The Greek capital (Athens) has a population of 745,514 (in 2001) within its administrative limits and a land area of 39km2. The urban area of Athens extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 3.37 million (in 2005). The area of Athens prefecture spans 412km2 and encompasses a population of 3,192,606. The Athens Larger Urban Zone (LUZ) is the 7th most populated LUZ in the European Union with a population of 3,894,573 (in 2001). A bustling and cosmopolitan metropolis, Athens is central to economic, financial, industrial, political and cultural life in Greece. It is rapidly becoming a leading business centre in the European Union. In 2008, Athens was ranked the world’s 32nd-richest city in a UBS study.
Classical Athens was a powerful city-state. A centre for the arts, learning and philosophy, home of Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum. Athens was also the birthplace of Socrates, Pericles, Sophocles and many other prominent philosophers, writers and politicians of the ancient world. It is widely referred to as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy, largely due to the impact of its cultural and political achievements during the 5th and 4th centuries BC on the rest of this time known European continent.The heritage of the classical era is still evident in the city, represented by a number of ancient monuments and works of art, the most famous of all being the Parthenon on the Acropolis, widely considered a key landmark of early Western civilization.
Athens is remarkable by the big number of the monuments and the greatest historical place such as Acropolis, Parthenon , Agora, Temple of Zeus and many more.
Acropolis is the most important ancient site in Western world. Crowned by the Parthenon, it stands sentinel over Athens, visible from almost everywhere within the city. Its monuments of Pentelic marble gleam white 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. A glimpse of this magnificent sight cannot fail to lift your spirits.
Inspiring as these monuments are, they are but faded remnants of Pericles’ city. Pericles spared no expense – only his best materials, architects, sculptors and artists were deemed good enough for a city dedicated to the cult of Athena. The Greek goddess Athena, was the goddess of wisdom, battle, and certain crafts, and was the protector of the concept of cities. The olive tree was sacred to her, and her sacred bird was the owl (that’s why wisdom is associated with owls). The city was a showcase of lavishly coloured colossal buildings and of gargantuan statues, some of bronze, others of marble plated with gold and encrusted with precious stones.
The Acropolis was first inhabited in Neolithic times. The first temples were built during the Mycenaean era in homage to the goddess Athena. After all the buildings of Acropolis were reduced to ashes by the Persians on the eve of the battle of Salamis(480 BC), Pericles set about his ambitious rebuilding program. He transformed Acropolis into a city of temples, which has come to be regarded as the zenith of classical Greek achievement.
Ravages inflicted upon them during the years of foreign occupation, pilfering by foreign archaeologists, inept renovations following independence, visitors’ footsteps, earthquakes and, more recently, acid rain and pollution have all taken their toll on the surviving monuments. The worst blow was in 1687 when the Venetians attacked the Turks, opening fire on the Acropolis and causing an explosion in the Parthenon, where the Turks were storing
gunpowder, damaging all the buildings.
The Parthenon is the monument that more than any other epitomises the glory of ancient Greece. Parthenon means “virgin’s apartment” and it is dedicated to Athena Parthenos, the goddess embodying the power and prestige of the city. The largest Doric temple ever completed in Greece, and the only one buillt completely of Pentelic marble (apart from its wooden roof), it took 15 years to complete.
Built on the highest part of Acropolis, the Parthenon had a dual purpose – to house the great statue of Athena commissioned by Pericles, and to serve as the new treasury. The Temple consisted of eight fluted Doric columns at either end and 17 on each side. To achieve perfect form, its lines were ingeniously curved to create an optical illusion – the foundations are slightly concave and the columns are slightly convex to make both look straight.
The Propylaia formed the monumental entrance to the Acropolis. Built by Mnesicles between 437 BC and 432 BC, its architectural brilliance ranks with that of the Parthenon. It consists of a central hall with two wings on either side. Each section had a gate, and in ancient times these five gates were the only entrances to the “upper city”. The ceiling of the central hall was painted with gold stars on a dark-blue background.
Although Parthenon was the most impressive monument of Acropolis , it was more of a showpiece than a sanctuary. That role fell to the Erectheion, built on the part of the Acropolis held most sacred, where Poseidon struck the ground with his trident, and where Athena produced the olive tree.
The Erechtheion is immediately recognizable by the six larger-than-life maiden columns that suport its southern portico, the Caryatids (so called because they weremodelled on women from Karyai, modern-day Karyes, in Lakonia). Those you see are plaster casts. The original (except for one removed by Lord Elgin that now sits in in the British Museum) are in the Acropolis Museum.
Architecturally, it is the most unusual monument of the Acropolis, a supreme example of lonic architecture ingeniously built on several levels to counteract the uneven bedrock.
The northern porch consists of six ionic columns; on the floor are the fissures suposedly left by the thunderbolt sent by Zeus to kill Kind Erechteus. To the south of here was the Cecropion – King Cecrops’ burial place.
The small, exquisitely proportioned Temple of Athena Nike stands on a platform perched atop the steep southwest edge of the Acropolis, to the right of the Propylaia. Designed by Kallicrates, the temple was built of Pentelic marble between 427BC and 424BC. The building is almost square, with four graceful Ionic columns at either end. Only fragments remain of the frieze , which had scenes from mythology, the Battle of Plataea (479BC) and Athenians fighting Boeotians and Persians. Parts of the frieze are in the Acropolis Museum, as are some relief sculptures, including the beautiful depiction of Athena Nike fastening her scandal. The Temple also housed a wooden statue of Athena.
Finally don’t forget to mention the long awaited Acropolis Museum opened with much fanfare in 2009 in the southern foothills of the Acropolis. Ten times larger than the former on site museum, the imposing modernist building brings together the surviving treasures of the Acropolis, including items held in other museums or storage, as well as pieces returned from foreign museums. While the collection covers the Archaic and Roman periods, the emphasis is on the Acropolis of the 5th century BC, considered the apotheosis of Greece’s artistic achievement.
At the entrance you can see the ruins of an ancient Athenian neighborhood which have been cleverly incorporated into the museum design after being uncovered during excavations.
Finds from the slopes of the Acropolis are on display in the first gallery, which has an ascending glass floor that emulates the climb up to the sacred hill, while allowing glimpses of the ruins below. Exhibits include painted vases and votive offerings from the sanctuaries where gods were worshiped, and more recent objects found in excavations of the settlement, including two clay statues of Nike at the entrance.
The museum’s crowning glory is the top-floor Parthenon Gallery, a glass atrium built in alignment with the temple, and a virtual replica of the cella of the Parthenon, which can be seen from the gallery. It showcases the temple’s sculptures, metopes and 160m frieze, which for the first time in more than 200 years is shown in sequence as one narrative about the Panathenaic procession.
The city also retains a vast variety of Roman and Byzantine monuments, as well as a smaller number of remaining Ottoman monuments projecting the city’s long history across the centuries. Landmarks of the modern era are also present, dating back to 1830 (the establishment of the independent Greek state), and taking in the Greek Parliament (19th century) and the Athens Trilogy (Library, University, and Academy). Athens was the host city of the first modern-day Olympic Games in 1896, and 108 years later it welcomed home the 2004 Summer Olympics, with great success.
SHOPPING IN ATHENS
One of the most attractive areas for shopping in Athens is around Syntagma square(Constitution square), Voukourestiou St., Kolonaki, Ermou St. and Plaka, the old quarter of the city, as it includes a flea market and a large variety of restaurants as well as shops and boutiques. Shops hours are: Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 09.00-21.00. Monday, Wednesday and Saturday: 09.00-17.00 The shops in Plaka are open every day including Sundays from morning until late at night.