Central athens
Panoramic View Over the Old Town of Athens and the Parthenon (Credit: Sven Hansche | Dreamstime.com)

Athens: The city of glorious history, culture, democracy

The cradle of Western civilization with its ancient treasures and contemporary spirit attracts millions of visitors from every corner in the world

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OVERVIEW

The capital and largest city of Greece, Athens with its millennia of history and great culture, is a monument by itself, an open air museum where many of Classical civilization’s intellectual and artistic ideas originated. The world famous Sacred Rock of the Acropolis, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Panathenaic Stadium, are among the most visited attractions, giving the city a sense of timelessness. Majestic ancient temples, hilltop ruins, old churches, scenic historic spots, neoclassical buildings, picturesque neighborhoods such as Plaka with village-like corners, a vibrant food & drink scene, create a magical atmosphere you just want to be a part of. Athens is a place of contradictions and surprises where tradition meets urban innovation. Alongside freshly refurbished museums displaying wonderful treasures of antiquity are contemporary art galleries as well as unexpected green spaces you will adore discovering. Ancient yet constantly changing, Athens is an unforgettable journey through history and has an abundance of exciting things to offer visitor.

.AT A GLANCE

Area: 87.4 km2 Population: 1,029,520 Density: 12,000/km2 Climate: Athens has a hot-summer Mediterranean climate. In the winter, snowfall is not very common, though it occurs almost annually.

.ADMINISTRATION

The Central Athens regional unit is subdivided into eight municipalities.

.MUNICIPALITIES

MUNICIPALITY OF ATHENS     DAFNI-YMITTOS     FILADELFEIA-CHALKIDONA     

GALATSI     ILIOUPOLI     KAISARIANI     VYRONAS     ZOGRAFOU


.MUNICIPALITY OF ATHENS

Area: 38.964 km2 Population (2021): 643,452 (Capital city and municipality) 3,059,764 (Urban area) 3,638,281 (Metropolitan area) Website: https://www.cityofathens.gr/

.HISTORY

Having been continuously inhabited for over 3,000 years, Athens is one of the world’s oldest cities. The city got its name from Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warfare, and became the leading city of Ancient Greece in the first millennium BC. Between 495 and 429 BC, under the rule of Pericles, who was elected for 14 years consecutively in the most significant political position of his time, Athens enjoyed its Golden Age. The Parthenon, the Erechteion, and the Temple of Athena Nike were all built then. What follows is the Hellenic period and Alexander the Great (323-146 BC) when Athens lost its political influence but remained dominant due to its intellectual power.  After that period begun a reign of foreign rulers. Starting with 146 BC, Athens fell to the Roman Empire. This is when Herodion, Handrian’s Library and Roman Agora were constructed. When the Roman Empire was split in 395, Athens became part of the Byzantine Empire. This period gave the city numerous important churches. From 1204 until 1458, Athens was ruled by Latins in three separate periods. Finally, in 1458, Athens was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire for four centuries. For a brief period of time (six months), Athens was under the occupation of the Venetians. The Venetian occupation of Athens lasted for six months in 1687, and both the Venetians and the Ottomans participated in the looting of the Parthenon. The city was degrading, and visitors from Central and Western Europe left with important historic artifacts at this time. In 1822 a Greek insurgency captured the city, but it fell to the Ottomans again in 1826. Finally, in 1834 Athens become the official capital of the independent Greek state when the Bavarian king Otto transferred the capital from Nafplio. In 1923 with the Treaty of Lausanne, more than a million Greek refugees from Asia Minor were resettled in Greece. Athens was occupied by the Germans during World War II. After WW II the city began to grow again as people migrated from the villages and islands in search of work. Today with its almost five million inhabitants, the mighty Greek Capital, the birthplace of Western civilization, is a modern metropolis, a hub of creativity and a never-ceasing source of ideas.

.POINTS OF INTEREST

Acropolis: The ancient citadel located atop a hill in Athens and its monuments, the most famous being the Parthenon (dedicated to the goddess Athena Parthenos), form the greatest architectural and artistic complex bequeathed by Greek Antiquity to the world. On this hill were born Democracy, Philosophy, Theatre, Freedom of Expression and Speech, which provide to this day the intellectual and spiritual foundation for the contemporary world and its values.  On the north side of the hill is the Erechtheion, a Temple dedicated to both, Athena and Poseidon with its famous porch of the Karyatides. The Propylaea is the monumental entrance to the Acropolis, built in Classical times by architect Mnesikles. The small temple of Athena Nike, built c. 420 BC by Kallikrates, dominates the bastion to the south of the Propylaia.

Temple of Olympian Zeus ( Olympieion or Columns of the Olympian Zeus): A former colossal temple dedicated to Olympian Zeus,  500 meters southeast of the Acropolis. It was built over several centuries starting in 174 BCE and was completed during the reign of the Roman Emperor, Hadrian. The monument had 104 15-meter Corinthian columns. By the 15th century, only 20 columns remained standing. Nowadays, there are 15 and one intact column lies on a large grass terrace. On the northeast corner of the monument is Hadrian’s Arch, a remarkable 18-meter marble arch built in 131 AC that once separated the old city (city of Theseus) and the new city (city of Hadrian). 

Ancient Agora: The Agora (market) was the centre of the ancient city’s public life and the Athenians spent the most part of their day here. The Stoa of Attalos, a two-storey arcade that was built in the 2nd Century BC,  the “Temple of Hephaestus”, (also known as the “Theseion”),  “Tholos”, the “Odeon of Agrippa”,  are all important stops where every visitor to Athens should pay a visit.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus: Known as the “Herodeon”, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a stone Roman theatre structure located on the southern slopes of the Acropolis. It  was originally constructed in 161 AD and funded by a controversial Athenian magnate, Herodes Atticus. The semi-circular amphitheater with a seating capacity of more than 6,000 people is considered one of the best open air theatres in the world and hosts Greek and international performances.

Lycabettus: At 277 meters above sea level, Lycabettus is the highest point in the center of Athens. Thousands of Athenians and guests of the capital climb up to the top of the hill which it’s nearly twice as high as the Acropolis, in order to enjoy the view of the entire Attica Basin. According to Greek mythology, Lycabettus was formed when the goddess Athena was carrying a huge limestone from the Pallene peninsula to the spot of the Acropolis, but she dropped it when she received bad news.

Panathenaic Stadium: Also known as Kallimarmaro (meaning “beautiful marble” in Greek) this remarkable all-marble stadium was first laid in 330 BC as a venue for ancient athletics. It was the site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Athens, 108 years later it hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics, making it one of the few cities to have hosted the Olympics more than once.

Syntagma square: The most visited square in the Greek capital with iconic landmarks, like the Hellenic Parliament (the old Royal Palace). The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is in front of the Parliament building. Members of the Presidential Guard, a special unit of the Hellenic Army, also known as Evzones, dressed in elaborate uniforms, stand silent and change shifts every hour. The hourly changing of the guards is one of the most photographed sights in Athens, after the Acropolis. Syntagma square is also a common place for demonstrations and gatherings.

National Garden of Athens: Completed in 1840 this green refuge of 15.5 hectares directly behind the Hellenic Parliament, is home to 7,000 trees, 40,000 bushes and other plants, making up 519 species and varieties from all over the world. The National Garden of Athens constitutes a great example of the 19th-century landscape architecture and its most famous sights include a small pond, a botanical garden, the remains of historical monuments and even a small zoo.

Zappeion: Next to the National Garden, Zappeion is the first building created for the first Olympic Games to be held in Athens. Designed by T. Hansen in 1888 this stately conference and events venue was named after the Greek entrepreneur, philanthropist and national benefactor Evangelos Zappas.

Tower of the Winds: One of the most popular monuments of Athens is located in the Roman Agora. Eight beautifully carved figures on the sides of ta 12 meter (39 ft) high octagonal tower, depicting the 8 winds.

Plaka: Known as the “quarter of the gods,” Plaka lies beneath the northeastern slope of the Acropolis and is Athens’ oldest historical neighborhood. Its charming labyrinthine streets are laced with shops, tavernas, cafes and dotted with antiquities throughout. The oldest street in Athens (Tripodon street), and indeed the whole of Europe, is about 2,500 years old, and is located in this neighborhood.

Tripodon Street today with the Monument of Lysicrates on the left (Credit: Book “Plaka Through Time”)

In ancient Greece, Tripodon street was used to connect the Ancient Agora of Athens with the Theater of Dionysus. It took its name from the copper tripods that were placed on its both sides. The tripods were sponsors’ prizes in the theater competitions which were often dedicated to the god Apollo. You can still see an ancient tripod today, maintained in excellent condition in Lysikrates Square.

Pnyka: Located across from the entrance to the Acropolis, the Pnyka Hill is where the citizens of ancient Athens used to assemble and exert their democratic rights. 

Kerameikos cemetery: The stunning 11-acre archaeological site is the largest cemetery of the ancient city filled with tombstones and statues of stunning design. A highly recommended place to visit.

Kolonaki, Exarcheia, Psiri districts: Kolonaki is home to high-end boutiques, publishing houses and a handful of museums and galleries. Exarcheia is a hotbed of alternative culture. Psiri is the place to be if you want to explore Athen’s nightlight and street art. All three districts are vibrant hubs of authentic city life.

Architectural Trilogy of Athens: The old building of the National Library of Greece, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, and the Academy of Athens. 

Athens Stock Exchange: The building in Sofocleous Street that used to accommodate the Athens Exchange until 2007 is in the central business district of Athens. The Athens Stock Exchange first opened in 30 Sept. 1876 on the street’s north side, and soon moved to the junction of Aiolou and Sofokleous streets. For this reason the Exchange and Sofocleous St became synonymous with each other.

.GASTRONOMY

What makes food in Athens special is millennia-old cooking traditions and ingredients. Try “moussaka” (layers of potato and eggplant at the bottom, cooked minced meat in the middle, and béchamel cream on top), “souvlaki” (skewered and charcoal barbecued meat wrapped in pita bread and served with delicious dips-the ultimate Greek street food!), “saganaki” (fried graveria cheese), “tzatziki” (a sauce with yogurt, garlic, cucumber and olive oil), “dolmadakia” (bite-sized parcels of grape leaves stuffed with a savory mixture of rice, herbs, and sometimes minced meat) and the famous “Greek Salad” (tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese and olives/olive oil). Sweet treats include “loukoumades” honey-soaked dough balls deep-fried and topped with crushed nuts and cinnamon.

.WINES & DRINKS

Greece is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world with the earliest evidence of Greek wine dating to 6,500 years ago. There are more than 300 indigenous varietals planted today in Greece, offering pleasing aromas and flavors. The most popular reds include xinomavro, agiorgitiko and kotsifali. Beyond wine, Greece is known for “ouzo” (made from distilled grapes with residuals from fruit and flavored with spices), “tsipouro” (a distilled spirit made using the leftover must from pressing wine), “raki” (the Cretan version of tsipouro enjoyed across the island).

.SHOPPING

Ermou Street: This pedestrian street is one of the most popular shopping areas in Athens. It connects Syntagma Square with Monastiraki and is about 3 kilometers long. Big international retailers, boutique designer shops, jewelers, little snack bars and coffee shops are all here.

Monastiraki: North of Plaka, Monastiraki is a major tourist attraction and one of the principal shopping districts of the city, home to an iconic flea market and known as the shoemakers’ area during the 20’s. Clothing boutiques, vintage and second-hand clothing stores, leather sandals workshops, souvenirs, antiques, and specialty stores.

Varvakeios: With a history of over 130 years, the central market of Athens is undoubtedly one the best places for authentic Greek specialties and edible souvenirs. Here, you’ll find shops and stalls selling fish (about five to 10 tons of fresh fish arrive daily), meat, vegetables, spices, nuts, herbs, dried fruits, coffee, herbal teas, honey, wines and distillates.

.FEASTS, FESTIVALS & EVENTS

Athens Festival: An annual arts festival that takes place from May to October,  features a top line-up of Greek and international theatre, drama, opera, dance attracting large audiences from Greece and abroad.

Athens City Festival: Created by the City of Athens to celebrate spring, the festival is built upon four main pillars: exhibitions, gastronomy, entertainment and outdoor activities.

Art Athina: A long-standing, contemporary art show held in September. It is the biggest annual cultural event of Greece, with a 25-year presence and played a decisive role in the creation of the art market in Greece.

Athens International Film Festival – AIFF: Founded by the Athens Film Society with the intention of highlighting lesser-known aspects/genres of independent cinema, AIFF is introducing audiences to some of the best productions of the year every autumn.

Athens Street Food Festival: Brings treats from all corners of the world including Asia, Africa, Northern Europe, Latin America every May and September.

.RELIGIOUS SITES

The Cathedral of Athens (Athens Metropolis): Located in Metropolitan Square (Plateia Mitropoleos) the cathedral is dedicated to the Annunciation of Virgin Mary. It is the largest church in Athens and the seat of the Archbishop of Greece.  

Church of Panagia Kapnikarea: Built some time in the 11th century, this is one of the oldest temples in Athens, located at the edge of the Plaka district. Amazing frescoes, mosaics (Madonna and child at the south portico).

Church of Agios Dionysios: Dedicated to the patron saint of Athens, Saint Dionysius the Areopagite, the impressive  church features a large dome, following the neo-baroque style, and is known for its neo-classical elements in its exterior.

Church of Agia Dynami (Holy Power): Located at the intersection of Mitropoleos str. and Penteli Streets, this small 16th-century church was built over the ruins of older structures, According to legend, Agia Dynami was believed to protect women in labor. 

Church of Agia Irini: constructed in 1846 by the famous architect Lyssandros Kaftatzoglou in downtown Athens) this gem of Byzantine architecture was once the main cathedral of Athens.

Catholic Cathedral of Saint Dionysius Areopagite: The main Roman Catholic church in Athens and the seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Athens. Its architecture is influenced by St Boniface’s Abbey in Munich.

.KEY MUSEUMS, ART GALLERIES & CULTURAL HUBS

National Archaeological Museum: The largest archaeological museum in Greece and one of the most important museums in the world, it is housing the richest collection of Greek antiquities worldwide. More than 11,000 exhibits offer the visitor a panorama of the ancient Greek civilization from Early Prehistory to Late Antiquity.

New Acropolis Museum: Completed in 2009 and located in the historic of Makryianni district, the museum focuses on the archaeological treasures from the Acropolis, providing visitors with a comprehensive picture of the human presence on the Sacred Rock, from pre-historic times through late antiquity.The top-floor Parthenon Gallery offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the Acropolis and modern Athens.

Museum of the Ancient Agora: Located on the ground floor of the restored Stoa of Attalos, the first shopping arcade in Athens. The museum hosts all the discoveries from the excavations carried out by the American School of Classical Studies in the Ancient Agora, which was the centre of the ancient city’s public life.

Cycladic Art Museum: Over 3,000 artefacts of Cycladic, Ancient Greek and Cypriot art are on display. The museum has also housed temporary exhibitions of some of the most important Greek and international modern and contemporary artists (El Greco, Dali, Caravaggio, Picasso).

Byzantine & Christian Museum: Housed in an enchanting monastery-style building the museum’s collection includes more than 25,000 objects from several former provinces of Byzantium. Pictures, scriptures, frescoes, pottery, fabrics, manuscripts, and copies of artifacts from the 3rd century AD to the Late Middle Ages.

Benaki Museum of Greek Culture: Arguably one of the finest eclectic museums in Europe. A large collection of relics from Greece and its ancient colonies presenting the history and art of the Greek world from prehistory to the 20th century.

Numismatic Museum: Housed in the former residence of Heinrich Schliemann, the museum owns an impressive collection of  more than 500,000 objects (ancient and modern Greek coins, treasures, Byzantine lead seals, medals and precious stones.)

Epigraphic Museum: The only museum of this particular type in Greece displays over 14,000 ancient Greek inscriptions-the primary historical sources that provide valuable information-
describing every aspect of private and public life.

War Museum: Established in 1975, the museum of the Greek Armed Forces is the largest museum of military history in Greece and one of the largest in Southeastern Europe.  It offers a timeline of Greek history (from ancient times to the present day) through military conflicts. Weapon artifacts, fighter jets as well as precious war photos from various periods in Greece.

National Art Gallery-Alexandros Soutsos Museum: Covering an area of 20,760 m2  the Gallery displays more than 20,000 artworks from the post-Byzantine times to the present day. The largest single collection of Greek modern art and sculpture. Additionally, Renaissance Western European art.

Onassis Stegi: One of Greece’s leading cultural institutions. Named after 20th-century shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, Stegi hosts theatrical and musical productions, film screenings, art and digital shows.

Megaron Mousikis: One of Europe’s premier cultural venues, the Athens Concert Hall (Megaron) is a treat for everyone who loves classical music, conteporary greek music, theater, dance, exhibitions. A creative arena for cultural and educational activities.

.MAJOR EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS

National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (1837), Athens University of Economics and Business (1920), National Technical University of Athens (1837), University of West Attica (UniWA)  (2018), Agricultural University of Athens (1920).

.TRANSPORT

Athens International “Eleftherios Venizelos” Airport: Located about 20 kilometers east of central Athens. Athens is very well connected to almost all of the world by air.

Larissis Train Station: The main railway station of the Greek capital and supports long-distance travel to many destinations in the Greek mainland.

KTEL (suburban) buses: KTEL handles 80% of domestic transport in Greece and connects suburban places and towns around Greece.

Port: The Port of Piraeus is the largest port in Greece and one of the largest in Europe. Rafina and Lavrio act as alternative ports of Athens connecting the city with numerous Greek islands. 

There are five main means of mass transit in the Athens urban area: metro/electric rail, city buses, electric trolley-buses, tram, and the suburban railway (referred to as the Proastiakos).

.ACCOMMODATION

When it comes to accommodation, Athens offers a plethora of options that cater to the traveler. Plenty of 5 star luxury properties, boutique hotels, regular hotel rooms, budget hostels, charming b&b’s, holiday apartments to suit all needs and budgets.


TO DO & TO GO