At the back of the Vouli (the Greek parliament), the National Garden (free entrance) are the most refreshing acres in the whole city- not so much a flower garden as a luxuriant tangle of trees, whose shade and duck ponds provide palpable relief from the heat and smog of summer.
The Garden was once the private garden of the palace – a project of Queen Amalia in the 1840’s; purportedly the main duty of the minuscule Greek navy in its early days was the fetching of rare plants, often the gifts of other royal houses, from remote corners of the globe. For the kids there is a small zoo housing domestic animals and a few ostriches, and a playground.
The southern extension of the gardens, open 24 hours, consists of the graceful crescent-shaped grounds of the Zappion. This grand Neoclassic exhibition hall, creation of the Danish architect Hansen (he of the university), was for a period the Greek State Radio headquarters, but is now used mainly for press conferences and commercial excibitions. The Zappion Hall was built by the national benefactor Evangelos Zappas and was inaugurated in October 1888, for the purpose of hosting important exhibitions and other events.
During its history, it has developed into a multi-purpose centre, having served as the offices of the Greek Presidency of the European Union. During elections, it is used as a Press Centre.
The Zappeion Hall is connected with the history of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, having been the main building of the Olympic village for those games. It was also the place where Greece’s accession to the European Economic Community was signed, on 29 May 1979.