Athens: Archaeological & City Museums, Monastiraki Square, and Psyrri

Another day in Athens. I like this city. Today, I went to the National Archaeological Museum, Monastiraki Square, the Museum of the City of Athens, and the Psyrri district.

At the end of this post, I’ll write some words about what it’s like to walk around Athens. Stick around for that. As I write these introductory words, that section is only an idea in my head. But I think it will be good. Or it will be crap. We’ll see. You pay your money and you take your chances. Considering that the amount of money you have to pay to read this journal is zero, that isn’t such a bad deal.

National Archaeological Museum

The National Archaeological Museum
The National Archaeological Museum

If you love dense crowds, you’d have loved the National Archaeological Museum today.

Clarification: When I said “dense crowds” I did not intend it as a derogatory remark about the intellectual capacity of the many people at the museum. I have no way of knowing if they were dense in the intellectual-capacity sense of the word or not. Maybe no. Maybe yes.

I simply meant that there were a lot of people and those people were often closely packed.

Many school groups roamed the museum. For the most part, the children behaved well. The teachers weren’t especially disruptive either. So, no complaints in that regard. But they occupied a lot of the museum. In a couple of rooms, large sections of the floor were taken up by clumps of students listening to their teacher. In one room, they sat immovably on the floor when doing so.

Many tour groups from cruise ships also plodded through the museum. I know they were from cruise ships because their guides held up signs on sticks. The signs displayed the name of the cruise line and a number for the specific group. The guides acted as if they owned the place. “Follow me, group, as we unsympathetically force our way through these other people to monopolize the next exhibit and block any path past it for as long as I deem to be appropriate.”

Vases at the archaeological museum
Vases at the Archaeological Museum

The guides of some other groups didn’t hold signs on sticks. I think they were independent operators. But those guides generally behaved in manners similar to the cruise ship guides. 

I’m never a fan of crowds, particularly not in the time of COVID. I have not faithfully worn masks here in Athens. In truth, my mask-wearing has been infrequent and completely secular. However, I did wear an N95-equivalent mask while in the museum, frequently checking the fit neurotically. I’m glad I carried one such mask with me.

Maskless visitors greatly outnumbered mask-wearers. Consequently, I was even happier to be wearing a mask. But I wish that placed me in the majority within crowded indoor spaces. Please keep your viruses to yourself, people.

Oh, yeah. The archaeological museum.

A face at the archaeological museum
A face at the Archaeological Museum

I just realized that I wrote a lot above about the crowds at the museum, but nothing about the museum itself. You might well ask, what do its collections hold? Lots and lots of old stuff, that’s what. Its name is the “National Archaeological Museum.” What did you think it exhibits? Candy canes? Really. If you don’t have a grasp of basic vocabulary, I don’t think I can help you here.

When I said “old stuff” in the preceding paragraph you probably expected me to follow it with a joke about my age. Don’t be inane. It wouldn’t have been a joke.

To be more specific about the collection, it has the usual archaeological museum fare: Really, really old vases, urns, pots, statues, jewelry, metallic foil decorations, sarcophagi, mummy cases, and other funerary paraphernalia. And a bunch of other stuff I’ve forgotten. If you count on me to remember every single detail, or even anything more than an infinitesimal fraction of the details, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

A statue at the archaeological museum in one of the rare uncrowded rooms
A statue at the archaeological museum in one of the rare uncrowded rooms

One room near the museum’s entrance included a couple of Cycladic figurines similar to the ones I saw at the Museum of Cycladic Art. I don’t imagine they’re the only such figurines in existence. Other museums likely have some too. And time probably destroyed many more than still survive.

Damn, those ancient people from the Cyclades (Cycladians? Cycladers? Cyclists?) were productive, weren’t they? It’s a pity they aren’t still around to enjoy the fruits of their labours. Or maybe they could get really busy, make more, and flood the market before the knockoff artists take over.

All-in-all, the collection is fascinating for anyone who appreciates old stuff. I do. If you appreciate old stuff too, allow me to just say that I’m single and straight. If you’re male, a relative of mine, and/or married, please forget you read the preceding sentence.

Okay. Now that I got the old man non-joke out of the way, I can relax. (Yeah, right. Me, relax? Like that’s going to happen.)

Conspiracy at the National Archaeologic Museum 

Traversing the museum required backtracking at a few points. It’s not that the museum doesn’t normally provide a circle route through it. It does. There was at least one such route, with a couple of minor offshoots, on each of the two large floors. Arrows on the floor pointed the way around the routes.

However, a few of the rooms through which one must cross to complete those circles were closed today. Queue-style stanchions blocked entry to those rooms.

Hence, the backtracking. To see all of the rooms that were open on the circle, I had to head back to that floor’s entrance and then go against the arrows to see the other side.

The museum didn’t offer any explanation as to why the rooms were closed. At least, it didn’t explain it to me. But I know the reason. If you’ve been following along on the last few days’ posts you know about the conspiracy against me that is responsible for the closures.

Monastiraki Square

Monasttiraki Square
Monasttiraki Square

After leaving the National Archaeological Museum, I took a bit of a walk and visited Monastiraki Square because a walking tour app I have recommended it as a must-see. On arriving, I immediately recognized that I’d been there before, but didn’t know what it was at the time.

Monastiraki Square is very close to Hadrian’s Library. I passed through the square on the way to and from the Central Municipal Market. The lane with the Athens Flea Market sign over it that I mentioned the other day is off Monastiraki Square.

Shops, restaurants, and a metro station line the periphery of the square. It was lively when I was there around lunchtime. A saxophonist busker entertained the crowd. I get the sense that it’s lively at more hours of the day than just the ones when I was there.

I visited one of the restaurants in the square for lunch. There, I had a tasty chicken gyro and a glass of wine. I enjoyed them leisurely while people-watching and thumb-typing a few of these words on my phone, Including these specific words.

At the restaurant, I worked only on this section about Monastiraki Square and a little bit about the Archaeological Museum. I didn’t type any of the words narrating the rest of the day while there because I’m not prescient. I’d be much better off financially if I were. The stock market would be mine.

The Museum of the City of Athens

A room at the Museum of the City of Athens
A room at the Museum of the City of Athens

I went to the Museum of the City of Athens because one of the guidebooks I’m using recommended it. The museum is housed in two attached, nondescript, old buildings. The sign on the door is small and the lettering on it is not particularly well contrasted with the background. As a result, I walked past the museum a few times before I realized that those were the buildings I wanted to visit.

I walked up and down the street thinking I’d see a big museum sign or at least a building that had a distinctly museum feel to it. Occasionally, I’d look down at Google Maps on my phone and see that I’d gone past the museum. So I turned around and did the same thing again. Finally, I continuously watched Google Maps while walking so I could see the precise spot I wanted. Only then did I see the unassuming sign on the building.

The museum is small. It consists mostly of small rooms filled with period furniture. There are also some small rooms with contemporary art in them, but those might be temporary exhibits. In the first part of the museum, the scant signage is in both Greek and English. Then it switches to unilingually Greek.

Scale model of Athens in 1842
Scale model of Athens in 1842

The highlights of the Museum of the City of Athens are a scale model of the city as it was in 1842 and what the brochure handed out at the admission desk says is the largest painting of Athens ever created, depicting the city before the destruction wrought by Morosini in 1687.

This information from the brochure caused me to look up Francesco Morosini when I came back to write this entry. (The brochure just said “Morosini.” The Google god filled in the Francesco part for me.) Ooh! Ooh! Bonus! I love it when things serendipitously tie together.

Remember when I wrote in my entry on the Parthenon that one of the many forces responsible for the Parthenon becoming a ruin and a shadow of its former self was an explosion? Some of you (and I can think of at least one of you) probably already knew this, but I didn’t. Francesco Morosini, who became Doge of Venice in 1688, was one of the dudes partially responsible for that explosion.

At the start of the Morean War, Morosini took command of a fleet that fought against the Ottomans. During the war, the Ottomans used the Parthenon as a gunpowder magazine. You can probably guess the rest. (If you already knew it then please skip the guessing part because you have an unfair advantage in that contest.) The Venetian fleet, under the operational command of Morosini, fired mortars at Athens and the Parthenon took a direct hit. The Parthenon did not respond well to the resulting explosion.

(I got the preceding information on Morosini and the explosion from Wikipedia. You decide how much you trust it.)

In truth, I didn’t like the Museum of the City of Athens much. But those sorts of tastes are idiosyncratic. To my mind, if you have an inordinate amount of time to waste in Athens, there are better places to waste it. Sorry, I’m not usually that harsh in these pages. But I am Canadian, so I had to say sorry.

The Psyrri (or Psyri, as the case may be) District

A Psyrri street
A Psyrri street

I visited the Psyrri (also spelled Psyri) district because the same guidebook that recommended the Museum of the City of Athens also recommended the Psyrri District. Forgiving to a fault, I wanted to give it another chance. I appreciated the latter recommendation much more than the former.

The guidebook said that Psyrri is a funky (I think it meant funky in a good way) district and a better alternative to the tourist-packed and artificial-feeling Plaka district. It also said that some areas of Psyrri are grungy.

I accidentally walked through Plaka a few days ago and quite enjoyed it. I didn’t find it at all artificial-feeling.

Another Psyrri street
Another Psyrri street

There were, indeed, fewer tourists in Psyrri than Plaka when I was in each, but that could have been a result of the times I was there. If the guidebook successfully steers people to Psyrri, as it succeeded in doing with me, I’d expect that the book would quickly make its comment about there being fewer tourists in Psyrri false. Although, maybe other people aren’t as willing to give the guidebook a second chance as I was.

I enjoyed the Psyrri district. Restaurants, bars and stores line small, quiet streets. Some of those streets are completely pedestrianized. The neighbourhood has a warm, active ambience.

I strolled there for a good while. And, while I didn’t tread along every block, I did tread most. I didn’t see any that were particularly grungy. Then again, maybe I’m just not very discerning when it comes to levels of grunginess.


Pedestrians in Athens

My few days (so far) experience in Athens leads me to an incontrovertible conclusion: Athens has a love/hate relationship with pedestrians.

The city has some pedestrianized streets, i.e. cars and trucks aren’t allowed on them. That’s the love part of the relationship.

If you can find a route from where you are to where you want to be that includes only pedestrian streets, then life is good. But, if your walks involve only pedestrianized streets, many though they may be, then you are restricting yourself to a ridiculously small range of travel in Athens.

It’s away from those pedestrianized streets where the hate part of the relationship dominates.

It might be just my imagination, but I’m pretty sure that a higher proportion of drivers in Athens think that red lights are just recommendations to stop, not requirements to stop, than in other cities. I did a search and all the sites I looked at said that it’s strictly illegal to turn right on a red light here unless there is a separate light allowing it. Someone should tell the drivers here that. They should also tell the drivers that it’s illegal to turn left or go straight on a red light. Many drivers don’t seem to know that.

And the rule seems to be that cars, not pedestrians always have the right-of-way.

Athens has a few major thoroughfares where traffic rapidly motors along relentlessly. There are traffic lights on those streets, but you sometimes have to walk a few blocks to get to one.

And, if you need to cross a major thoroughfare at a light that serves only a crosswalk, such as one at Syntagma Square (I don’t know if there are any others; crosswalks are at a premium here), rather than a set of lights that serve street traffic and parallel crosswalks simultaneously, you might wait for a long time for the pedestrian crossing signal and then get fifteen seconds to cross the street. How people in more advanced states of decrepitude than I’m in manage to cross those streets without being run over by ruthless drivers is a mystery to me.

And don’t even think of crossing major thoroughfares other than at the lights. As I said, the traffic is relentless, drivers drive as if they always have the right-of-way, and they are ruthless about it. I haven’t seen anyone attempt such a crossing. But I doubt they’d survive if they did.

I hope my heir doesn’t come to have reason to be happy I’m in Athens.

That having been said, it’s a beautiful city, the drivers notwithstanding.


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