ATHENS

HISTORY

According to the Greek mythology, Athens was named after the goddess Athena who according to myth won a competition with Poseidon and became the protector of the city. The myth says that Poseidon gave a spring with sea water whilst Athena offered an olive tree as she touched the ground of the sacred rock of the Acropolis. The people of Athens choose Athena as their protector and so the city was named after the goddess of wisdom. The myth is symbolic but the two Gods symbolising the strength of Athens as a city of wisdom and as a sea power.

The first settlement of Athens 3000 BC was situated on the rock of Acropolis. According to the tradition, Athens was founded when the king Theseus united in a state several settlements of Attica.

The center of Athens has been inhabited for over 5000 years. This makes Athens an open-air museum with historical remains from all ages. Athens is mostly known for its ancient history and particularly the Golden age of Pericles in 500 BC. Pericles was elected for 14 years consecutively in the most significant political position of his time. Under his authority, Athens became the most powerful state city of Greece. His main contribution was, of course, the establishment of democracy.

Athens became the intellectual and art center of the ancient world. In addition to everything else he was responsible for the construction of the Parthenon. What follows is the Hellenic period and Alexander the great (323-146 BC). Athens is no longer the administrative center of Greece and has lost its political influence. However, Athens position is still dominant due to its intellectual power. Athens philosophical schools were famous and people from all over the world came to Athens to study, and also to participate in the social life of the city. As a result Athens kept its prominent position and flourished.

Athens continued to do so during Roman times (146BC-330 AC). Romans not only adopted the Athenian culture but also tried to rejuvenate the city’s old glory by providing funds for its reconstruction.We owe them some of the most prominent historical sites such as the Herodion, Handrian’s Library and Roman Agora. They also constructed aqueducts, drainage systems and numerous others public facilities. The dawn of Athens, itself, might be considered during the 5th century BC and after that period begun a reign of foreign rulers. Nevertheless, Athens set a unique historical phenomenon, despite being a conquered city, it retained its glory and remained the intellectual center of the time.The decadence begun in Byzantine times (330- 1453) when philosophical schools and the faith in Olympians Gods were forbidden. Athens lost its character and as a result its influence.

From now on Athens is a city of relatively small size, weakly fortified and deprived of many of its monumental buildings. This period gave the city numerous churches that we can still see in the historical center of Athens.

During Ottoman times (1453-1821) Athens played no significant role or influence but it developed a small industry which consisted mostly of small workshops of tanners, textiles and soaps. Within the Ottoman Empire, the city flourished as a local center of commerce, with remarkable demographic and financial prosperity.

The siege of the Acropolis in 1687 by the Venetians, which resulted in the destruction of the Parthenon, marked the beginning of a new period of Turkish rule, in which the city gradually declined. The appearance of the city during this period of time, very little of which is still preserved, is mainly known from depictions by foreign travelers.

After WWII, Athens began to grow again, as people migrated into the city in search of work.The industrialization program launched during the 1950s, with the help of US aid, and the fact that Greece joined the European Union in 1981, brought in many new investments to Athens, but also increased social and environmental problems.

Preparation for the 2004 Olympics brought forth also many changes, and the successful staging of the games imbued the ancient city and its residents, with a newfound confidence that acted as a catalyst for more evolution.

Athens today is sophisticated and cosmopolitan and one of the few ancient cities in the world where the cutting edge, the hip, and the modern can suddenly co-exist so harmoniously with the classical. 

Attractions:

Athens

A symbol of Western Civilization at its most magnificent, Athens' illustrious history stretches back more than 3,000 years. The city flourished during classical antiquity and was the birthplace of Socrates, Pericles, and Sophocles. More than just a relic of its glorious past, today Athens is a bustling and modern capital city and home to some of the country's most important tourist attractions. The Acropolis is one of the world's most breathtaking ancient ruins, and the city's exceptional museums display fascinating artifacts uncovered at local sites. Other hidden charms awaiting discovery are the dazzling Byzantine churches found all over the city and the village like neighborhoods north of the Acropolis.

When you think you have run out of things to do in Athens, spend some time getting lost in the Plaka district's narrow pedestrian streets, lined with quaint bougainvillea draped houses and inviting restaurant terraces.

A completely different vacation experience from the idyllic Greek islands, Athens can feel hectic and busy during the summer season, but in the spring and fall, you can still enjoy good weather and see far fewer tourists.

1. Acropolis

The Acropolis is the most important ancient site in the Western world. Crowned by the Parthenon, it stands sentinel over Athens, visible from almost everywhere within the city. Its monuments and sanctuaries of white Pentelic marble gleam in the midday sun and gradually take on a honey hue as the sun sinks, while at night they stand brilliantly illuminated above the city.The Parthenon, Ancient Temple of Athena, the Theater of Dionysos and the Herod Atticus Theater.

Acropolis

2. Acropolis Museum

This dazzling museum at the foot of the Acropolis' southern slope showcases its surviving treasures. The collection covers the Archaic period to the Roman one, but the emphasis is on the Acropolis of the 5th century BC.

Acropolis Museum

3. Plaka

Stretching out under the shadow of the Acropolis, Plaka is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited neighbourhoods.

Duck into the side streets here and explore the charmingly narrow old lanes. They’re lined with a hotchpotch of crumbling buildings from various eras, as well as beautiful restored buildings-turned-stately homes. Plaka boasts a wealth of ancient sites, small museums, historic churches and picturesque small squares buzzing with restaurants and cafés.

Plaka

4. Anafiotika

Clinging to the north slope of the Acropolis, the tiny Anafiotika district is a beautiful, architecturally distinct sub-district of Plaka.

In the mid 1800s, King Otto hired builders from Anafi to build a new palace. In their homes here, they mimicked their island's architecture, all whitewashed cubes, bedecked with bougainvillea and geraniums. The area now is a clutch of about 40 homes, linked by footpaths just wide enough for people and stray cats.

Anafiotika

5. Monastiraki Square

This is one of the oldest and busiest areas of the capital, packed with rooftop bars, ancient sights and huge markets. The Monastiraki metro station is right off the picturesque main square, which also has brilliant views of the Acropolis.

Go shopping at the Monastiraki flea market, squeeze your way through thronging pedestrian alleys, and peruse shops filled with antiques, handmade jewellery and Greek handicrafts.

Monastiraki Square

6. Syntagma Square

In front of Parliament, the traditionally costumed evzones (presidential guards) stand by the tomb and change every hour on the hour. The evzones uniform of the fustanella (white skirt) and pom-pom shoes is based on the attire worn by the klephts, the mountain fighters of the War of Independence. look out for the changing of the guard infront of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Syntagma Square

7. Lykavittos Hill

The 277 meter (744 feet) summit of Lykavittos, 'Hill of Wolves', from ancient times, when it was wilder than it is now, gives the finest panoramas of the city and the Attic basin. Perched on the summit is the little Chapel of Agios Georgios, floodlit like a beacon over the city at night. Walk up the path from the top of Loukianou in Kolonaki, or take the 10 minute funicular railway from the top of Ploutarhou.

The open air Lykavittos Theatre, northeast of the summit, is a 1960s ampitheatre which hosts concerts and other events in summer. There is a cafe at the top to reward your walk.

Lykavittos Hill

8. Ermou Street

If you start at the top of Syntagma Square and walk down the steps and past the fountain, at the bottom of the square is the beginning of Ermou Street, a paradise for those who live to shop. From the Parliament building you can make a straight line that follows Ermou all the way to The Gazi, the old gas works of Athens, now the center of its nightlife. Ermou street is a commercial avenue which has been turned into a pedestrian only street.

Ermou Street

9. Kolonaki Area

Neighborhood in central Athens situated at an exclusive location, encompassed by Syntagma Square, Vasilissis Sofias Avenue and the southwestern slopes of Lycabettus Hill. It was named after the ancient old column found in the center of Kolonaki Square. Kolonaki is a wealthy, chic and upmarket district, and a fashionable meeting area. It includes a number of high-end boutiques, cafes and restaurants.

Kolonaki

10. Odeon of Herodes Atticus

This large amphitheatre, part of the Acropolis, was built in AD 161 by wealthy Roman Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife Regilla. It was excavated in 1857–1858 and completely restored in the 1950s. When you are visiting the Acropolis site, the path leads west from the top of the Stoa of Eumenes, and you can peer down into the odeon from above. From this vantage, it looks positively intimate, though it seats 5000 people.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

11. Temple of Olympian Zeus

You can't miss this temple on two counts: it's a marvellous temple, once the largest in Greece, and it's right in the centre of Athens. Of the temple's 104 original Corinthian columns (17 meter high with a base diameter of 1.7 meter), only 15 remain. The fallen column was blown down in a gale in 1852. Begun in the 6th century BC by Peisistratos, the temple was abandoned for lack of funds. Various other leaders took a stab at completing it, but it was left to Hadrian to finish the job in AD 131, thus taking more than 700 years in total to build. In typically immodest fashion, Hadrian built not just a colossal statue of Zeus, but an equally large one of himself.

Temple of Olympian Zeus

12. Panathenaic Stadium

With its serried rows of white Pentelic marble seats built into a ravine next to Ardettos Hill, this ancient-turned-modern stadium is a draw both for lovers of classical architecture and sports fans who can imagine the roar of the crowds from millennia past. The stadium, built in the 4th century BC and restored for the first modern Olympic games in 1896, was first used as a venue for the Panathenaic athletic contests. It is said that at Hadrian's inauguration in AD 120, a thousand wild animals were sacrificed in the arena. Later, the seats were rebuilt in marble by Herodes Atticus.

Panathenaic Stadium

13. Temple of Poseidon

Athens is not short on treats for fans of Greek mythology. This is the temple you should visit first. He may be the god of oceans, but Poseidon's palace stands 60 metres (196 feet) above sea level on Cape Sounio. This marble temple was first built by ancient Athenians to honour Poseidon and guide sailors safely home. All that remains now is a series of towering columns which look magnificent against a Greek sunset.

 

Temple of Poseidon

Best Greek Foods

1. Souvlaki

The Greek shawarma, a definite must. Try the souvlaki at Thenasis in Monastiraki. 

2. Moussaka

A layered casserole which turns tender and airy thanks to the sauce bechamel. This dish is made of baked minced lamb and eggplants or potatoes.

3. Cheese

Feta, manouri, kaseri and graviera.

4. Olive oil, olives and olive paste

The famous Kalamata Olive is characterized by its mild, juicy flavour it is therefore not surprising that Kalamata olive paste, a typical Greek appetizer, is also characteristically aromatic and full of flavour.

5. Tsoureki

Greek sweet bread. Try the one covered in white chocolate filled with chestnut cream.

Souvlaki

Moussaka

Greek feta

Olive oil and olives

Tsoureki

Restaurants:

360 Restaurant

In Monastiraki square with spectacular views.

 

Cafes & Bars:

A for Athens

In Monastiraki square with spectacular views

 

Transportation:

Catch Bus X95 from Airport or Holiday Inn Athens Attica Airport Hotel into the city to Monastiraki Square

Cost: EUR 6 per person (single trip)