Visit Syntagma square in Athens

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Come and visit Greece’s most popular town square! When visiting Athens you cannot avoid a visit to Syntagma square whether you like it or not it will always be on your way somehow .

Syntagma square is the central public square in Athens but it is also the most important square of all the country. It is a space dedicated to freedom of speech, a concept developed from democracy which the Greeks invented in antiquity. This square may not seem that spectacular from an aesthetic point of view but it retains all the country’s historical essence.

Also read :
The 15 best things to do in Athens
The best area to stay in Athens

Historical background

Visit Syntagma square in Athens

Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Kamil Ciolkiewicz

Syntagma square was named after the first king of modern Greece Otto. Otto was obliged to rename this square after a military uprising on September the third occurred, 1843 that called for a new constitution, so the square was named after this event as Syntagma means constitution. At the time, the capital had been just moved from Nafplio to Athens. When it was decided that Syntagma square would be the central square in Athens, the Old palace that is located right at the center of the square wasn’t constructed yet. Construction work started in 1836 and lasted seven years. The square used to be called the Palace square in reference to the presence of the eponymous monument, a few years before the new constitution was established. The old palace is a building that has been hosting the Greek parliament since 1934. The old palace is constructed in a neoclassical style and has large public gardens surrounding it.

The square is surrounded by café with large terraces and green spaces which provide a bit of well appreciated shade. In the center there is a large water fountain built in 1850, as well as the national gardens that surround the parliament. Both were commanded by Queen Amalia, the wife of king Otto. The square has been the scene of a lot of important political events and key moments in Greek history. There were some dark moments like during then end of the Second World War. In the ninety forties there were confrontations between the right wing and the communists.  In 1944, when the British army came to fight off the Nazis things went out of hand. Greece’s fate was being decided by Russia and England. Either the country would be in the control of communists either it would be under the influence of Great Britain. There were protests and police shootings that ended up killing more than twenty three people and injuring more than a hundred and forty. The British that were initially supporting the resistance were now fighting against it. All of these events led to a civil war. There were some other bright moments too fortunately.

It also has been the site of mass protests in 2010 and 2012 when the anti-austerity movement began. A lot of important speeches are given on this square and a lot of of protests take place there, but they are very rarely violent and most often do not last for very long. Syntagma square is the beating heart of contemporary Greek democracy and during you visit to Syntagma square you will probably come across an event, protesters or political groups handing out leaflets.

What to do and see

Visit Syntagma square in Athens

Photo credit: Flickr – Luc.T

Syntagma platia

Have a seat on one of the benches on the sides of the square to enjoy being under the trees or to simply do some people watching. The square is always crowded and animated. It is a popular place for tourists as well as locals, as it is a transportation hub so a strategic place to go to as it connects many different monuments and interesting places to visit. Many vendors try to sell lottery tickets there as well as tasty street food that you should definitely try out. For instance the souvlakis which are small meat skewers, usually pork served with tzatziki and other vegetables. There are also a lot of other kinds of shops nearby, in a street where no cars allowed which makes the shopping experience more pleasant.

The Greek Parliament

You can visit the parliament for free during guided tours in English, every Fridays and Mondays at 15:00 during June, July, August and September. The parliament is home to several ceremonial rooms and is interesting to visit just fir its architecture and decoration, in addition to getting a glimpse of how democracy functions in the country that invented democracy. As in London, the guards that protect the Parliament are famous for their seriousness. You are not allowed to touch them, and they will never respond to you if you speak to them.  Every hour, there is a ceremony where the guards are changed, and perform an interesting choreography to watch.The guards are called the Evzones. On Sundays the ceremony is even grander as ninety of the hundred and twenty Evzones are present outside. The regular ceremony takes place in front of the tomb of the Unknown soldier, which is a symbol for courage in war. The guards have an intricate uniform for the Sunday ceremony or special occasions that was designed originally in 1821 with a skirt that has more than four hundred folds,  shoes with cute black pompoms and a red beret holding a long tassel. This traditional garment is called Fustanella, and the pompoms Tsarouchia.  During the ceremony there is also a marching band playing, which creates a short but enjoyable show to watch.

Syntagma metro station

At the metro station you will find a small museum about the construction of the metro  and about the artefacts that were found during its construction. Amphoras, tombs and many others objects were discovered and are now displayed and protected underneath glass.  This type of construction is another example of Greece’s historical richness, blending ancient elements with new ones, evolving without obliterating its past.  The metro station itself is surprisingly beautiful and is said to be one of the nicest ones in the world.

Syntagma neighborhood

is also the name of the neighborhood surrounding the square. It is situated in the south of Athens. There are a lot of main touristic attractions nearby such as the Acropolis, The Olympieion, the Panathenaic Stadium, Plaka neighborhood, The Theater of Dyonysos, The Arch of Hadrian, The Pnyx, the Philopappos monument. There are all within a walking distance, and will make your visit to Syntagma square definitely worth it. From the national gardens where you can stroll around  you can take a trolley straight to the National Archeological museum (with lines 2,4, 11 and 15).

Historical hotels

There also luxury hotels, as the Grande Bretagne hotel which is historically significant. It was built in 1862, and is very well known even internationally, as it was used during German occupation by the Germans, and even Hitler himself. It then became during the civil war that followed the headquarters for the British forces. Churchill was almost assassinated in this hotel, by explosives that were underneath his room door. Since they are a lot of protests in this area, hotels propose secret passageways for guests to get out of the hotel without any problem if they wish to during demonstrations.

How to go to Syntagma

There are a lot of different ways to go to syntagma square, and most of the lines that are present it the city have connections  at this stop :

  • Metro:

Line 2 and three there is a stop called Syntagma that is right at the square, that leads you to marble stairs.

  • Trolley and buses:

Athens has a well spread out and functional bus system (which isn’t the case in the rest of the country) and they usually function from 5am to midnight. There are lines 2,3,4,9,11,13.

  • Tram:

There is only one tram line, that goes as far as the coast line. It connects with the underground train at this stop.

  • Airport:

There are direct express connection buses from syntagma square to Athens airport, which is convenient. They function on a twenty four hour basis. Take the X95 line to get there.

There are also hop on and hop off buses that go by this stop if you wish to do a tour of the city by bus.

Syntagma square: rates and opening hours

Visit Syntagma square in Athens

Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Konstantinos

OPENING HOURS

    Access to the square itself is free and open to all. It is a public plaza with no tickets or opening hours.

  • The evzones guarding the Unknown Soldier’s tomb perform a changing of the guard every hour of the day and on Sundays at 11am there is a more elaborate ceremony with 90 evzones and a marching band.
  • The Parliament can be visited via English language guided tours. They are held every Friday and Monday at 3pm, during the Summer (June, July and September). Tours last one and a half hours.
  • Syntagma metro station is open from 06:30am to 11:30pm.
GOOD TO KNOW

Beware of the many pickpockets that wander around in the area as in any big city square.

In the evening, when the square is deserted and silent, the changing of the guard becomes more touching and the symbolism is more evident, we found it to be a much more interesting and meaningful experience then amidst a crowd.

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