Neighbourhood Stories Pangrati.
Pangrati has a great history since it is practically in the centre of Athens. Panathenaic Stadium (also known as Kallimarmaro), is in Pangrati. The stadium has hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and it is well known as the only stadium in the world completely built in marble.
In this post, I am going to concentrate on the past great stories of Pangrati. More topics regarding nowadays will come in the future.
(This picture of Kallimarmaro, was taken by a good friend of mine).
Many famous composers, academics, politicians, poets and actors, are living or have lived here, including Manos Hatzidakis, Giorgos Seferis, Kostas Varnalis, Kostas Karamanlis, Nikitas Kaklamanis and many more. Helene Ahrweiler grew up and still maintains her family house in Vyronas (an area really close to Pangrati).
In 1908, under Queen’s Sofia care, Alsos Pangratiou (Pangrati Grove) was created. The 30 acres that encompass the grove, served as an urban oasis full of pines for the local life. In 1936, Alsos Pangratiou was given to the Municipality of Athens and they planted many other types of trees and shrubs.
For a small period, a zoological park was operating in the grove, but it was demolished during World War 2. In the 70s, an open-air cinema, which housed the famous “Elefthero Theatro”, was operating and lightweight constructions were created.
The year is 1964 and Christos Lentzos opened a luxury patisserie opposite Alsos Pangratiou. In 1971, he perfected the frappe coffee drink while he was experimenting on this drink at his shop. Frappe was invented by accident in 1957 by Dimitris Vakondios, representative of Nestle, in International Trade Fair in Thessaloniki.
Nevertheless, until that time (1971), frappe wasn’t as famous as it became after Lentzos attempt. No one could find that kind of drink before (or maybe it was rare as people at that time used to drink Greek/Turkish coffee. Vakondios, invented frappe, but the result was ice water mixed with coffee and a very poor foam. It wasn’t the one with the rich foam we all know after Lentzos “the father of coffee” made it popular.
Back to Lentzos story. Many people of Athens and the countryside were visiting only to taste the best frappe of Greece. The “Frappe a la Lentzos”.
The coffee shop became the meeting point of the whole Athens. Sofia Vembo, Katina Paxinou and Aliki Vougiouklaki were only some of the famous Greek frequenters that enjoyed drinking coffee and pastry at his shop. It even became a song (“Kathomouna stou Lentzou” – “I was at Lentzos”).
Unfortunately, in 2013, Lentzos closed his famous shop and the reason was not only because of the economic crisis if you ask my personal opinion, but also because times have changed and Greeks are more keen to Italian coffees nowadays. At the same spot, a bakery store of the famous Greek chain “Attiki Fourni” is constructed. They serve “Frappe Lentzos”.
It certainly can’t have the same glam as it once had anyway. However, I would definitely recommend anyone to try it, even nowadays.
Another well-known spot in Pangrati is of course the streets around Panathenaic Stadium and especially the famous Agras Street that is worth a stroll around.
Just a quick note to mention that the name of the street “Agra” refers to the ancient municipality of Agra, which corresponds geographically with Pangrati.
The residence of Giorgos Seferis is also on this street. Architect Panais Manouilidis designed it during 1957-1959. The building consists of a two level cube that is characterised by a modern approach of minimalist simplicity. The – Greek island style – exterior is painted in white colour and the windows are blue.
The house at 21 Agras Street is also particular. Every time I pass this seemingly abandoned house (but apparently is not), I see many cats in the front yard. Rumour has it, that it belongs to a cat lady that has transformed her house into a place for stray and feral cats in order for them to eat and sleep in a safer place than in the streets. At the front door of the house, there is a hanging plate where a three-verse poem in the English language is written in saying: “I will not reign, to serve I disdain, the cat I remain”.
2017 update: unfortunately last time I visited, they had taken the hanging plate and there are no cats.
Another notable and well-known residence is just a few blocks away from Agras street: The house of modern art critic Alexandros Xydis. Architect Aris Konstantinidis designed it in 1961 and is one of his most well-known house projects. It is said to be the most beautiful residence, he had ever designed.
The building consists of five level irregular shapes and is located on a steep slope of Ardettus Hill, right next to Panathenaic Stadium. The building has been placed obliquely unlike all the other buildings on the street that are perpendicular to each other.
The parking area is on the first level. The third level has an office space and a guest suite. The two main zones that constitute the two-story volume of this house is the day zone (living room, etc.) and the night zone (bedrooms) and they are located on levels 4 and 5. The columns begin from the street level and continue to the full length of the building, interrupting the continuity of the visible stone masonry that covers the first three levels of the house. The main structural elements are reinforced concrete, metal and wood and the in-between walls are of white plaster. The result is an excellent solution for corner buildings as well as a perfect example of great architecture.
Pangrati has also famous squares other that Pangrati Square. Plastira square, Varnava square, Mesologgiou square and Proskopon square.
In the last one, is located the restaurant “Magemenos Avlos” that still operates until today and it used to be the favourite haunt of the famous Greek composer Manos Hatzidakis. Other notable famous people that were visiting often, were: Melina Mercouri, George Kouroupos, Alexis Minotis, Kostas Mitropoulos, George Maniotis, Kostas Georgousopoulos, Spyros Sakkas, Nikos Perantinos, Alekos Lidorikis and many more. This square is also known as Manos Hatzidakis Square. “Magemenos Avlos” is said that it was the first restaurant in Greece that served pizza, after a trip to Italy of the owner with Manos Hatzidakis. Rumour has it, that they were so excited by the great taste of pizza that the owner of Magemenos Avlos brought the chef to Greece only to train the personnel of “Magemenos Avlos” how to make pizza.
Each square had (and has) coffee shops, restaurants and bars and because of the great climate of Greece, people are often sitting at outdoor tables. Live music is often accompanied in taverns.
Pangrati is also proud to have the best restaurant in Greece. In 2013, it had been ranked by Restaurant Magazine as the #97 of world’s best restaurants. The restaurant is called Spondi and it is located in a neoclassical historical villa near Varnava Square. 2 Michelin stars Spondi serves haute traditional French cuisine with a very interesting Greek, French and Italian wine list.
I will definitely eat there someday.
Nowadays, Pangrati is a densely populated area, with many blocks of flats that have been created by the constructors mainly during the 1960s.
Many people think that Pangrati has lost its old glamour that once upon a time had.
I disagree. Pangrati has not lost its magic. It is still – and always will be the favourite haunt of actors, poets, academics and young people. It still has those great streets that someone can be lost in the history of this neighbour, in the beauty of its buildings. Last but definitely not least, Pangrati is still one of these neighbours that people know each other. People say hello to each other every day. Maybe because the people that were born here never wanted to leave and they never did.