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About city What to see Gallery Where to stay

Most of us know about Athens from our school textbooks. The famous capital of Greece, which is also its biggest city, is known for democratic principles, the Olympic Games, philosophy, political science, history, tragedy and comedy, and preparing the ground for mathematical discoveries. Tourists seem to think this city, sometimes called the cradle of civilization, is very romantic, although in view of the global economic crisis, the media often depicts it as a battlefield of violent protests. All that notwithstanding, it is surrounded by warm sea and magnificent mountains, which cannot be destroyed by any crisis.

The name of Athens comes from the Greek goddess Athena. The city is situated on the largest plain of Attica with the Illisos and Kephisos rivers. It is surrounded from three sides by mountain ranges – Hymettos (1026 m), Pentelikon (1109 m) and Parnes (1413 m), and Ägaleo (468 m). The fourth side meets the ocean and the Saronic Gulf.

The Arch of Hadrian, sitting at the centre of the city, marks the beginning of Athens, the old city of Theseus. In ancient times, this arch, situated so close to the Acropolis, used to mark the edge of the city. If the locals were to shift the arch to the current limit, it would end up no less than 25 km behind the Acropolis. Today, the city is home to around 729 thousand people - or 4 million, if the population of suburban areas was to be included.

A panoramic view of Athens
Photo taken by 123rf.com.  A panoramic view of Athens

One of the best-known historic sites in Athens is the Acropolis. It’s a former stronghold, temple and centre of public life, looming over the city on a large hill. The word “Acropolis” means a fortified city, built on elevated ground. Acropolises can be also found in other Greek cities.

The Arch of Hadrian and the Olympic Stadium stand nearby, overlooked by a large hill with many ancient buildings. This hill is called Lykavittos or “Wolf Hill”. It opens up on a beautiful view of Athens and the Saronic Gulf. Many temples and museums can be found close by, not least of which is the Acropolis with the Parthenon on top and ruins of the theatre of Dionysus and Herodotus at its foot. The plays of Sophocles, Euripides and other playwrights were performed here in ancient times. The Olympic Stadium and remnants of the Temple of Jupiter are right behind the ruins of the theatre.

Stone theatre structure
Photo taken by Nikthestoned - wikimedia.org.  Stone theatre structure

Ancient Greece was not a unified state, but rather consisted of around 1500 separate poleis – autonomous city-states, each of which had its own laws and armies. Athens was just one of these poleis. However, it was among the first and one of the largest. Even though the poleis of Ancient Greece were often at war with one another, no one wanted to face Athens in the battlefield, since it had the biggest and most powerful fleet of all. During the period when the Greek civilization flourished – around the 1st century BC – Athens was the most important city in Greece.

And even though Athens is one of the oldest European cities, with roots stretching back as far as the Neolithic, the modern version of the city is among the youngest capitals in Europe. It received this status in 1834, after Greece was liberated from the yoke of the Ottoman Empire.

The year 1896 marked the first Summer Olympics of the Modern era, which attracted 245 athletes from 14 countries to Athens. Women were prohibited from entering the games at that time. The first Olympics to feature female competitors took place in 2004.

A noteworthy fact about the city is that during the night, specially recruited employees throw pieces of marble around the Parthenon. These are meant for tourists, who like to bring “a little piece of Athens” back home. This trick was designed to preserve the city for future generations.

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