Untold Stories from Athens, Greece

stories athens

Each city has its obvious, well-known places and landmarks. Athens, the capital of the Hellenic Republic of Greece, has the Acropolis Hill, Syntagma square, the Agora, and so many other historical sites and attractions. Today, we discover some hidden, secret stories that are tied to some of the most popular Athenian landmarks. These stories include creative assassination plans, ancient curses, and hidden rivers.

Stories Behind Popular Attractions in Athens:

  1. Monkey Attacks the King of Greece at the National Gardens
  2. The Magic Olive Tree on the Acropolis Hill
  3. Ancient Curses and “Voodoo” Objects in Kerameikos
  4. Tricking Ancient Athenians To Becoming Active Citizens… With A Rope

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Tricking Ancient Athenians into Becoming Active Citizens… With A Rope

The first story behind a popular Athenian attraction takes place in the ancient Agora of Athens and the Pnyx; both places can be visited in the Greek capital. The Agora of Athens was a marketplace and meeting point for ancient Athenians. The Pnyx was a place designated for public speaking and hosting assemblies during the years of direct Athenian Democracy.

According to some historical records from Thucydides – but mostly from plays written by the ancient comedian Aristophanes – we get the impression that ancient Athenians loved to discuss politics but often despised attending the assemblies. Sometimes, when they were called to attend the ecclesia (the citizen’s assembly) at the Pnyx, they would stay at the agora, gossiping and engaging in casual conversations.

It is said that in order to encourage the citizens to engage in political conversations and vote on important subjects, certain people were assigned a peculiar task. They would grab a rope that was painted red that they called “μεμιλτωμένον σχοινίον” and start walking across the agora, forcing the crowd to follow them. They would basically herd the citizens towards Pnyx to attend the meetings.

Since we mostly know of the so-called “μεμιλτωμένον σχοινίον” from an ancient comedian, this story is often considered exaggerated. Some scholars believe that the red rope story was told by oligarchs who wanted to diminish the importance of the ecclesia. However, everyone agrees that there is… some truth to it.  

Ancient Curses and “Voodoo” Objects in Kerameikos

Kerameikos neighborhood is known for an archaeological site that includes parts of the “Iear Odos, the Sacred Way, the led Athenian to Eleusis for the Eleusinian Mysteries. They were held by a cult dedicated to goddess Demeter and Persephone and its members believed that they could reveal secrets about the afterlife.

The archaeological site also includes the ancient necropolis of Athens. Necropolis means “city of the dead” in Greek. It used to be the cemetery of Athens from the 9th century BC till the Roman era.  People can visit the area and observe the tombstones of that time.

Perhaps, the most interesting part of this site is the museum that preserves and showcases the artifacts that were found in the burial ground. Some of these artifacts reveal a secretive and lesser-known aspect of the daily lives of ancient Athenians. If you visit the museum, you will not only see pottery, jewelry, and offerings to the dead, but also some… stone tablets with curses that aimed to inflict harm on people.

Although witchcraft practices were banned in classical Athens, certain people would seek help from the paranormal to take revenge on those who wronged them or to cause harm to their political and legal opponents. In one of these tablets, for example, a man is requesting to have his opponent’s tongue tied during his speech in court.

The reason why the people buried these curse tablets in graves is related to the belief that the souls of the dead would carry them in the underworld. Hades was not just housing human souls. It was also the home of chthonic deities, such as Hecate. The latter is a goddess associated with the darkness and witchcraft. She would supposedly gather the tablets and she would then decide whether she would make them come true.

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The Magic Olive Tree on the Acropolis Hill

If you visit the Acropolis Hill of Athens, the sacred hill of the Greek capital, you will not only the Parthenon, but also the Erectheion. It is a temple dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon, the gods who competed against each other for the title of the protector of Athens.

As the name of the city suggests, Athena was the winner. That was because she made an offer Athenians couldn’t reject: the olive tree. According to the myth, the citizens saw a business opportunity in exporting olive oil all over the Mediterranean. They voted for Athena and she introduced the first olive tree in Athens.

Believe it or not, this olive tree can be found next to the Erectheion to this day. Of course, we do not know whether it was in fact created by an ancient Greek goddess. But we do know that it is somehow connected to the olive tree that ancient Athenians worshipped as such.

You may notice that this particular olive tree is quite slender and doesn’t look old enough. That’s because the tree reportedly spawned from a branch from the original sacred olive tree that was partly destroyed during World War II.

 Monkey Attacks the King of Greece in Athens

Perhaps the most peculiar story that takes place in Athens is the factual monkey attack against King Alexander of Greece in 1920. King Alexander was a 27-year-old who was stripped of his powers by the liberal party of Greece and who was used as a “puppet-king”, according to historians.

One day, he decided to take one of his long walks with his dog in nature. Some say that he took his walk in the Royal Gardens of Athens that are now known as “National Gardens”. Others suggest that he took his walk in Tatoi Forest which surrounded the estate of the former Greek Royal Family.

During his walk, Alexander came face to face with two… monkeys that got scared by the barks of his dog. One of the monkeys tried to attack his dog, while the other ran towards the king and bit him on his leg. The wound didn’t seem serious at first. However, it soon got infected by bacteria, leading to sepsis. The doctors could save him by amputating his leg, however, this option was denied. An amputated king would give off a weak image of Greece, according to those in power.

The event was so peculiar that rumors started spreading. Some believed that the monkey attack was an assassination that was carefully planned by his opponents. Monkeys are not native in Greece after all. It is said that they belonged to the botanist who took care of the National Gardens and the Forest of Tatoi. He has imported them from Africa and kept them as pets.

The attack occurred during the years of the Greco-Turkish War which aimed at regaining regions in Asia Minor that were part of the Byzantine Empire. According to historians, this attack ended up creating a political turmoil that resulted in the Great Fire of Smyrna two years later. As well as the exchange of populations between the two countries, with the exodus of Greek refugees to mainland Greece. This is why Winston Churchill once wrote that: “it is perhaps no exaggeration to remark that a quarter of a million persons died of this monkey’s bite.”

Top 10 Tips Before Moving to Athens, Greece | Moving Tips for Greece (Renting etc.)

Athens, a modern European capital with a glorious ancient past. Situated in the region of Attica in southern Greece, the city is known for its warm and sunny climate, quirky architecture, robust nightlife, and its countless museums, archaeological sites, and theatres.

It may surprise some of you, but Athens has over five million residents; almost half of Greece’s population lives in the capital. The city also has a broad expat community. Many of Helinika’s subscribers either reside in Greece or plan on moving there for a while. And here’s where this video comes in handy. Helinika has collected a list of tips for preparing yourself before a move to the Hellenic capital. These tips include valuable information for finding long-term accommodation in Athens.

10 Tips Before Moving to Athens | How to Find a Long-Term Apartment Rental in Athens:

  1. Living Alone or with Others?
  2. Search in the Right Websites (Beforehand)
  3. Calculate the Final Price (All-Inclusive Rentals are Rare)
  4. Be Aware of the… Unfinished Rentals
  5. To Heat or Not to Heat?
  6. Choose the Neighborhood Carefully
  7. Try Communicating in Greek (Or Have Someone Help You)
  8. Wear a Smile. Friendliness > Formal Criteria
  9. Don’t Be Afraid to Set Your Boundaries
  10. Ask for a Contract

Living Alone or With Others?

Many young people who move to Greece on a budget try to search for rooms to rent in shared flats with no success. Although living with roommates and flatmates is a very common thing in northern Europe, most Greeks would rather live in a 20m² room or spend their entire lives in their parent’s house, rather than live with strangers.

Greek people view their homes as sacred places and prefer living with people who are already very close to them, such as family members, partners, and close friends. They might be more than willing to host you for some time, following the rules of hospitality, but don’t expect them to be willing to rent you their spare room. Since Greeks are used to taking care of their guests, there are not enough cultural rules to dictate what their approach should be when the stranger becomes a… flatmate. Should they make you breakfast? Do you share groceries? Do you eat dinner together? The questions are just too many.

If a shared living situation is what you are looking for, you can join social media groups for expats in Athens, where it is more likely to find an available room in someone else’s house. Although some locals are open to living with strangers, it will be a bit more difficult finding such opportunities than in other European cities like Berlin.

Search the Right Websites in Advance

Once you are ready to look for an apartment, make sure to search wisely. It is not recommended signing a rental contract before seeing the apartment in person. The photos might be far from reality. However, it is suggested to already book some viewings before arriving to Greece. You will save a lot of time and money, since you will not have to spend a fortune in hotels and short-term accommodation.

Popular websites for finding long-term rentals in Greece are spitogatos.gr and xe.gr. There are many private listings with no commission in these websites. The good thing with this option is that you will rarely have to pay a large sum of money in advance as a security deposit. Greeks really depend on “philotimo” when it comes to any type of agreement. If the flat owner trusts you with their property, they will expect you to take care of it and might not request money for the rare case you might ruin something. But be aware of breaking any unspoken “philotimo” rules, since you might end up having to move out for breaking your verbal agreement.

The other option would be to contact a real estate agency to help you with your search. That won’t necessarily add any costs to the tenant, since the commission is normally paid by the flat owner. However, you might be requested to pay a security deposit in case you decide to break the lease early or cause any damage to the property.

Calculate the Final Price

In many parts of the world, the renter is presented with a final price that includes all living costs: from the rent price and the maintenance fees, to the electricity and heating bills. The renter pays a fixed price every month to the owner and may or may not have to pay extra or receive money back at the end of the year, depending on their energy consumption. In some cases, even the internet bills are included in the final price and the renter does not have to register to receive these amenities.

Although there are listings that include all living costs in Athens, potential renters should expect seeing just the rent price when checking an apartment online. For example, an apartment might be advertised as costing just 200€ per month, however, the final price might be twice the price when all fees and bills are calculated. It is important to contact the owner and clarify these details before moving into a new rental.

Keep in mind that Athenians have to pay the “EYDAP” bill every couple of months. This bill covers the costs of domestic water supply and consumption – an additional cost that many other European citizens do not have to pay.

Also, it is often expected that the renter registers himself or herself to the electricity, water, and heating providers on their own. That means that the apartment owner only receives the rent price from the tenant and the latter pays each bill separately. Despite being a tedious monthly activity, many tenants prefer this option. They keep track of their expenses and make sure that they are not overcharged by the apartment owner.

Be Aware of the Unfinished Rentals

If you grew up in the United States, then you might be surprised when looking for apartments in Europe. That is because it is quite common to find unfurnished apartments with no kitchen or even bathroom installed in them. The tenant is expected to move their furniture and electric appliances, including their fridge and oven, whenever they move. You might be surprised to hear that many tenants actually prefer it that way. They save a lot of money per month for renting an empty flat, while they enjoy a fully personalized space they can call home.

Of course, changing residence is not something that Athenians do that often. Greeks get very attached to their homes, whether they own the place or not. Although many Americans sign one-year leases and change their flats regularly, Athenians will only do so when necessary. If, for example, an additional member enters the family, or they need to move to another part of the city for work.

It goes without saying that there are plenty of fully equipped or even fully furnished apartments available on the market. If you are moving to Athens as an exchange student just for a couple of months, you should opt for a fully equipped or even fully furnished rental. The rent price might be a bit higher, but you won’t have to buy and resell every single item in your apartment.

To Heat or Not to Heat?

Situated in the sunny and warm Attica region, the city of Athens has mild winters with little rain and rare snowfall. Temperature varies from 8 to 12 degrees Celsius in the winter and, in certain cases, it can go up to 20 degrees. That means that it can be quite cold during the winter months but, for some, heating is optional.

This is something you should keep in mind before signing a lease, since many buildings in Athens have central heating. In this case, tenants meet at the end of the summer and vote on whether they are willing to pay for heating the upcoming winter. In low-income neighborhoods, tenants often choose not to heat, which may cause disagreements between neighbors.

Lastly, there are many apartments that have no heaters installed at all. Each tenant is free to purchase electric heaters and use them at their own cost. If you prefer relaxing at home in t-shirts and shorts all year long, you should take this into consideration. Clarifying the heating options before signing a lease is crucial.

Keep in mind that the Greek culture is slightly more collectivistic than most western cultures; when moving to an apartment building you might have to attend meetings and discussions with the other tenants and vote on important decisions. Athens is the birthplace of Democracy after all.

Choose the Neighborhood Carefully

This rule applies to any expat who is planning on moving to a foreign big city. Athens is more than the historical center you may have visited during your summer vacation. There are working class neighborhoods, usually in the western part of the city, and upscale, expensive areas in the northern and south-eastern suburbs. The city center is also divided in hip, forgotten, and upscale neighborhoods.

Are you going to drive or use public transportation? Is having a garden important to you? Do you prefer living by the sea, in an urban landscape, or by the mountains? Would you rather stay in a busy and noisy street next to the best bars and cafes or in a quiet residential area? These are a few of the things you should consider before choosing your Athenian neighborhood. If you are not sure where to start from, watch Helinika’s video dedicated on the coolest neighborhoods of Athens.

Try Communicating in Greek

If you have ever visited Greece, then you might have noticed that the great majority of business owners are fluent in English. This is true for most of the locals, especially the younger population. But what about the average middle-aged Athenian who doesn’t work in tourism and never had to communicate in English? Well, in this case, you might find some obstacles.

If you don’t speak a word of Greek, you may have to contact a real estate agency to find an apartment for you. They are used to having foreign customers and they will handle all communications with the owner. If this is not an option for you, consider asking for help from a friend who speaks Greek.

Keep in mind that speaking the local language is important for integrating yourself in any country. Consider signing up in a class and/or joining Helinika’s Udemy course for learning Greek.

Wear a Smile When Viewing Apartments

As mentioned earlier, Greeks focus a lot on human relationships and do trust verbal agreements. Before going to an apartment viewing, remember that, although formal requirements, such as income, do play a role, it is your character that will determine whether you are a good fit for the apartment building. The owner will want you to look friendly and trustworthy. So don’t forget to put on your best smile.

Remember that it is very common for tenants to hold meetings and make arrangements with each other regarding the building’s maintenance. Asking about the neighbors and making small talk when you see them is a good sign.

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Set Your Boundaries with the Owners and the Neighbors

Neighbors in Greece are indeed expected to interact with each other. But, sometimes, they might get into each other’s business. You might notice that the old woman on the ground floor knows when you leave or come back from work. You might get some comments about your music taste from your next-door neighbor and some uncomfortable questions from the owners.

It is important to set clear boundaries between you and your neighbors. It all comes down to honesty. Do you dislike having unexpected visits? Are you playing a musical instrument and need to practice during the day? Are you uncomfortable when neighbors question your guests?

You need to set your expectations straight and communicate them with the other tenants in a diplomatic way. Remember that Greeks often prefer indirect ways of communication. Being very direct, such as telling your neighbor to mind their business, will be perceived as rude and inconsiderate.

Ask for a Lease Contract Before Moving In

Some renters in Athens take the risk and move into an apartment without a lease contract. This is risky for both the owner and the tenant and it is usually a verbal agreement between people who already know each other. As an expat, you do not want to take such a risk. Always ask for a lease contract before moving into a new space, whether you know the owner or not.

General Moving Tips for Greece:

  1. Choose the Location Carefully
  2. Start Learning Greek
  3. Learn about the Culture (in a Non-Academic Way)
  4. Find Your Expat Community
  5. Join a Class/ Start a Hobby in Greek
  6. Burst Your Expat Bubble

Read more on how to integrate yourself in Greece.

Dos & Don’ts in Athens, Greece

athens travel advice

What are some weird facts about Athens, Greece? Can you throw your toilet paper in the toilet? Is the tap water safe in Athens? Are you allowed to drink in public in the Greek capital? These and other questions are answered in Helinika’s new YouTube video. Don’t forget to subscribe and stay connected!

Athens Travel Advice | Athens Travel Tips

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