There is no denying that Athens boasts a rich cultural and literary past, but did you know that modern literature also claims a strong foothold in the day-to-day life of Athens? Immerse yourself in this literary walk designed to help you discover the landmarks scattered around Athens.
On Panepistimiou street in downtown Athens, three stunning buildings, known as the Athenian Trilogy stand out. The National Library, along with the University of Athens and the Academy are considered to be the heart of the intellectual life of the city. Designed by Danish architect Theophil Hansen – who also designed the Zappeion building – the imposing library is constructed from marble and adorned with Doric columns. Comprising a vast collection of books and archives, it was established in 1902 with the mission to preserve Hellenic intellectual heritage.
In the early 1900s, the ‘Stoa Arsakeiou’ was built and considered part of the Arsakeio Mansion, a two-story building done in a neoclassic style, with a touch of eclecticism. The complex is home to many shops and coffee places including the ‘Book Archway‘ (Stoa Tou Vivliou), a center of culture and intellectual pursuits where bookstores offer works from 60 publishing houses – including both Greek and foreign publications – and hosts many cultural events, such as the annual European Literary Walk.
Poems & Crimes is a cute little bookstore and also the headquarters of Gavriilidis editions. The store has a wide collection of books about arts, psychology, Greek and foreign prose, international poetry, philosophy and much more. On the ground floor, there is an all-day cafe/bar/restaurant where you can comfortably settle with your favorite book whilst enjoying a drink. The second floor is used to host events such exhibitions, readings or music performances.
Zonar’s café is one of the most luxurious cafés in town. After relocating from Kriezotou street to the Military Pension Fund building on Panepistimiou street, the café was the scene where you could spot local and international literary elite (such as Jorge Luis Borges, Lawrence Durrell, Evelyn Waugh and Henry Miller), artists, actors and other influential figures who used to meet here during the 1930s. Literary debates were often hosted in this place and though it has been entirely renovated, the café has preserved its pre-1950 charm. Zonar’s café maintains its prestigious reputation with artistic flair.
The Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika Gallery – often referred to as simply Ghika Gallery – is part of the Benaki Museum. Hadjikyriakos-Ghika was an influential artist, and visiting his studio allows visitors rare insight into his life. The museum explores literary and cultural history and the studio is no disappointment. Serving as a cultural hub where artistic figures such as John Craxton or Patrick Leigh Fermor and other writers and artists used to reside during their visits in Athens, the studio features a one-walled bookshelf, spanning over two levels, while the rest of the place is covered with yet more bookshelves as well.
The 19th century was a golden age in terms of modern literature in Greece. One foreign figure who contributed largely to this legacy was Austrian diplomat and writer Anton Prokesch von Osten, who was the Austrian ambassador to Athens from 1834 to 1849. With a passion for art in general, von Osten turned the Austrian residence into a center where European cultural figures visiting Greece used to meet to discuss literature, politics, art, history and language. The building, located on Fidiou street, is now in a derelict state but its contribution to Athenian cultural history should not be underestimated.
To learn more about literature and its place in Athenian life, join Big Olive City Walks on their Literary Walk to discover the unique landmarks dotting the city associated with legendary figures like Henry Miller, Laurence Durrell, Constantine Cavafy, George Seferis, Virginia Woolf and many others.