From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Athens (Greek: Αθήνα, Athína; IPA /a'θina/) is the capital of Greece, and of the Attica prefecture of Greece. Modern Athens is a large and cosmopolitan city; Ancient Athens was a powerful city-state and renowned center of learning. It was named after its patron goddess from ancient Greek mythology, Athena. Athens is located at 38°00N′ 23 43°E′ (38.00°, 23.72°).
The metropolitan area of Athens is home to some 5 million people. Currently the city (metropolitan area) is growing eastwards across Attica (Greater Athens).
- See wiktionary: Athens for the name in various languages.
In ancient Greek, the name of Athens was Ἀθῆναι-Athēnai, plural of Ἀθήνη-Athēnē, the Greek name of the goddess Athena. The city's name was used in the plural like those of Θῆβαι-Thēbai (Thebes) and Μυκῆναι-Mykēnai (Mycenae) because it consisted of several parts. In the 19th century, this name was formally re-adopted as the city's name. Since the official abandonment of Katharevousa Greek in the 1970s, however, the popular form Athína has become the city's official name. See also a list of alternative names for Athens.
Main article: History of Athens
Athens was the leading city in Greece during the greatest period of Greek civilization during the 1st millennium BC. During the "Golden Age" of Greece (roughly 500 BC to 300 BC) it was the Western world's leading cultural, comercial and intellectual center, and indeed it is in the ideas and practices of ancient Athens that what we now call "Western civilization" has its origins. After its days of greatness, Athens continued to be a prosperous city and a centre of learning until the late Roman period. Athens had a estimated peak population of 310,000 in the year 430 BC.
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 Athen's ruins not be disturbed, on pain of death. The Parthenon was in fact converted into a splendid mosque.
Despite the Sultan's good intentions to preserve Athens as a model Ottoman provincial capital, the city's population went into decline and conditions worsened as the Ottoman Empire declined as well starting in the late 18th Century. As time went by, the Turks slackened their care for Athens' old buildings; the great Parthenon itself was used as a warehouse for ammunition during the Venetian siege of Athens in 1687, and consequently the temple was severely damaged when a chance Venetian shell set off several casks of gunpowder stored in the main hall.
The Ottoman Empire relinquished control of Athens after the Greek War of Independence. The city was inhabited by just 5,000 people by the time it was made the capital of the newly established kingdom of Greece in 1833. During the next few decades the city was rebuilt into a modern city applying mainly to the Neoclassic style. In 1896 Athens was the host city of the 1896 Summer Olympics.The next large expansion occurred in the 1920s when suburbs were created to house Greek refugees from Asia Minor. During World War II the city was occupied by Germany and fared badly in the war's later years. After the war the city started to grow again.
Location and setting
With its suburbs, Athens has a population of about 5 million representing around 45% of the total population of Greece. Athens has grown very rapidly in the years after the war until ca. 1980 and suffered from overcrowding, traffic congestion and air pollution; it is one of the most polluted cities in Europe. These problems still persist, although the massive investment of recent years in infrastructure has had a significant effect in easing the problem.
Athens sprawls across the central plain of Attica, which is bound by Mount Aegaleo on the west, Mount Parnitha on the north, Mount Penteli to the northeast, Mount Hymettus on the east, and the Saronic Gulf on the southwest. Athens has expanded to cover the entire plain, and is thus unlikely to grow significantly in area in the future, because of the natural boundaries. The geomorphology of Athens frequently causes temperature inversion phenomena partly responsible for its air pollution problem (Los Angeles has similar geomorphology and similar problems).
The ancient site of the city is centered on the rocky hill of the Acropolis. In ancient times the port of Piraeus (modern name Pireas) was a separate city, but it has now been absorbed into greater Athens.
The centre of the modern city is Syntagma Square (Constitution Square), site of the former Royal Palace, the Greek Parliament and other 19th century public buildings. Most of the older and wealthier parts of the city are clustered around this area, which is also where most of the tourist attractions and museums are located.
The old campus of the University of Athens, on Panepistimiou Avenue is one of the finest buildings in Athens, together with the National Library building and the Athens Academy building. These three form the so-called "Athens Trilogy", built in the late 19th century. However, most of the university's functions have been moved to a larger modern campus east of the city centre, near Zográfou. The second most significant city institution is the Athens Polytechnic School (Ethniko Metsovio Politechnio), where more than 20 students were killed in 1973 during demonstrations against the Greek military junta (1967-1974).
Greek entry into the European Union in 1981 brought new investment to the city along with problems of greatly wrosened congestion and air pollution. Throughout the 1990s a series of measures were taken successfully to combat pollution. In preparation for the 2004 Olympic games the city spruced up its image with the introduction of a state-of-the-art transport infrastructure, a new airport, pedestrianised areas, and new museums and public squares. The city's increasingly multi-ethnic population enjoys a vibrant night-life and world-class shopping.
Athens has been a tourist destination since antiquity. Visitors from all over the world have always been eager to visit it's famous monuments. Over the past eight years, the infrastructure and social amenities of Athens have been transformed as a result of the city's successful bid to stage the 2004 Olympic Games. The Greek state aided by the E.U. have poured money into infrastructure projects such as the new "Eleftherios Venizelos" International Airport, the massive expansion of the Metro system, and the new Attiki Odos ring-road.
There has also been a great expansion of private investment on hotels and other tourist developments. Most importantly from the point of view of tourism, the area around the Acropolis has been remodelled, and a great pedestrian area from the Temple of Olympian Zeus to Plaka, Monastiraki and the Psirri square has been constructed. This allows the visitor space for calm walks among the ancient monuments, ruins and trees, from the Acropolis, to the Agora (the meeting place of the ancient Athenians) and then to the narrow streets of the old city of Athens (the Plaka), away from the noise of the city centre. Near the Syntagma square (described above) is 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 holds a special interest, not only for romantic reasons but also because it is the only major stadium (60,000 spectators) made entirely of white marble from Penteli, the same as the one used for the construction of the Parthenon.
The classic museums like the National Archaeological Museum (which holds the world's greatest collection of Greek art), the Benaki Museum (including its new Islamic Art branch) , the Byzantine Museum, the Museum of Cycladic Art (strongly recommended for its collection of elegant white metamodern figures, more than 3,000 years old)  have all been renovated in view of the 2004 Olympics. A new Acropolis Museum is being built  according to a design by acclaimed architect Bernard Tschumi . Not to be missed is also the very impressive Athens Planetarium , one of the world's largest.
As for the night life, Athens has a great number of multiplex as well as romantic open air garden cinemas, more theatres than any other European city (including ancient marble ones that are home to the Athens Festival from June to July) and many music venues including a state of the art music hall known as "Megaron" [] that attracts world-famous artists all year round. The coastline - now connected to the city centre with a gleaming new tram way - boasts a series of exciting venues next to the beaches where, during the day, Athenians swim and sunbathe. The Psirri neighborhood - aka Athens' 'meat packing district'- has acquired many new bars and restaurants and is a center for young Athenians. The Plaka remains the traditional tourist destination, with many tavernas featuring 'traditional' music, but the food, though good, is expensive compared to other parts of the city. The chic Kolonaki area, near Syntagma Square, is full of boutiques catering to well-heeled customers by day and bars and restaurants by night. Some central areas (south of Omonia Square) are mainly peopled by immigrants and are full of colorful ethnic restaurants and shops. The Gazi area, one of the latest in full redevelopment, is located around a historic gaz factory that has been converted into the Technopolis (Athens's new cultural multiplex)and has a number of small clubs, bars and restaurants as well as Athens' nascent gay village.
Casinos operate on Mount Parnitha (accessible by car or cable car) and the near town of Loutraki (accessible by car or suburban railway). An entirely new attraction is the massively upgraded Olympic Stadium Complex (known by its Greek initials OAKA). The whole area has been remodelled by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava with monuments, gardens, futuristic passages and a characteristic new blue glass roof which was added to the main Stadium. A second olympic area, next to the sea at the beach of Kallithea (Faliron), also boasts futuristic stadiums, shops and an elevated esplanade.
Athens is close to sand beaches and a very clean sea, and is surrounded by four very green and easily accessible mountains that are protected national parks (Lycabetus in the centre, Parnitha and Penteli to the north and Ymittos to the southeast) some of which feature also unmissable historic sites (Lycabetus,Ymittos). Lycabetus is a large hill in Athens that is said to have been a boulder thrown down by Athena as the legend goes. Lycab(v)etus is pronounced (LEE-KAH-VEE-TOS). Mountain Parnitha 25 km from the centre of Athens) has tens of well-marked paths, gorges, springs, torrents and caves and you may meet a deer in the forest. The nearby islands of Salamina, Aigina, Poros, Hydra and Spetses are also sites of spectacular natural beauty and historical architecture. 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). The Athens municipality maintains a site of tourist interest: http://www.cityofathens.gr/
The Athens Metro is one of the most modern systems in the world. It has four lines three of them which are distinguished by the colours used in maps and signs (green, blue and red). The green line, which is the oldest and for the most part runs on the ground, connects Piraeus to Kifissia. The other two lines were constructed mainly during the 1990s and the first sections were put to service in 2000. They run entirely underground. The blue line goes from Monastiraki to Doukissis Plakentias and the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, and the red line from Aghios Antonios to Aghios Dimitrios. Extensions to both lines are under construction, most notably to Marousi and Old Hellinikon Airport East Terminal (future Metropolitan Park). The fourth line is the Proastiakos (suburban) which runs from the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport to Athens Central train station. It is managed by three different companies (ISAP line 1), Attiko Metro (lines 2 & 3), Proastiakos (line 4).
The whole Metro system of Athens has currently 91 km. Considering this issue shows how the mass transport system in Athens has improved in the last years, since until 1999 the length of the system was of just 25 km and comprised by one line. It's expected that for the 2008 it will reach 110 km, after the extensions of the first phase of expansion get concluded.
The bus service consists of a network of lines on which normal buses, electric buses, and natural gas buses run (the largest fleet of natural gas run buses in Europe). There are plenty of bus lines serving Athens and the suburbs, and they link the centre of the city with most of the suburbs and neighborhoods.
The tram runs from Syntagma Square to Palaio Faliro and there the line splits in two branches, going to Glyfada and Neo Faliro. Both Syntagma - Palaio Faliro - Neo Faliro and the Glyfada branch opened on 19 July 2004. Further extensions are considered.
There are many taxis in Athens, which can be recognised by the yellow color of the vehicles. They are quite cheap and during rush hours it is considered normal to halt a taxi even when it is in service (although, strictly speaking, this is forbidden); in that case, if the one halting it happens to go to the same direction as the customer and the customer does not mind (although this is never brought up or an issue, and if you are the customer, be sure to enjoy the impoliteness of the taxi drivers if you do request that they do not stop to pick up other people, despite the fact that you are late, and they will wait for 2 minutes in a queue to take another fare, bearing in mind you pay for that 2 minutes as 'waiting time'), he is also allowed in, and each one pays normally as if they were the only customer.
Athens is served by the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport at Spata, east of the city, about a 45-minute taxi ride from the city centre. There is also an express line connecting the airport to the metro system and 2 express lines connecting the airport to Pireus port and the city centre. Athens is also the hub of the Greek National Railway System, and ferries from Piraeus Port travel to all Greek islands.
There are two motorways that go to the west towards Patra: (GR-8A, E94) and to the north towards Thessaloniki (GR-1, E75), and a ring motorway (Attiki Odos) which goes from Elefsina on the west to the airport after circling the city from the north, and another from Kaisariani to Glyke Nera where it meets the main road for Eleusis and the airport. Its total length is now about 70 km in 2004 up from 18 km in March 2001 when it first opened. There are about 21 exits and 4 junctions, up from 8.
See Athens Mass Transit System for more on this topic.
The modern city of Athens consists of what were formerly distinct towns and villages which gradually expanded to form a single large city; this expansion occurred in the 20th century. The city is now divided into 54 municipalities, the largest of which is the Municipality of Athens or Dimos Athinaion, with about 900,000 people (the next largest are Municipality of Piraeus, Municipality of Peristeri and Municipality of Kallithea). Athens can therefore refer either to the entire metropolitan area or to the Municipality of Athens. Each of the municipalities of Athens has an elected district council and a directly elected mayor. Mrs. Dora Bakoyanni of the conservative New Democracy party has been Mayor of Athens since October 2002. The Municipality of Athens is divived into 7 municipal districts or demotika diamerismata. The 7-district division however is mainly used for administrative purposes , while for Athenians the most popular way of dividing the city proper is through its neighborhoods (usually referred to as areas in english), each with its own distinct history and characteristics. For someone unfamiliar with Athens, getting to know about these neighborhoods can often come very handy for exploring and understanding the city.
Athens was awarded the 2004 Summer Olympics on September 5, 1997 in Lausanne, Switzerland, after surprisingly having lost the bid to organize the 1996 Summer Olympics, the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympic Games. It was to be the second time Athens had hosted the Olympic Games.
In 1997, Athens made a bid based largely on an appeal to Olympic history. In the last round of voting, Athens defeated Rome, 66 votes to 41. Before this, Buenos Aires, Stockholm, and Cape Town, had already been eliminated from consideration after receiving few votes.
After that, the International Olympic Committee expressed its concern over the status of the progress of construction work of the new Olympic venues. A new Organizing Committee was formed under President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki and preparations began at an accelerated pace. Although the heavy cost was criticized, as is not unusual with Olympic preparations, Athens was transformed into a city that uses state-of-the-art technology in transportation and urban development. Some of the most modern sporting venues in the world were created, almost all of which were fully ready on schedule. The 2004 Games were adjudged a success, as both security and organization were good and few visitors reported problems with transportation or accommodation. The only problem noted was sparse attendance at preliminary events during the first days of competition. Total attendance was more than 3.2 million tickets sold, which was higher than any other Olympics with the exception of Sydney (more than 5 million tickets).
Cities nicknamed Athens:
- Athens of the East - Madurai, India
- Athens of the South - Nashville, Tennessee
- Athens of the North - Edinburgh, Scotland
- Athens of America - Boston, Massachusetts
- Spree Athens - Berlin, Germany
- Athens of Latin America - Bogotá, Colombia
- Athens of Finland - Jyväskylä, Finland
- Serbian Athens - Novi Sad, Serbia and Montenegro
- Athens of Ireland - Cork, Ireland
- City of Athens official website
- Take a short virtual tour of Athens
- Take a long virtual tour of Athens
- Athens contemporary architecture and suggested walking routes
- City of Athens official entertainment guide
- TimeOut Athens - Find out what's on in Athens
- Athenorama: the city's oldest weekly entertainment guide (in Greek)
- Tourist info
- Journey planner by the city's transport authority
- 2004 Olympics official website
- Interactive Map of Central Athens
- Real time traffic map of Athens
- The Athenian Constitution, Aristotle
- Hotel Finder by Holiday.gr
- Athens photo gallery by Susanne and Andy Carvin
- Athens pictures
- Athens Directory
- Athens Photo Gallery
|North: Galatsi, Filothei|
|West: Peristeri, Aigaleo, Tavros, Kallithea||Athens||East: Zografou|
|South: Dafni, Ymittos|