FAQs: What flags are these?

Seen only in Athens as a trio, these flags always raise questions.

Let’s take them one by one:

A typical sight in Athens, these three flags can often be seen together, here in front of the temple of Olympic Zeus

The one in the middle is of course the Greek flag.

greek flag

Established during the Greek War of Independence (against the Ottoman Empire), the colors of the flag symbolise the sea that surrounds Greece (blue) and the purity of the fighters’ cause (white). The cross of course proclaims the fledgling nation’s Christian faith in contrast to its rulers’ Islamic one. The number of stripes is equal to the syllables of the Greek insurgents’ motto, “Liberty or death.” Not surprisingly, the flag’s layout (stripes and a symbol on the upper left corner) is reminiscent of the American flag, a country whose success against the British inspired the Greeks, who claimed their own freedom not long after the Americans. 


The flag on the right is also easily recognisable: it is the flag of the European Union, of which Greece is a member state. The circle of twelve stars on the blue background symbolises unity, harmony and solidarity among the member-states.

flag of Athens

The least known flag and the one that raises all the questions is the one on the left. It is the flag of the city of Athens. Looking deceptively old-fashioned, it was in fact introduced as recently as 2001, by a Mayor with a penchant for history (he was, after all, the man who signed a cease-fire with Sparta, 25 centuries after the end of the Peloponnesian war). The flag can be seen everywhere in the city but its design and concept have become a target of criticism by many. Some object to the irrationality of ancient godess Athena on a Christian cross, while others claim that the design is much too similar with the emblems of the Greek police and a local extremist right-wing party. They may have a point, but I don’t see the new mayor ordering new flags any time soon. Let’s not forget, this is a time of crisis.


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