Athens is the capital of Greece and one of the most famous cities in the world, named after goddess Athena. Modern Athens is a bustling cosmopolitan metropolis, home to some 3.2 million people. The Athens metropolitan area is currently growing both northwards and eastwards across Attica and it constitutes the dominant center of economic, financial, industrial, cultural and political life in Greece today.
Athens is also rapidly becoming a leading business centre in Europe.
Athens was a powerful city-state and and a renowned center of learning, home of Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum. Athens is considered to have been the cradle of Western civilisation, largely due to the immense impact of its cultural and political achievements during the 4th and 5th centuries BC on the rest of
the then known European Continent. The heritage of the Athenian Enlightenment is still evident in Athens, portrayed through a number of spectacular ancient monuments and artworks, the most famous of all being the Parthenon on the Acropolis ("high city"), nurtured by Ictinus, Callicrates and Phidias. The latter is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of Classical Greek architecture, still standing as an epic legacy to the West and indeed to the rest of the world. Many of these cultural landmarks were renovated ahead of the 2004 Olympic Games.
Athens was the leading city in Greece during the greatest period of Greek civilisation during the 1st millennium BC. During the "Golden Age" of Greece (roughly 500 BC to 300 BC) it was the world's leading cultural, commercial and intellectual centre, and indeed the phrase "Western civilization" has its origins in ancient Athens' ideas, achievements, and practices. In 431 B.C, Athens went to war with another city-state, Sparta. Due to its losses during a plague, Athens was defeated by Sparta, and its walls were pulled down (however remnants of the original walls of the era are still to be found today, especially in the coastline of Piraeus).
The schools of philosophy were closed in AD 529 by the Christian Byzantine Empire, which disapproved of the schools' pagan thinking. During the Byzantine era, Athens gradually lost a great deal of status and, by the time of the Crusades, it was already reduced to a provincial town. It faced a crushing blow between the 13th and 15th centuries, when the city was fought over by the Greek Byzantines and the 'French' and Italian Crusaders. In 1458 the city fell to the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Mehmet II the Conqueror. As the Emperor entered the city, he was greatly struck by the beauty of its ancient monuments and issued a firman (imperial decree) that Athens' ruins not be disturbed, on pain of death. The Parthenon was in fact converted into a mosque and therefore preserved.
Athens sprawls across the central plain of Attica, which is bound by Mount Aegaleo in the west, Mount Parnitha in the north, Mount Penteli in the northeast, Mount Hymettus in the east, and the Saronic Gulf in the southwest. Athens has expanded to cover the entire plain making future growth difficult.
The geomorphology of the Athens frequently causes the so-called temperature inversion phenomenon, partly responsible for the air pollution problems the city recently faced. (Los Angeles, with similar geomorphology, has similar problems).
Along with its numerous suburbs, Athens has an official population of about 3.2 million, representing approximately one-third of the total population of Greece. The actual population, however, is believed to be quite higher, because during census (taking place once every 10 years) some Athenian residents travel back to their birthplaces and register as local citizens there. Also unaccounted for is an undefined number of unregistered immigrants originating mainly from Albania and Pakistan. Therefore it is estimated that the actual figure reaches the 3.7 million level.
Tourist Attractions :
Athens has been a popular tourist destination even since antiquity. Over the past decade, the infrastructure and social amenities of Athens have been radically following the city's successful bid to stage the 2004 Olympic Games. The Greek state, aided by the E.U., has poured money into major infrastructure projects such as the new, state-of-the-art "Eleftherios Venizelos" International Airport, the massive expansion of the Metro system, and the new Attiki Odos ring-road. Home to a vast number of 5 and 4 star hotels, Athens is currently the 6th most visited capital in Europe.
Athens' entire parts of the city centre have been redeveloped under a masterplan called "Unification of Archaeological Sites of Athens" . Notably, the famous Dionysiou Aeropagitou street has been pedestrianised, forming a scenic route. The route starts from the Temple of Olympian Zeus at Vasilissis Olgas Avenue, continues under the southern slopes of the Acropolis near Plaka and finishes just outside the Temple of Hephaestus in Theseum. This route provides the visitors views of the Parthenon and the Agora (the meeting point of ancient Athenians), away from the busy city centre.
Syntagma Square (Constitution Square) is situated in central Athens and it is the site of the former Royal Palace, now the Greek Parliament and other 19th-century public buildings. Syntagma is the largest square in Athens and it is also home to a number of luxurious hotels, including the historic Grande Bretagne, Athens' first hotel. Syntagma is essentially the tourist core of Athens, being in the centre of an area where most of the famous ancient monuments are located, all within a radius of 2 km. Near Syntagma Square stands the Kallimarmaro Stadium, the place where the first modern Olympic Games took place in 1896. It is a replica of the ancient Athens Stadium. It is the only major stadium (60,000 spectators) made entirely of white marble from Penteli, the same as that used for the construction of the Parthenon.
Athens features a number of hills. Lykavittos is the tallest hill of the city proper that, according to an ancient legend, was actually a boulder thrown down from the sky by Goddess Athena. Located in the city centre, near Alexandras' and Vassilisis Sofia's Avenues, it offers views of sprawling Athens below. On top of it, stands the St. George's church. Philopappos Hill is yet another famous hill, located just to the southwest of Acropolis.
Athens' classical museums include the National Archaeological Museum at Patission Street (which holds the world's greatest collection of Greek art), the Benaki Museum in Piraeus Street (including its new Islamic Art branch) , the Byzantine Museum and the Museum of Cycladic Art in the central Kolonaki district (recommended for its collection of elegant white metamodern figures, more than 3,000 years old). Most museums were renovated ahead of the 2004 Olympics. A new Acropolis Museum is being built in the Makriyanni district according to a design by Swiss-french architect Bernard Tschumi. The Athens Planetarium, located in Sygrou Avenue, is considered to be among the world's best.
The old campus of the University of Athens, located in the middle section of Panepistimiou Avenue, is one of the finest buildings Athens. This combined with the adjacent National Library and the Athens Academy form the imposing "Athens Trilogy", built in the mid-19th century. However, most of the university's functions have been moved to a much larger, modern campus located in the eastern suburb of Zografou.
Athens' second most significant academic institution is the Athens Polytechnic School (Ethniko Metsovio Politechnio), located in Patission Street. More than 20 students were killed inside the School in November 17, 1973 during the Athens Polytechnic Uprising against the military junta that ruled the nation from April 21, 1967 until July 23, 1974.
The Athens coastline, extending from the major commercial port of Piraeus to the southernmost suburb of Vouliagmeni for more than 25 km, is also connected to the city centre with a tram (which, although modern can be slow during rush hours) and it boasts a series of high class restaurants, cafes, exciting music venues and modern sports facilities. In addition, Athens is packed with trendy and fashionable bars and nightclubs that are literally crowded by the city's youth on a daily basis. Especially during the summer time, the southern elegant suburbs of Glyfada, Voula and Vouliagmeni become home to countless such meeting points, situated all along Poseidonos and Alkyonidon Avenues. The major waste management efforts undertaken in the last decade (especially the plant built on the small island of Psytalia) have made pollution of the Saronic Gulf a thing of the past and now the coastal waters of Athens are a haven for swimmers.
An entirely new attraction is the massively upgraded main Olympic Complex (known by its Greek acronym OAKA). The whole area has been redeveloped under designs by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava with steel arches, landscaped gardens, fountains, futuristic passages and a landmark new blue glass roof which was added to the main Stadium. A second olympic complex, next to the sea at the beach of Kallithea (Faliron), also boasts futuristic stadiums, shops and an elevated esplanade. Work is underway to transform the grounds of the old Athens Airport - named Hellinikon - in the southern suburbs into a massive landscaped park (considered to be the largest in Europe when ready).
Athens is surrounded by four easily accessible mountains (Parnitha and Penteli to the north, Hemmettus to the southeast and Egaleo to the west). Mount Parnitha, in particular, is the tallest of all (1,453 m) and it has been declared a protected National Park. It has tens of well-marked paths, gorges, springs, torrents and caves and you may even meet deer or bears while exploring its dense forests. Hiking and mountain biking in all four mountains have been and still remain popular outdoor activities for many Athenians. Casinos operate on both Mount Parnitha, some 30 km from downtown Athens (accessible by car or cable car) and the nearby town of Loutraki (accessible by car via the Athens - Corinth National Highway or the suburban railway).
The nearby islands of Salamina, Aigina, Poros, Hydra and Spetses are also sites of spectacular natural beauty and historical architecture. This article is licensed under the [GNU Free Documentation License]. It uses material from Wikipedia
Athens Image : caltech.edu