Athens was a small village well into the mid-19th century and did not begin to grow until it became capital of independent Greece in 1834. This fact is hard to believe when you look at today's traffic-clogged streets, but the recently restored and expanded Byzantine and Christian Museum, at 22 Vas. Sofias, occupies the Renaissance-style villa built by the Duchess of Plaisance as her country retreat in the 1840s. Syntagma Square is home to several other buildings from the same period, including Parliament House (the former royal palace); Grande Bretagne Hotel (a former mansion); and Schliemann's house, Iliou Melathron (in the Numismatic Museum). Many neoclassical 19th-century buildings fell in Athens's rapid expansion after World War II, but a large number of them survive all over the city from downtown into Kifissia. Watch for surviving buildings, described below, as you explore central Athens.

In the Plaka, several 19th-century buildings have survived, tucked between the T-shirt shops and restaurants at busy Adrianou (Hadrian) and Kidathineon. One of the oldest surviving prerevolutionary houses in Athens, 96 Adrianou dates from the Turkish occupation. The nearby 19th-century Demotic School has a distinguished neoclassical facade. On Kidathineon is the house in which King Ludwig of Bavaria stayed when he visited Athens in 1835; there's no number on the house, but a small plaque identifies it. Several other former houses date from the same period.

Finally, if you climb through the Plaka to the Anafiotika district on the slopes of the Acropolis, you'll find yourself in a delightful neighborhood with many small 19th-century homes. This district is often compared to an island village, and small wonder: Most of the homes were built by stonemasons from the Cycladic island of Anafi, who came to Athens to work on the buildings of the new capital of independent Greece.

The Archaeological Promenade

One of the great pleasures in Athens is strolling through what's been dubbed the Archaeological Promenade, Europe's longest and arguably prettiest pedestrian promenade. It takes visitors past the most important of the city's ancient monuments. In preparation for the 2004 Olympics, the city laid out walkways from Hadrian's Gate past the Acropolis on Dionissiou Areopagitou to the Ancient Agora, past the Acropolis Museum through Thissio to the temple of Hephaistus, and on to Kerameikos and Gazi to the west, veering north through Monastiraki to the Plaka. Athenians use the walkways for their evening volta (stroll); the promenade helped change central Athens from a traffic-ridden horror to a delight.

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