alexandras, is a complex of 8 derelict but architecturally interesting buildings that have their own unique history. I'll make a detour from Alexandras to the left here, at Kouzi St.: these are the so called Prosfygika' (Refugees') buildings. They were erected in 1933-1935 by 2 Greek architects (Laskari & Kyriakou), in a Modernist / Bauhaus architectural rhythm, in the aftermath of the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922, when 1.5million Greeks were forced to leave their homes in Asia Minor and came to mainland Greece as refugees. They were scattered all over Greece, including Attica, and a small state program of housing tried to accommodate a number of them with constructions such as this one.

The Prosfygika' (Refugees') buildings complex at Alexandras Avenue - Athens, Greece
The Prosfygika' (Refugees') buildings complex at Alexandras Avenue & Kouzi St. - Athens, Greece 
There are 228 apartments in 8, strictly rectangular, parallel, blocks with trees lining the quiet streets that join them. Even more, during the Greek civil war (at the aftermath of WWII) there were battles held here between the two fighting camps: the national army (with the support of the British) and the communist-led rebels of the "democratic army" (who did not get the Soviet support they were longing for). You can still see bullet holes and shell marks on some of the buildings if you look at them carefully.
Shell marks from the Greek civil war era, on a building at the Alexandras' Ave. Prosfygika complex
As is often the case, there was a controversy as to what to do with these buildings in the past 20 years, when  most of the old refugees and their children had either moved out of here or passed away. The State wanted to raze them completely (initially) or keep just two out of the eight blocks (later) but the Courts decided that the whole complex should be classified as a historical, architectural monument. So, the State has been pondering (or not...) what to do with them for the last 4 years or so, since they were declared worthy of preservation.
Modern amenities in old buildings

Some of the doctors and visitors to nearby hospitals are using the area as a parking lot

There are two related marble plaques erected nearby: One of them seems to have been installed by the Communist Party of Greece and has a civil-war / divisionist character: 
"Honor and Glory to the Heroic Fighters of the C.P.G. and EAM-ELAS  who fought, in December of 1944, against the  Bourgeois Class and English Imperialism" - C.P.G. (Nice photo op for British tourists to Athens :) ) 

The other is placed one block before that, at the front lawn of the Areios Pagos, by a "united national resistance movement" and the then mayor of Athens (who was a PR expert... :) ) and has an inclusive character,  refering to the events of WWII. Aesthetically, you won't find much difference between the two...
"Memory eternal to the Greek men and women who were held and sacrificed in the  Averoff Jailhouse, in the name of national liberty and democracy"
Getting back to Alexandras Avenue you'll see some more large buildings which are a cancer patients hospital and the Police headquarters (to your left) and a large building belonging to Piraeus Bank (to your right).
Piraeus Bank (formerly 'Bank of Cyprus' building: 170 Alexandras Avenue, Athens, Greece - Ymittos Mountain  in the background
You will also see the Ambelokipi Metro Station here, part of Line 3 that takes you from the airport to downtown Athens and then to the western suburb of Egaleo. The next 3 blocks, after the intersection with  Soutsou / Parnormou St., are mostly lined with cafes and eateries of various types, mainly serving the local office population that works here during the weekdays. The one that strikes you the most from the outside is the  blue-colored building on the left hand-side, formerly of Craft Microbrewery; the first Greek microbrewery to open in Athens, 15 years ago. This location shut down in the summer 2012, during the first peak of the financial crisis. The brewery has now (2015) gone out of business.
Former Craft microbrewery building (first Athens microbrewery) at 205 Alexandras Avenue, Athens, Greece

National School of Public Health and street signs, at 196 Alexandras Ave., Athens, Greece

Reaching the end of the road, at the corner of Alexandas & Kifissias Ave., lies the so-called "Thon Building", an office building with a Starbucks and TGI's at the ground floor, the Australian Embassy at the 6th floor and an interesting little chapel right next to it, that seems to be waiting for some kind of restoration work to take place.
St. Nicholas chapel, by the Thon Building at Alexandas & Kifissias Ave., Athens, Greece

Alexandras & Kifissias junction, Athens, Greece - Thon Building 
If you are tired from all the walking I'll give you some food suggestions in the surrounding area of Ambelokipi and a few more tips in the coming posts.

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Walking along Leoforos Alexandras (Alexandras Avenue) - part 1

As the weather gradually gets warmer I'll be doing some more "walking" posts for you, presenting streets and neighborhoods of Athens. This time it's Alexandras Avenue (Leoforos Alexandras), which is a major thoroughfare running in a west to east direction (and vice-versa, with 3 lanes each way), from the center (almost) of Athens to the neighborhood of Ambelokipi and Kifissias Avenue which then takes you to the northern suburbs of Psychiko, Filothei, Halandri, Maroussi and Kifissia. It acts as the northern boundary of the Inner Athens Ring Road.
Leoforos Alexandras (Alexandras Avenue) street sign

Alexandras starts at the intersection with Patission St. The road has a slight upward slope moving this way but the large sidewalks make it easy to walk. The first thing you see is the small Plateia Aigyptou (Egypt Square) that has been partly turned into a bus station (with a parking underground). Here, and in the adjoining Mavromataion St., is the Athens starting point for suburban buses traveling to Attica (the wider region of Athens) and destinations such as Cape Sounio, Marathon, Porto Rafti, Rafina, etc. [For transport directions to / from Rafina and Lavrio click here]
Suburban bus station at Plateia Aigyptou (Alexandras Ave. & Mavrommateon St.) 
On the left hand side you will also find a bust of famous late Greek poet 'Constantinos Cavafis', internationally known as C.P. Cavafy. If you haven't read any of his poems (his work is translated into many languages) I really recommend picking up one of his books or a collection [Check out  Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk]. I only remember a couple of poems from my high-school years and his ("Ithaka") was one of them. It may ring a bell to you that this was the poem read during Jackie Kennedy Onassis' funeral by her companion back in 1994. 

Next, on the left again, is the main entrance of Pedion Areos (a.k.a. Pedio tou Areos) ("Champs de Mars" in French...); the largest urban park in the boundaries of the city of Athens. It underwent a significant renovation a couple of years ago but has remained half-finished and management problems still linger. However, many people choose to come here for a weekend walk or for their kids to find a chance to get out of the apartment and play and when it's sunny it's a really nice place to be.
Pedio tou Areos park - Main entrance at Mavrommateon & Alexandras - Statue of former King of Greece Constantine
Across the street from the Pedio tou Areos, is the recently renovated Park Hotel, since 2012 a member of the Radisson hotel chain. At 26 Alexandras & Notara St. you will see the well-kept neoclassical building housing the Austrian Archaeological Institute of Athens.
Austrian Archaeological Institute in Athens
If you venture to the right you enter the neighborhood of Exarchia which is quite popular with students but has had its ups and downs as far as calm and safety are concerned. To your left is the other main entrance of Pedion Areos, with the Column of the Goddess Athena gazing proudly ahead.

At 50 Alexandras is a humble, local institution, at least for college students low on money. Ouzeri "Tiniako" serves ouzo, beer and a variety platter of mostly fried fare at very low prices. The upper floor houses (or used to house) the brotherhood of people originating from the island of Tinos (hence the name).

58 Alexandras has an impressive billboard full of mean looking characters, as it's an internet cafe and game zone. There are many narrow streets to your right and as the sun shines through the grey alleys you may catch some interesting views, like the one below towards Strefi Hill.
Graffiti in a narrow alley near Exarcheia
View towards Strefi Hill from Alexandras Avenue
Soon after, you reach a long strip of greenery that goes on for a couple of blocks on your right hand side, which is the Plateia Argentinis Dimokratias (Argentine Republic Square). It has, appropriately, a statue of Argentinian General Jose de San Martin at the upper end and a statue of the founder of the Greek Scouting movement, Athanassios Lefkaditis, at the lower end. These are no "sights" by any means, but I thought you might be curious to know about them if you've ever been a Scout ...or an Argentinian! The last Athens mayor surely wanted us to know, as the statue of Lefkaditis, erected in 1967, has an additional white marble plaque glued on it with the name of the 2008 mayor...! That was probably the last time this statue was cleaned and I wouldn't be surprised if City Hall threw a cocktail party to celebrate their achievement!

Plateia Argentinis Dimokratias - Bust of Athanassios Lefkaditis, founder of the Greek Scouting movement

Plateia Argentinis Dimokratias - Playing dominoes 
Plateia Argentinis Dimokratias - Kids playing around a fountain

Plateia Argentinis Dimokratias - Bust of  Argentinian General Jose de San Martin 

Plateia Argentinis Dimokatias (to the left) and Alexandras Avenue, looking back towards Patission St.
Next is an interesting apartment building, across the street, with something like a "roof garden" or "green roof" or whatever you want to call it. I probably wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't been out shooting pictures for the blog.
Athens block of flats with roof greenery - Alexandras Avenue
I'll end this first part with an unusually interesting graffiti found above a gas station, right after Plateia Argentinis Dimokratias.
Athens graffiti above gas station - 100 Alexandras Avenue
For the second part of Leoforos Alexandras make sure you come back in a week [click here for part 2].

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