Jewelry in Athens, Greece
The gold, silver and bronze goes to...Athens
It's a focal point of learning and a living testament to the many ages of human endeavour, so Athens attracts every type of tourist from curious backpackers, sponsored students to doting couples in their last bloom of love.* It is also a fixed point on many of the luxury liners that majestically cruise the Mediterranean.
While there is much to admire in the merchants’ showrooms dotted throughout the city and in some of the jewellers and galleries next to Monastiraki, it was the workmanship in Mitropoleos Street off Syntagma square that brought home to me the beauty that’s wrought in such fine detail that it’s mesmerising.
Mitropoleos Street merchants range from small hucksters with a shop (at this point I feel I should add a very arch “you know who you are!”), to an outlet that represents 17 workshops throughout Greece.
The merchandise throughout this jewellery enclave ranges from the breezy surfer-girl turquoise and silver pieces that I’m collecting at the moment to hold-your-breath necklaces, bracelets and earrings that represent thousands of euros’ worth of investment in the past and future.
Why the Greek jewellery in this particular store had a ‘once and future’ evocation for me was because some of the shapes and colours were strikingly reminiscent of great, epic dramas depicted on celluloid by Liz Taylor and Richard Burton’s Antony and Cleopatra (yes, I understand that Egypt and Rome aren’t quite Hellenic glory).
But that couple was once famous for their passionate love affair and her stupendous beauty was matched with an equally famous jewellery collection. Perhaps it’s because the focus in more contemporary 'swords and sandals' adaptations such as the Brad Pitt, Brian Cox, Brendan Gleeson and show-stealer Eric Bana movie Troy, wasn’t echoed in real life by a romantic and tumultuous passion between the young Helen (Diane Kruger) and the prat Orlando Bloom played (Paris), that I feel Antony and Cleopatra is a greater evocation of the jewellery in this store.
Amulets from bangles to cuffs in gold and silver, collars fashioned in various colours of gold and platinum, matching sets of earrings, bracelets and pendant necklaces in classically attractive shapes and sizes to suit skinny, statuesque, round or little people.
That’s ever before you start to examine the precious and semi-precious stones available in Mitropoleos street that are candy-coloured confections of emeralds, rubies and diamonds. These are so artfully put together with a light touch that you’d be forgiven for imagining that the stones are just glass. There was a Lapiz Luzli pendant that made me as happy as seeing the azure of the Mediterranean Sea itself when it’s lapping shallowly along the shore.
One of the brands available here is famous to every New Yorker who has wistfully planned a marriage around some of the Cellini rings in the Waldorf Astoria.
Another is the Lithos by Michele collection that’s ethnic, ancient, classical and yet timelessly beautiful. The Michele in question is a designer from Michigan.
Quite apart from the oohing and ahing I was doing and dahing in the shop, they speak over 10 actual languages there so you’re pretty likely to have a conversation in your mother tongue. You won’t be rushed or hustled or given an eyes-to-heaven (that you can see) when you spend as much time as you need to find the piece you’re happy with.
On top of which there’s magnificent value to be had at the moment** with price-drops ranging between 50 per cent off to 30 per cent on some of the most impressive designs in precious stones and metals I have ever seen.
For arty presents on a bigger scale there are original paintings and sculptures in Paleo Agora, a square that’s about a five-minute walk from Monastiraki or Syntagma metro stations. On the square itself are a couple of lovely galleries called Pandora and Dexippos.
Between Ermou and Paleo Agora is the Athens Gallery, which has some dramatic sculptures in a palette of silver and turquoise depicting fish and primitive symbols of the sea (wavy lines, your five year old is a genius).
Okay, so I’ve been a wee bit trite but the sculpture’s just the damned attractive lures they have in the window. There were life-size sentinels that could adorn an elegant hallway and contemporary paintings I would have happily lugged 10,000 leagues, under the sea or otherwise, to get them home had my souvenirs budget allowed.
The leafy centre of Paleo Agora is a sanctuary of shaded comfort for lunch if you’d like to time your visit in between visual and dining pleasures and there are a couple of other restaurants in that neighbourhood (Plaka) that I tried too.
The first is the Plaka Café, about halfway up the hill towards the Pantheon. Its roof garden is airy, shaded with parasols in summer, but is perfect for brunch at any time of year. Its menu and décor are modern and chic - the Greek desserts and pastries advertised on the old menus are there just to confuse you – but there are sweet and savoury crêpes, (for some reason my keyboard has made French pancakes with a circumflex into something vaguely Swedish) fresh fruit salad bowls of generous helpings and the clientèle was young professional/creative Greeks.
The other restaurant I loved in Plaka is about 10 minutes from Monastiraki metro station towards Omonia in Iroon ‘square’. It’s a convergence of many little streets on a central arbour shading outdoor seating for a mixture of restaurants ranging from traditional tavernas to my favourite (the fabric on the chairs was too, too darling to pass by :D) a modern bar called Akri. However, if you’re planning on combining jewellery shopping with eating, check out Politi.co on Syntagma square for great Greek food.
* (Yes, I do mean those urban legends who lucked out and have a pension that allows them enjoy their empty-nest days together.)
** November 2009
Other great eateries I found in Athens on this trip are reviewed here.