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Athens travel guide — Athens tourism and travel information

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about Athens

Athens (Greek: Αθήνα, Athína) is the capital of Greece, and also the capital of the Attica region of Greece. In addition to being a modern city, Athens is also famous for being a powerful city-state and a very important center of learning in ancient times. It is named after its patron goddess, Athena.

In Ancient Greek Athens was called Athinai (Αθήναι, plural for Athena), and 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 Athina has become the city's official name.

Athens geography

With its suburbs, Athens has a population of about 3.7 million (plus around 500.000 immigrants whose residential status is not stable) representing more than a third 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 towns 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 south-west. 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 land is rocky and of marginal fertility. 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 at 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 and clustered around this area, which is also where most of the tourist attractions and museums are. The newer parts of the city are mostly constructed from grey concrete and suffer from a lack of parks and amenities.

Athens is host to the 2004 Summer Olympics. Athens was also the host of the 1896 Olympics and of the 1906 Intermediary Olympics.

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 late 19th century. However most of the university's functions have been moved at a larger modern campus east of the city centre near Zográfou. Another university is the Athens Polytechnic School (Ethniko Metsovio Politechnio), where 24 students were killed in 1973 during demonstrations against the Greek military regime.

Athens sights

Athens has been a tourist destination since ancient times. Visitors from all over the world have always been eager to visit the famed monuments of the Acropolis. In recent decades, poor infrastructure, pollution and overcrowding of the city have damaged its image as a place to visit. Some travel writers said that were it not for the ancient monuments, Athens would not be worth visiting, being dirty, chaotic, crowded and over-priced.

Over the past eight years, the infrastructure and social amenities of central 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 European Union 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 has been constructed. This gives 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 city) and then to the narrow streets of the old city of Athens (the Plaka), away from the noise of the modern city.

Close to Syntagma Square (described above) is the Kallimarmaro Stadium, the place where the first modern Olympic Games took place in 1896. Built as a replica of the ancient Athens Stadium, it is interesting, not only for romantic reasons but also because it is probably the only major stadium (holding 60,000 spectators) made entirely of white marble.

The classic museums like the National Archaeological Museum (which holds the world's greatest collection of Greek art) and the Benaki Museum of Cycladic Art (strongly recommended for its collection of elegant white metamodern figures, more than 3,000 years old) have been renovated and are awaiting the Olympic guests.

As for the night life, the Psirri 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 live music. The food is good but expensive compared to other parts of the city.

An entirely new attraction will be 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 roof has been added to the main Stadium.

Athens history

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 and intellectual centre, and indeed it is in the ideas and practices of Ancient Athens that what we now call "Western civilisation" 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.

The schools of philosophy, however, were closed in AD 529 after the Byzantine Empire converted to Christianity. Athens lost a great deal of status and became a provincial town. Between the 13th and 15th centuries the city was fought over by the Byzantines and the French and Italian knights of the Latin Empire. In 1458 the city fell to the Ottoman Empire and the city's population went into decline and conditions worsened as the Ottoman Empire declined as well. Parts of the city (including many of its older buildings) were destroyed in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries as different factions tried to control the city.

The city was virtually uninhabited 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. 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.

Greek entry into the European Union in 1981 brought new investment to the city along with problems of congestion and air pollution.

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Athens".

This city is also known as: Athens.

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