This month we spotlight Athens docent Vassilios Dalamagas, who shares his love of his city and Greek history with us. Vassilios is a historian who has taught for several years in local Athens schools. He earned his undergraduate degree in archaeology from the University of Athens, and has conducted specialized research in the history of the Orthodox Church, Byzantine studies, and modern Greek history. Vassilios is a gifted teacher with extensive on-site experience with adults, children, and families.
Context Travel: What is your favorite walk to lead for Context and why?
Vassilios Dalamagas: My favorite walk is the Acropolis Seminar. The first lecture I had ever attended at Athens University, as an archaeology student, was about the Parthenon – the temple of goddess Athena – and its artistic perfection. I was so inspired by this lecture that I realized that I wanted to share what I had learned with as many people as possible. During the Acropolis Seminar tour we not only talk about the history and archaeology of Athens from the late Neolithic period until the most recent times, and find out why Greek art changed during different historic periods (while admiring masterpieces of Ancient Greek Sculpture at the New Acropolis Museum), but above all, we realize why the Parthenon is such a harmonious building and why it is the symbol of democracy.
CT: If there’s one book travellers should read before visiting Athens, what would it be and why?
VD: If I had to suggest one book about Athens to people who come to my city I would suggest the book “Life of Pericles” by the historian Plutarch. This book provides interesting information on the life of this great statesman, after whom the second half of the 5th c. b.C. is named, as well as on aspects of the everyday life in ancient Athens. Both the above mentioned are useful in order to reconstruct the view of the world of the ancient Athenians.
CT: You lead our excursion to Sounion. Tell us a bit about it. Why should visitors embark on this excursion/why is Sounion important for people who want to know more about Greek history?
VD: One of the best excursions outside Athens is the one to Cape Sounion. Many people believe that the only interesting thing during this tour is the visit to the beautiful marble temple of Poseidon, built in 444 b.C at Cape Sounion. This temple offers us the chance to talk about the Classical period, during which it was constructed, about the relations between Athens and Sparta and the Peloponnesian War, about the building methods of the ancient Greeks and even about Homer, who was the first one to ever mention the Cape, and about the Trojan War. During the drive to Sounion, which is approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes, we have the chance to refer to many periods of the Greek history. To be more specific, we drive by an area which used to be a prehistoric settlement of the 3rd millenium b.C, another one where Thucydides, the great Athenian historian was born, as well as other areas that are associated with Saint Paul’s visit to Athens or with the recent Greek history (Greco-Turkish population exchange, World War II, Greek Civil War). Furthermore, we refer to ancient Greek mythology, to modern architecture of Athens, to the modern everyday life of Athenians, while enjoying a spectacular view over the Aegean Sea on our right for the majority of the drive. In addition to all that, Cape Sounion is one of the many Greek National Parks, the beauty of which had inspired the great British romantic poet Lord Byron. Last but not least, Sounion is the best place in Athens to enjoy the sunset!
CT: If you only had one neighborhood/monument/museum to show people in Athens, what would you suggest and why?
VD: I would suggest the neighborhood of Plaka, which is the Old Town of Athens. In this picturesque area, which is full of small houses, most of which date to the 19th century, one has the chance to see many Byzantine churches and the Old Cathedral, while following beautiful alleys flanked by cafés, local restaurants and souvenir shops. Very close to Plaka, some important sites are located, such as the Ancient Agora (the civic and commercial centre of Ancient Athens),the Roman Agora and old mosques. Thus, strolling through Plaka one “walks” through different periods of Greek history while enjoying magnificent views of the Acropolis hill from different perspectives.
CT: What’s the most common misconception visitors have when embarking on a trip to Athens and what would you tell them is the real truth about Athens?
VD: Many people that I have guided in my city believe that Athens is a place where there is not much to see and do, apart from a visit to the Acropolis. In my opinion, this is not correct since one can visit many great museums (such as the National Archaeological Museum, the Benaki Museum, the Byzantine Art Museum, the Cycladic Art Museum, the Numismatic Museum) and many archaeological sites (with the same Acropolis ticket within four days, such as the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, the Kerameikos ancient cemetery, the Hadrian’s Library, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the North and South slopes of the Acropolis). Apart from this, Athens has got many buildings of Neoclassical, Functionalist, Art Deco and Modernist architectural orders which one can discover while strolling through the city. Last but not least, the city centre of Athens is very close (by car) to many beautiful and well organized beaches, so one can enjoy swimming in the waters named after the mythical king of Athens, Aegeas!