A hidden gem located within the National Gardens of Athens, we are talking about the Zappeion Palace. The building that once served as the Olympic Village, today is probably the most important event and conference hall in all of Greece.

A bit of history

Greece had just achieved its long-awaited “independence” (the use of quotation marks is more than justified, believe me), after expelling the Ottomans who had been on the peninsula for almost 400 years.

In that context, both Athens and Greece were very poor, and one could even say invisible in the eyes of the other European countries. It was then that a wealthy Greek man named Evangelos Zappas came up with the idea of reviving an ancient Hellenic tradition: the Olympic Games, for which he needed a building worthy of the event…

Officially, the first modern Olympics took place in 1896, in Athens, after Baron Pierre de Coubertin created the International Olympic Committee. However, I’m going to tell you something that few people know:

Evangelos Zappas’ original plan was for the games to be held in Athens, and always in Athens. Although ultimately unsuccessful, he did manage to hold what is known today as the “Zappas games” up to 4 times, in the years before the Olympic committee was created.

Sadly the benefactor Evangelos did not live long enough to see his building completed, as the Zappeion Palace would be inaugurated belatedly in 1888. It was then his cousin, Konstantinos Zappas, who was commissioned to finish the job.

It is worth mentioning the work of the architect Theofil von Hansen, who also designed other important buildings such as those of the trilogy of neoclassical buildings in Athens, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Austrian Parliament.

Events and conferences

In addition to holding the fencing competitions in the first modern Olympics, the Zappeion Palace was used as the Olympic Village in the “intercalated games” of 1906.

Brief clarification:

The “intercalated games” were a sporting event, which as the name suggests, took place between official Olympiad and Olympiad. Although they were NOT recognized by the International Olympic Committee, they were credited with saving the Olympic movement at a time when it was being overshadowed by other events.

In the end, because of poor support and the context of the First World War, Athens was not able to continue with the intercalated games. Today, however, we have something very similar: the Winter and Summer Olympic Games respectively.

Among many other non-sporting events and conferences held at the Zappeion, it is worth noting that it was in this building that Greece’s entry into the European Union was signed.

Perhaps your visit to Athens coincides with an important event that you would like to attend, as many of them are public and admission is free. I leave you a link to the website where you will find the updated calendar of all the events and conferences scheduled at the Zappeion:

Entrance to the Zappeion

When no private event is taking place inside the building, it is possible to enter the building and visit the hall of the Zappeion palace. The entrance is free of charge.

There you will find an elegant and luxuriously decorated great hall and a small park or garden in the inner courtyard. At the back right of the hall, you will find a small plaque that has written on it: “the head of Evangelos Zappas“.

What does this mean?

Let’s remember that the benefactor did not live long enough to see his building finished, but before he died, Evangelos Zappas asked for his body to be buried in the Zappeion…

According to several sources, his head (and only his head) is now inside a sealed box in the hall of the palace. Similarly, other sources claim that the head was buried at the foot of the statue of Evangelos Zappas (located outside the building).

Aigli Cinema

Many travelers ask us about the cinema when we pass by the Zappeion on one of our tours. On one side of the building, also within the national gardens, we come across a beautiful open-air cinema.

In Greece this type of cinema is quite common, taking advantage of the good weather that accompanies the Hellenes during many months of the year. Specifically this one is called “Cine Aigli”, which also has a luxurious cafeteria.

However, if you are thinking of watching a movie outdoors, instead of the Zappeion cinema I would recommend the “Thision Open Air Cinema“. Personally, I like this cinema much better; it has won the award for the best open air cinema in the world and has spectacular views of the Acropolis of Athens.

Location of the Zappeion

The palace of the Zappeion is located in the southern half of the national garden of Athens:

Nearby points of interest:

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