NEWS

Be a tourist in your own city

Every Sunday without fail at 10.30 a.m. – and some Saturdays (for visits to sites that are closed on Sundays) – nine months of the year (apart from the summer months), the City of Athens holds free guided tours of the city’s sites and monuments. For the past 27 years, its tour guides have been introducing Athenians to their city’s past. All they pay is the entrance fee to the sites themselves, wherever these are charged. This is how it works: Check out the capital’s municipal website – www.cityofathens.gr – for the dates and schedules, call the Municipal Art Gallery and Museums Department (210.323.1841 or 210.324.0762), or go to the city’s Cultural Center (50 Academias St). Every Sunday morning there is a different itinerary, but many of these are repeated over the year. If the idea of a guided museum tour seems too much like a school excursion, there are always the outdoor walks. One of these met at the Evangelismos metro station on a recent sunny Sunday. Within a few moments, the tour guide was surrounded by a crowd of over 150 men and women of all ages (but very few children) for a briefing of the tour they were to take along Vassileos Constantinou Avenue, the approximate course of the ancient Ilissos River. The tour was to end two hours later at the Church of Aghia Foteini. Some of the original crowd dropped off along the way, of course, as happens in tours. There was a smaller tour nearby the War Museum. Many of those in the crowd make a regular habit of the tours, meeting friends every Sunday. As for the tour itself, the information provided by the guide is detailed, similar to the kind of information one would find in a Google search or travel guide, only here the process is interactive; then there are always the wisecrackers, providing lighter moments. The winter program (January to March) provides a selection of 40 different meeting points. Tickets are issued at the entrance to 148 Ermou at the Church of Aghia Dynami. The only thing one has to make sure of is the meeting point for each tour. For example, Hadrian’s Arch for the tour of the Olympic Stadium, 66A Irakleidon in Thiseion for the walk around Athens, Philopappou Hill for the a tour of the Pnyx. All the tours are conducted in Greek. «Hundreds of people come to them,» said the municipal official in charge. «Whole families come. Every tour lasts from two to three or even four hours, depending on the site.» I think about the four-hour walk and sit down on a bench away from the crowd. The lecture on the Ilissos River surroundings began at Aghios Georgios Rizari. The guide indicates on the map the course of the now underground river. «The point is to see Athens through different eyes,» she said. «Not piled into a bus. We will walk along the Ilissos, not along its banks, of course, but above them, on the sidewalks.» The tour guides are nothing like those one is used to seeing on trips abroad. Often bystanders don’t even know what is going on. It’s a great way to get to know your own city’s secrets, its old neighborhoods, the monuments of Plaka and neoclassical Athens.