CULTURE

Sightseeing off the beaten track in central Athens

If someone were to say four or five years ago that there are five separate groups of Athens residents organizing walks around neighborhoods such as the less-than-glamorous Neos Cosmos, most people would probably scoff at the idea.

Yet so much has happened in Greece in recent times and the scope of what it means to get to know your city has become so broad that all new ideas have a place in this refreshing new chapter of urban life. And when we say refreshing, we mean initiatives aimed at getting residents more familiar with their neighborhoods that go beyond the usual historical and archaeological sightseeing tours, such as those that are successfully run by the City of Athens and conducted by a group of volunteer professional guides.

The “getting to know Athens” concept has taken off in recent years and has come to encompass a host of new ideas and experiences. If you’ve attended one of the tours conducted by the nonprofit group Atenistas of the Ottoman and Jewish parts of the Greek capital, or that which introduces Athens as built by King Otto, you’ll know what we mean. Beyond shedding light on the important buildings and landmarks of a particular area, the new tours, or walks, may include free admission to a monument, a concert or a meal. The same goes for the bicycle tours organized by Monumenta and the Menoume Athina (We Live Athens) initiative run by Athens municipal councilor Giorgos Amyras, where cyclists follow a designated route and make stops at important buildings around the city center – an architecture tour on wheels. Another group called Kathe Savato stin Athina (Every Saturday in Athens) conducts weekend tours based on a different theme each time, with the most recent example being a walk around the leafy northern suburb of Kifissia, where the theme was its rich vegetation and its age-old trees.

More and more groups are picking up on the trend and recently five separate organizations decided to join forces to arrange regular walks around different Athenian neighborhoods: Pame Volta (Let’s Go for a Walk) is the name of the initiative launched by PEZI (On Foot), Mamades sto Dromo (Moms in the Street), which campaigns for pedestrian rights, Monumenta, a nonprofit initiative for the protection of the natural and architectural heritage of Greece and Cyprus, Epimenoume Athina (We Stick to Athens), a citizens’ group, and the newly founded Asty company, which conducts historical tours of Athens.

“We want to go a step beyond the traditional tours,” Nikos Nikolaidis of Asty told Kathimerini. “We want residents, old and young, to get involved; we want to hear their stories. We want to make a record of each neighborhood’s architectural heritage and leave a legacy of our own. That is why, after each walk, we upload the verbal testimonies we gather as well as information regarding listed or other significant buildings in every neighborhood on our website [www.pamevolta.gr].”

The new group will be conducting its maiden tour on Sunday in Neos Cosmos. The theme of the walk is the area’s history as a neighborhood comprising Greek and Armenian refugees from Asia Minor who arrived here in the 1920s. The walk takes in the Bauhaus-style architecture of the apartment blocks built to house the newcomers, the site of a 1944 Nazi massacre of 120 residents, and the Armenian Catholic Church of St Gregory the Illuminator. Participants will hear residents’ accounts of the arrival of the refugees to Neos Cosmos (which means “new world” in Greek), how they were welcomed by society and how they eventually made a living.

The tour starts at 4 p.m. at the Kasomouli tram stop. It is free of charge.