Athens The Sensational Capital Of Greece; “Athens (plural) ( /ˈæθɪnz/; Modern Greek: Αθήνα, Athina, IPA: [aˈθina], Katharevousa: Ἀθῆναι, Athine, Ancient Greek: Ἀθῆναι, Athēnai (plural)), the capital and largest city of Greece, dominates the Attica periphery; as one of the world’s oldest cities, its recorded history spans around 3,400 years.
The Greek capital has a population of 745,514 (in 2001) within its administrative limits and a land area of 39 km2 (15 sq mi). The urban area of Athens extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 3,130,841 (in 2001) and a land area of 412 km2 (159 sq mi). According to Eurostat, the Athens Larger Urban Zone (LUZ) is the 7th most populous LUZ in the European Union (the 4th most populous capital city of the EU) with a population of 4,013,368 (in 2004).
A cosmopolitan metropolis, modern Athens is central to economic, financial, industrial, political, and cultural life in Greece and it is rated as an alpha- world city. In 2008, Athens was ranked the world’s 32nd richest city by purchasing power and the 25th most expensive in a UBS study.
… was a powerful city-state. A center for the arts, learning and philosophy, home of Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum, 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 the then 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, widely considered a key landmark of early Western civilization. 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.
Athens is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Acropolis of Athens and the medieval Daphni Monastery. Landmarks of the modern era, dating back to the establishment of Athens as the capital of the independent Greek state in 1830, include the Hellenic Parliament (19th century) and the Athens Trilogy consisting of the National Library of Greece, the Athens University, and the Academy of Athens. 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. Athens is home to the National Archeological Museum, featuring the world’s largest collection of ancient Greek antiquities, as well as the new Acropolis Museum.
In Ancient Greek, the name of Athens was: Ἀθῆναι [atʰɛ̂ːnai], related tο the name of the goddess Athena (Attic Ἀθηνᾶ [atʰɛːnâː] and Ionic Ἀθήνη [aˈtʰɛːnɛː]). The city’s name was in the plural, like those of Θῆβαι (Thēbai), Μυκῆναι (Mukēnai), and Δελφοί (Delphoi).
An etiological myth explaining how Athens acquired this name was well known amongst ancient Athenians and even became the theme of the sculpture on the West pediment of the Parthenon. Both Athena and Poseidon requested to be patrons of the city and to give their name to it, so they competed with one another for the honor, offering the city one gift each. Poseidon produced a saltwater spring by striking the ground with his trident, symbolizing naval power. Athena created the olive tree, symbolizing peace and prosperity. The Athenians, under their ruler Cecrops, accepted the olive tree and named the city after Athena.
In the 19th century, Ἀθῆναι was formally re-adopted as the city’s name. Since the official abandonment of Katharevousa Greek in the 1970s, the demotic Αθήνα (Athína / [aˈθina]) has become the city’s official name.
The oldest known human presence in Athens is the Cave of Schist which has been dated between the 11th and 7th millennium BC. Athens has been continuously inhabited for at least 7000 years.
By 1400 BC the settlement had become an important center of the Mycenaean civilization and the Acropolis was the site of a major Mycenaean fortress whose remains can be recognized from sections of the characteristic Cyclopean walls. Unlike other Mycenaean centers, such as Mycenae and Pylos, it is not known whether Athens suffered destruction in about 1200 BC, an event often attributed to a Dorian invasion, and the Athenians always maintained that they were “pure” Ionians with no Dorian element. However, Athens, like many other Bronze Age settlements, went into economic decline for around 150 years following this.
Iron Age burials, in the Kerameikos and other locations, are often richly provided for and demonstrate that from 900 BC onwards Athens was one of the leading centers of trade and prosperity in the region; as were Lefkandi in Euboea and Knossos in Crete. This position may well have resulted from its central location in the Greek world, its secure stronghold on the Acropolis, and its access to the sea, which gave it a natural advantage over inland rivals such as Thebes and Sparta.
Classical Athens became the leading city of Ancient Greece in the 5th century BC, with its cultural achievements laying the foundations of Western civilization. It was eventually overcome by its rival city-state of Sparta. By the end of Late Antiquity, the city experienced decline followed by recovery in the second half of the Middle Byzantine Period (9th–10th centuries AD) and was relatively prosperous during the Crusades, benefiting from Italian trade. In 1453 it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and entered a long period of decline.
Akropolis in 1821
Athens re-emerged in the 19th century as the capital of the independent Greek state. The city was then a decadent village but it was selected to be the capital of Greece because of the proposal of Kleanthis and Schaubert and a strong need to incorporate the glorious past of ancient Greece in the new state’s rationale. The new city’s plan was proposing the incorporation of the ancient remains in the new city axes. The main part of the existing village was on the Parthenon. The French and the German archaeological schools sought to highlight the classical remains, including one of the most important symbols of origin for western civilization: the Parthenon. Concerning the first modern city plans, a triangle defined by important places—the Parthenon, the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos, or the new palace of the Bavarian king—demonstrated a historic continuation that immediately related modern Athens to the glorious time of ancient Greece.
Neoclassicism, the international style of this epoch, was the architectural style through which Bavarian, French, and Greek architects such as Hansen, Klenze, Boulanger, or Kaftantzoglou designed the first important public buildings of the new capital. In 1896 Athens hosted the first modern Olympic Games. During the 1920s a number of Greek refugees, expelled from Asia Minor after the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922), swelled Athens’ population; nevertheless, it was most particularly following World War II, and from the 1950s and 1960s, that the population of the city exploded, and Athens experienced a gradual expansion in all directions.
In the 1980s it became evident that smog from factories and an ever-increasing fleet of automobiles, as well as a lack of adequate free space due to over congestion, had evolved into the city’s most important challenge. A series of anti-pollution measures taken by the city’s authorities in the 1990s, combined with a substantial improvement of the city’s infrastructure (including the Attiki Odos motorway, the expansion of the Athens Metro, and the new Athens International Airport), considerably alleviated pollution and transformed Athens into a much more functional city.
Athens sprawls across the central plain of Attica that is often referred to as the Attica or Athens Basin. The basin is bound by four large mountains; Mount Aegaleo to the west, Mount Parnitha to the north, Mount Penteli to the northeast, and Mount Hymettus to the east of the Athens Metropolitan Area and also the extension of the Athens basin is the Thriasian plain west of the capital. The Saronic Gulf lies in the southwest. Mount Parnitha is the tallest of the four mountains (1,413 m (4,636 ft)) and it has been declared a national park.
Athens is built around a number of hills. Lycabettus is one of the tallest hills of the city proper and provides a view of the entire Attica Basin. The geomorphology of Athens is deemed to be one of the most complexes in the world due to its mountains and causes a temperature inversion phenomenon which, along with the failure of the Greek Government to control industrial pollution, is responsible for the air pollution problems the city has recently faced. (Los Angeles and Mexico City also suffer from similar geomorphology inversion problems).
Athens has a Subtropical Mediterranean climate (Köppen climate classification Csa) while the southern Athens area experiences a hot semi-arid climate (Köppen climate classification BSh), with extremely long periods of sunshine throughout the year (2884 hours of sunshine per year at Thision meteorological station 1961–1990) and with the greatest amounts of precipitation mainly occurring from mid-October to mid-April; any precipitation is sparse during summer and it generally takes the form of showers and/or thunderstorms. Due to its location in a rain shadow because of Mount Parnitha, the Athenian climate is much drier compared to most of the rest of Mediterranean Europe. The mountainous northern suburbs, for their part, experience a somewhat differentiated climatic pattern, with generally lower temperatures. Fog is highly unusual in the city center but it is more frequent to the east, behind the Hymettus mountain range.
Winter is mild, with a January average of 8.9 °C (48.0 °F); in Nea Filadeflia and 10.3 °C (50.5 °F) in Hellenikon; Snowfalls are not common and these do not normally lead to significant if any, disruption. Nonetheless, the city has experienced heavy snowfalls in the past decade. During the blizzards of March 1987; February 1992; 4–6 January 2002; 12–13 February 2004; January 2006; and 16–18 February 2008, snow blanketed large parts of the metropolitan area, causing havoc across much of the city.
Spring and fall (autumn) are considered ideal seasons for sightseeing and all kinds of outdoor activities.
Summers can be particularly hot and at times prone to smog and pollution-related conditions (however, much less so than in the past). According to the National Observatory of Athens, the average daytime maximum temperature in Thision (period 2001–2009) for the month of July is 35.1 °C (95.2 °F)
Athens is notorious for its heatwaves occurring generally during the months of July and/or August when hot air masses sweep across Greece from the south or the southwest. On such days temperatures soar over 38 °C (100 °F).
The city of Athens is affected by the urban heat island effect in some areas which is caused by human activity, altering its temperatures compared to the surrounding rural areas, which has detrimental effects on energy usage, expenditure for cooling, and health. The urban heat island of the city has been found partially responsible also for alterations of the climatological temperature time-series of specific Athens meteorological stations due to its impact on the temperatures and the temperature trends recorded by some meteorological stations. On the other hand, specific meteorological stations such as the National Garden station and Thiseio meteorological station are less affected or do not experience the urban heat island.
European Temperature record
Athens holds the record of the highest temperature ever being recorded in Europe of 48.0 °C (118.4 °F) which was recorded in Elefsina and Tatoi suburbs of Athens on 10 July 1977 according to the World Meteorological Organisation.
The city of Athens contains a variety of different architectural styles, ranging from Greco-Roman, Neo-Classical, to modern. They are often to be found in the same areas, as Athens is not marked by a uniformity of architectural style. Many of the most prominent buildings of the city are either Greco-Roman or neo-classical in styling. Some of the neo-classical structures to be found are public buildings erected during the mid-nineteenth century, under the guidance of Theophil Freiherr von Hansen and Ernst Ziller, and include the Athens Academy, Athens City Hall, Greek Parliament, Old Parliament (1875–1932) (Now the National Historical Museum), University of Athens, and Zappeion Hall.
Mela Building in Kotzia square. Panoramic view of the Parthenon.
The left apartment building constructed in the 1930s is an example of modern architecture in Athens, while the right, built in the 1950s, combines modern and classical elements.
Beginning in the 1930s, the International Style and other architectural movements such as Bauhaus and Art Deco began to exert an influence on almost all Greek architects, and many buildings both public and private were constructed in accordance with these styles. Localities with a great number of such buildings include Kolonaki, and some areas of the center of the city; neighborhoods developed in this period include Kypseli.
In the 1950s and 1960s during the vast extension and development of Athens, modern architecture played a very important role. The center of Athens was largely rebuilt, leading to the demolition of a number of neoclassical buildings. The architects of this era employed materials such as glass, marble, and aluminum, while some blended modern and classical elements. After World War II, internationally known architects to have designed and built in the city included Walter Gropius, with his design for the US Embassy, and, amongst others, Eero Saarinen, in his postwar design for the east terminal of the Ellinikon Airport.
Notable Greek architects of the 1930s–1960s included Konstantinos Doxiadis, Dimitris Pikionis, Pericles A. Sakellarios, Aris Konstantinidis, and others.
Street in Plaka. Omonoia Square.
The Municipality of Athens is divided into several districts: Omonoia, Syntagma, Exarcheia, Agios Nikolaos, Neapolis, Lykavittos, Lofos Strefi, Lofos Finopoulou, Lofos Filopappou, Pedion Areos, Metaxourgeio, Aghios Kostantinos, Larissa Station, Kerameikos, Psiri, Monastiraki, Gazi, Thission, Kapnikarea, Aghia Irini, Aerides, Anafiotika, Plaka, Acropolis, Pnyka, Makrygianni, Lofos Ardittou, Zappeion, Aghios Spyridon, Pangration, Kolonaki, Dexameni, Evaggelismos, Gouva, Aghios Ioannis, Neos Kosmos, Koukaki, Kynosargous, Fix, Ano Petralona, Kato Petralona, Rouf, Votanikos, Profitis Daniil, Akadimia Platonos, Kolonos, Kolokynthou, Attikis Square, Lofos Skouze, Sepolia, Kypseli, Aghios Meletios, Nea Kypseli, Gyzi, Polygono, Ampelokipoi, Panormou-Gerokomeio, Pentagono, Ellinorosson, Kato Filothei, Ano Kypseli, Tourkovounia-Lofos Patatsou, Lofos Elikonos, Koliatsou, Thymarakia, Kato Patisia, Treis Gefyres, Aghios Eleftherios, Ano Patisia, Kypriadou, Prompona, Aghios Panteleimonas, Pagrati, Goudi, Ilisia
Omonoia Square (Greek: Πλατεία Ομονοίας) is the oldest square in Athens. It is surrounded by hotels and fast food outlets and contains a train station used by the Athens Metro and the Ilektrikos, appropriately named Omonoia Station. The square often becomes the focus for the celebration of sporting victories, as seen after the country’s winning of the Euro 2004 and the Eurobasket 2005 tournaments.
(Greek: Μεταξουργείο) is a neighborhood of Athens, Greece. The neighborhood is located south of the historical center of Athens, between Kolonos to the east and Kerameikos to the west, and north of Gazi. Metaxourgeio is frequently described as a transition neighborhood. After a long period of abandonment in the late 20th century, the area is acquiring a reputation as an artistic and fashionable neighborhood due to the opening of many art galleries, museums, and trendy restaurants and cafes. Moreover, local efforts to beautify and invigorate the neighborhood have reinforced a budding sense of community and artistic expression. Anonymous art pieces containing quotes and sayings in both English and Ancient Greek have begun springing up throughout the neighborhood, containing statements such as “Art for arts sake” (Τεχνη τεχνης χαριν). Guerilla gardening has also helped to beautify this area, taking advantage of the ample sunshine in Greece.
Psiri and Gazi
The reviving Psiri (Greek: Ψυρρή) neighborhood – a.k.a. Athens’s “meatpacking district” – is dotted with renovated former mansions, artists’ spaces, and small gallery areas. A number of its renovated buildings also now host a wide variety of fashionable bars, making it a hotspot for the city in the last decade, while a number of live music restaurants known as “rebetadika”, after rebetiko, a unique form of music that blossomed in Syros and Athens from the 1920s until the 1960s, are also to be found. Rebetiko is admired by many, and as a result, rebetadika are often crammed with people of all ages who will sing, dance, and drink till dawn.
The Gazi (Greek: Γκάζι) area, one of the latest in full redevelopment, is located around a historic gas factory, now converted into the Technopolis cultural multiplex, and also includes artists’ areas, a number of small clubs, bars, and restaurants, as well as Athens’ nascent “Gay Village”. The metro’s system’s recent expansion to the western suburbs of the city has brought easier access to the area since spring 2007, as the blue line now stops at Gazi (Kerameikos station).
View of Syntagma Square and Hellenic Parliament; Old Royal House.
Syntagma Square, (Greek: Σύνταγμα/Constitution Square), is the capital’s central and largest square, lying adjacent to the Greek Parliament (the former Royal Palace) and the city’s most noted hotels. Ermou Street, an approximately one kilometer-long pedestrian road connecting Syntagma Square to Monastiraki, has traditionally been a consumer paradise for both Athenians and tourists. Complete with fashion shops and shopping centers promoting most international brands, it now finds itself in the top 5 most expensive shopping streets in Europe and the tenth most expensive retail street in the world. Nearby, the renovated Army Fund building in Panepistimiou Street includes the “Attica” department store and several upmarket designer stores.
Plaka, Monastiraki, and Thission
The Temple of Hephaestus in the central district of Thission. Kolonaki Square. View of parts of the city’s northern suburbs at night. Marousi suburb in Northern Athens
Plaka (Greek: Πλάκα), lying just beneath the Acropolis, is famous for its plentiful neoclassical architecture, making up one of the most scenic districts of the city. It remains a traditionally prime tourist destination with a number of picturesque tavernas, live performances, and street salesmen. Nearby Monastiraki (Greek: Μοναστηράκι), for its part, is well-known for its string of small shops and markets, as well as its crowded flea market and tavernas specializing in souvlaki. Another district notably famous for its student-crammed, stylish cafés is Theseum or Thission (Greek: Θησείο), lying just west of Monastiraki. Thission is home to the ancient Temple of Hephaestus, standing atop a small hill. This area also has a picturesque 11th Century Byzantine church, as well as a 15th Century Ottoman mosque.
The Kolonaki (Greek: Κολωνάκι) area, at the base of Lycabettus hill, is full of boutiques catering to well-heeled customers by day, and bars and more fashionable restaurants by night, but at other points also a wide range of art galleries and museums. This is often regarded as one of the more prestigious areas of the capital.
Exarcheia (Greek: Εξάρχεια), located north of Kolonaki, has a mixed reputation as the recent or current location of the city’s anarchist scene and as a culturally active student quarter with many cafés, bars, and bookshops. Exarcheia is home to the Athens Polytechnic and the National Archaeological Museum; it also contains numerous important buildings of several 20th-century styles: Neoclassicism, Art Deco, and Early Modernism (including Bauhaus influences).
Piraeus city, now within the Athens urban area
The Athens Metropolitan Area consists of 73 densely populated municipalities, sprawling around the city in virtually all directions. According to their geographic location in relation to the city of Athens, the suburbs are divided into four zones; the northern suburbs (including Ekali, Nea Erythrea, Agios Stefanos, Drosia, Dionysos, Kryoneri, Kifissia, Maroussi, Pefki, Lykovrisi, Heraklio, Glyka Nera, Vrilissia, Melissia, Pendeli, Halandri, Aghia Paraskevi, Psychiko and Filothei); the southern suburbs, (including Palaio Faliro, Elliniko, Glyfada, Alimos, Voula Argyroupoli, Ilioupoli and the southernmost suburb of Vouliagmeni); the eastern suburbs, (including Acharnes, Zografou, Vyronas, Kaisariani, Cholargos, and Papagou; and the western suburbs (including Peristeri, Ilion, Egaleo, Petroupoli and Nikaia).
The Athens city coastline, extending from the major commercial port of Piraeus to the southernmost suburb of Varkiza for some 25 km (20 mi), is also connected to the city center by a tram.
In the northern suburb of Maroussi, the upgraded main Olympic Complex (known by its Greek acronym OAKA) dominates the skyline. The whole area has been redeveloped according to a design by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, with steel arches, landscaped gardens, fountains, futuristic glass, and a landmark new blue glass roof which was added to the main stadium. A second Olympic complex, next to the sea at the beach of Kallithea (Faliron), also features modern stadia, shops, and an elevated esplanade. Work is underway to transform the grounds of the old Athens Airport – named Hellinikon – in the southern suburbs, into one of the largest landscaped parks in Europe, to be named the Hellenikon Metropolitan Park.
Many of the southern suburbs (such as Alimos, Palaio Faliro, Elliniko, Voula, Vouliagmeni, and Varkiza) host a number of sandy beaches, most of which are operated by the Greek National Tourism Organisation and require an entrance fee, which is not excessive in most cases. Casinos operate on both Mount Parnitha, some 25 km (16 mi) from downtown Athens, (accessible by car or cable car) and the nearby town of Loutraki (accessible by car via the Athens – Corinth National Highway, or the suburban railroad).
In the National Gardens. Athens from the Acropolis with the Lycabettus hill in the background.
Parnitha National Park is punctuated by well-marked paths, gorges, springs, torrents, and caves dotting the protected area. Hiking and mountain-biking in all four mountains remain popular outdoor activities for many residents of the city. The National Garden of Athens was completed in 1840 and is a green refuge of 15.5 hectares in the center of the Greek capital. It is to be found between the Parliament and Zappeion buildings, the latter of which maintains its own garden of seven hectares.
Parts of the city center have been redeveloped under a masterplan called the Unification of Archeological Sites of Athens, which has also gathered funding from the EU to help enhance the project. The landmark Dionysiou Aeropagitou street has been pedestrianized, forming a scenic route. The route starts from the Temple of Olympian Zeus at Vasilissis Olgas Avenue, continues under the southern slopes of the Acropolis near Plaka, and finishes just beyond the Temple of Hephaestus in Thiseio. The route in its entirety provides visitors with views of the Parthenon and the Agora (the meeting point of ancient Athenians), away from the busy city center.
The hills of Athens also provide green space. Lycabettus, Philopappos hill, and the area around it, including Pnyx and Ardettos hill, are planted with pines and other trees, with the character of a small forest rather than typical metropolitan parkland. Also to be found is the Pedion tou Areos (Field of Mars) of 27.7 hectares, near the National Archaeological Museum.
Culture and contemporary life
Main article: Culture of Greece
A close-up view of the Philopappos Monument. The Porch of the Caryatids at the Erechtheum. The Temple of Olympian Zeus.
The city is one of the world’s main centers of archaeological research. Apart from national institutions, such as Athens University, the Archaeological Society, several archaeological Museums (including the National Archaeological Museum, the Cycladic Museum, the Epigraphic Museum, the Byzantine Museum, as well as museums at the ancient Agora, Acropolis, and Kerameikos), the city is also home to the Demokritos laboratory for Archaeometry as well as several regional and national archaeological authorities that form part of the Greek Department of Culture. Additionally, Athens hosts 17 Foreign Archaeological Institutes which promote and facilitate research by scholars from their respective home countries.
As a result, Athens has more than a dozen archaeological libraries and three specialized archaeological laboratories and is the venue of several hundred specialized lectures, conferences, and seminars, as well as dozens of archaeological exhibitions, per year. At any given time, Athens is the (temporary) home to hundreds of international scholars and researchers in all disciplines of archaeology.
National Historical Museum (Old Parliament). The National Archaeological Museum in central Athens.
The most important museums of Athens include The National Archaeological Museum, the largest archaeological museum in the country, and one of the most important internationally, as it contains a vast collection of antiquities; its artifacts cover a period of more than 5,000 years, from late Neolithic Age to Roman Greece; The Benaki Museum with its several branches for each of its collections including ancient, Byzantine, Ottoman-era and Chinese art and beyond; The Byzantine and Christian Museum, one of the most important museums of Byzantine art; The Numismatic Museum, housing a great collection of Greek coins;
The Museum of Cycladic Art, home to an extensive collection of Cycladic art, including the famous figurines made of white marble; and finally the New Acropolis Museum, opened in 2009 and replacing the old museum on the Acropolis. The new museum has proved considerably popular; almost one million people visited during the summer period of June–October 2009 alone. A number of smaller and privately owned museums focused on Greek culture and arts are also to be found.
Athens has been a popular destination for travelers since antiquity. Over the past decade, the city’s infrastructure and social amenities have improved, in part due to its successful bid to stage the 2004 Olympic Games. The Greek Government, aided by the EU, has funded major infrastructure projects such as the state-of-the-art Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, the expansion of the Athens Metro system, and the new Attiki Odos Motorway.
Entertainment and performing arts
Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Athens Planetarium is considered one of the largest and best-equipped digital planetariums in the world.
Athens is home to 148 theatrical stages, more than any other city in the world, including the famous ancient Herodes Atticus Theatre, home to the Athens Festival, which runs from May to October each year. In addition to a large number of multiplexes, Athens plays host to a variety of romantic, open-air garden cinemas. The city also supports a vast number of music venues, including the Athens Concert Hall, known as the “Mégaron Musikis”, which attracts world-famous artists all year round. The Athens Planetarium, located in Andrea Syngrou Avenue is one of the largest and best-equipped digital planetaria in the world.
Athens has a long tradition in sports and sporting events, being home to the most important clubs in Greek sports and having a large number of sports facilities. The city has also served as a host of several sports events of international notability.
Athens has hosted the Summer Olympic Games twice, in 1896 and 2004. The 2004 Summer Olympics inspired the development of the Athens Olympic Stadium, which has since gained a reputation as one of the most beautiful stadia in the world, and one of its most interesting modern monuments. The biggest stadium in the country, it has hosted two finals of the UEFA Champions League, in 1994 and 2007. The other major stadium of Athens, located in the Piraeus area, is the Karaiskakis Stadium, a state-of-the-art sports and entertainment complex, host of the 1971 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup Final.
Athens has hosted the Euroleague final three times, the first in 1985 and second in 1993, both at the Peace and Friendship Stadium, most known as SEF, one of the largest and most attractive indoor arenas in Europe, and the third in 2007 at the Olympic Indoor Hall. A large number of events in other sports such as athletics, volleyball, water polo, etc., have also been hosted in the capital’s venues.
Athens is home to three prestigious European multi-sport clubs: Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, AEK Athens. In football, Olympiacos have dominated the domestic competitions, Panathinaikos made it to the 1971 European Cup Final, while AEK Athens is the other member of the big three. These clubs also hold prominent basketball departments; Panathinaikos and Olympiacos are among the top powers in European basketball, having won the Euroleague five times and once respectively, with AEK Athens being the first Greek team to win a European trophy in any team sports.
Other clubs with great tradition in sports within Athens are Panionios, Panellinios, Ethnikos Piraeus, and Maroussi. Athenian clubs have also had significant domestic and international success in other sports.
The Athens area encompasses a variety of terrain, notably hills and mountains rising around the city, and the capital is the only major city in Europe to be bisected by a mountain range. Four mountain ranges extend into city boundaries and thousands of miles of trails crisscross the city and neighboring areas, providing exercise and wilderness access on foot and bike. Beyond Athens and across the county a great variety of outdoor activities are available and popular, including skiing, rock climbing, hang gliding, and windsurfing. Numerous outdoor clubs serve these sports, including the Athens Chapter of the Sierra Club, which leads over 4,000 outings annually in the area.
Inside the Olympic Stadium of Athens Spiros Louis.
Athens population distribution. Athens urban area is shown here with its 55 municipalities.
The municipality of Athens has an official population of 745,514 with a metropolitan population of 3.2 million (population including the suburbs). The actual population, however, is believed to be higher, because during census-taking (carried out once every 10 years) some Athenian residents travel back to their birthplaces, and register as local citizens there.
Reflecting this uncertainty about population figures, various sources refer to a population of around 5 million people for Athens. Also unaccounted for is an undefined number of unregistered immigrants originating mainly from Albania, other Eastern European countries, and Pakistan. There are some 200,000 Muslims living in Athens
The ancient site of the city is centered on the rocky hill of the acropolis. In ancient times the port of Piraeus was a separate city, but it has now been absorbed into greater Athens. The rapid expansion of the city initiated in the 1950s and 1960s continues today, because of the transition from an agricultural to an industrial nation. The expansion is now particularly toward the East and North East (a tendency greatly related to the new Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport and the Attiki Odos, the freeway that cuts across Attica). By this process, Athens has engulfed many former suburbs and villages in Attica and continues to do so. Throughout its long history, Athens has experienced many different population levels. The table below shows the historical population of Athens in recent times.
The Athens urban area consists of 55 municipalities, 48 of the Athens Prefecture and 7 of the mainland Piraeus Prefecture. The second-largest municipality of the urban area, after Athens city proper, is that of Piraeus, with Peristeri and Kallithea following. It spans 412 km2 (159 sq mi) and has a population of 3,130,841 (in 2001), which makes it one of the largest urban areas of the European Union.
The Athens Prefecture (blue), within the periphery of Attica (grey). The seven districts of Athens municipality.
Athens became the capital of Greece in 1834, following Nafplion which was the provisional capital from 1829. In addition, the municipality of Athens is the capital of the Attica Periphery and the Athens Prefecture. Athens can refer either to the municipality of Athens or to the entire urban area. It sometimes refers only to the Athens Prefecture, which is part of the urban area.
Athens is located within the Attica Periphery, which encompasses the most populated region of Greece, with around 3.7 million people. The Attica Periphery itself is split into four prefectures; they include the Athens Prefecture, Piraeus Prefecture, West Attica Prefecture, and the East Attica Prefecture. It is, however, one of the smaller peripheries in Greece, with an area of 3,808 km2 (1,470 sq mi).
The Athens Prefecture is the most populous of the Prefectures of Greece, accounting for 2,664,776 people (in 2001), with an area of 361 km2 (139 sq mi). It is made up by 48 municipalities, each one of which has an elected district council and a directly elected mayor. Along with the Piraeus Prefecture, it forms the Athens-Piraeus super-prefecture.
The municipality of Athens is the most populous in Greece, with a population of 745,514 people (in 2001) and an area of 39 km2 (15 sq mi). The current mayor of Athens is the New Democracy politician, Nikitas Kaklamanis. It is divided into seven municipal districts, called dimotika diamerismata. The 7-district division is mainly used for administrative purposes. For Athenians, the most popular way of dividing the city proper is through its neighborhoods such as Pagkrati, Ambelokipi, Exarcheia, Patissia, Ilissia, Petralona, Koukaki, and Kypseli, each with its own distinct history and characteristics.
The entrance of the National Library of Greece. The University Club building, founded in 1927.
Located on Panepistimiou Street, the old campus of the University of Athens, the National Library, and the Athens Academy form the “Athens Trilogy” built in the mid-19th century. Most of the university’s workings have been moved to a much larger, modern campus located in the eastern suburb of Zográfou. The second higher education institution in the city is the Athens Polytechnic School (Ethniko Metsovio Politechnio), found in Patission Street.
This was the location where on 17 November 1973, more than 13 students were killed and hundreds injured inside the university during the Athens Polytechnic uprising, against the military junta that ruled the nation from 21 April 1967 until 23 July 1974. Another notable institution is the Agricultural University of Athens which lies in the west of the city’s center.
The recycling machine in Athens
By the late 1970s, the pollution of Athens had become so destructive that according to the then Greek Minister of Culture, Constantine Trypanis, “…the carved details on the five the caryatids of the Erechtheum had seriously degenerated, while the face of the horseman on the Parthenon’s west side was all but obliterated.“ A series of strict measures taken by the authorities of the city throughout the 1990s resulted in the improvement of air quality; the appearance of smog (or nefos as the Athenians used to call it) has become less common. Widespread measures taken by the Greek authorities throughout the 1990s have improved the quality of air over the Attica Basin.
Nevertheless, air pollution still remains an issue for Athens, particularly during the hottest summer days. In late June 2007, the Attica region experienced a number of brush fires, including a blaze that burned a significant portion of a large forested national park in Mount Parnitha, considered critical to maintaining better air quality in Athens all year round. Damage to the park has led to worries over a stalling in the improvement of air quality in the city.
The major waste management efforts were undertaken in the last decade (particularly the plant built on the small island of Psytalia) have improved water quality in the Saronic Gulf, and the coastal waters of Athens are now accessible again to swimmers. In January 2007, Athens faced a waste management problem when its landfill near Ano Liosia, an Athenian suburb, reached capacity. The crisis eased by mid-January when authorities began taking the garbage to a temporary landfill.
Highway interchange in the northern suburb of Maroussi. Highway A1 (PATHE) terminating near Faliro.
The Athens Mass Transit System consists of a large bus fleet, a trolleybus fleet that mainly serves the downtown area, the city’s Metro, a tram line connecting the southern suburbs to the city center, and the Athens Suburban Railway service.
Agios Dimitrios Station of the Athens Metro. Exhibition of antiquities in the luxurious Syntagma Station of the Athens Metro.
The Athens Metro is more commonly known in Greece as the Attiko Metro (Greek: Αττικό Mετρό). While its main purpose is transport, it also houses Greek artifacts found during the construction of the system. The Athens Metro supports an operating staff of 387 and runs two of the three metro lines; its two lines (red and blue) were constructed largely during the 1990s, and the initial sections opened in January 2000, and the lines run entirely underground.
The metro network operates a fleet of 42 trains consisting of 252 cars, with a daily occupancy of 550,000 passengers. The Blue Line runs from the western suburbs, namely the Egaleo station, through the central Monastiraki and Syntagma stations to Doukissis Plakentias avenue in the northeastern suburb of Halandri, covering a distance of 16 km (10 mi), then ascending to ground level and reaching Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, using the Suburban Railway infrastructure and extending its distance to 39 km (24 mi).
The Red Line, in counterpart, runs from Aghios Antonios to Aghios Dimitrios and covers a distance of 11.6 km (7 mi). Extensions to both these lines are under construction, most notably westwards to Piraeus, southwards to the Old Hellinikon Airport East Terminal (the future Metropolitan Park), and eastward toward the easternmost suburb of Aghia Paraskevi. The eastern part is actually no extension per se, but rather an opening of new stations between the Ethniki Amyna and Doukissis Plakentias stations. The spring 2007 extension from Monastiraki westwards, to Egaleo, connected some of the main nightlife hubs of the city, namely the ones of Gazi (Kerameikos station) with Psirri (Monastiraki station) and the city center (Syntagma station).
Electric railway (ISAP)
An ISAP train (Green Line) passes by the Stoa of Attalus in central Athens.
The third line, not run by the Athens Metro, is the ISAP (Greek: ΗΣΑΠ), the Electric Railway Company. This is the Green line of the Athens Metro as shown on the adjacent map, and unlike the red and blue routes running entirely underground, ISAP runs either above-ground or below-ground at different sections of its journey. This same operation runs the original metro line from Piraeus to Kifisia; it serves 22 stations, with a network length of 25.6 km (15.9 mi), an operating staff of 730 and a fleet of 44 trains and 243 cars, and a daily occupancy rate of 600,000 passengers.
The historic Green Line, a 25.6 km (16 mi)-long and 24-station line which forms the oldest and for the most part runs at ground level, connects the port of Piraeus to the northern suburb of Kifissia and is set to be extended to Agios Stefanos, a suburb located 23 km (14 mi) to the north of the city center, reaching to 36 km (22 mi).
Suburban rail (Proastiakos)
The Proastiakós connects Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport to the city of Corinth, 80 km (50 mi) west of Athens, via the central Larissa train station and the port of Piraeus, and is sometimes considered the fourth line of the Athens Metro. The Suburban Rail network currently extends to a length of 120 km (75 mi), and is expected to stretch to 281 km (175 mi) by 2010. The Proastiakos will be extended to Xylokastro west of Athens and Chalkida. The urban and suburban railway system is managed by three different companies; namely ISAP, Attiko Metro (lines 2 & 3), and Proastiakós (line 4).
Ethel (Greek: ΕΘΕΛ) (Etaireia Thermikon Leoforeion), or Thermal Bus Company, is the main operator of buses in Athens. Its network consists of about 300 bus lines which span the entire Attica Basin, with an operating staff of 5,327, and a fleet of 1,839 buses. Of those 1,839 buses, 416 run on compressed natural gas, making up the largest fleet of natural gas-powered buses in Europe.
Besides being served by a fleet of natural-gas and diesel buses, the Athens metropolitan area is also served by trolleybuses — or electric buses, as they are referred to in the name of the operating company. The network operated by Electric Buses of the Athens and Pireaus Region, or ILPAP (Greek: ΗΛΠΑΠ), consists of 22 lines with an operating staff of 1,137. All of the 366 trolleybuses are equipped to enable them to run on diesel in case of power failure.
Athens Tram SA operates a fleet of 35 vehicles, which serve 48 stations, employ 345 people with an average daily occupancy of 65,000 passengers. The tram network spans a total length of 27 km (17 mi) and covers ten Athenian suburbs. This network runs from Syntagma Square to the southwestern suburb of Palaio Faliro, where the line splits in two branches; the first runs along the Athens coastline toward the southern suburb of Voula, while the other heads toward the Piraeus district of Neo Faliro. The network covers the majority of the Saronic coastline.
Further extensions are planned towards the major commercial port of Piraeus. The expansion to Piraeus will include 12 new stations, increase the overall length of the tram by 5.4 km (3 mi), and increase the overall transportation network.
Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport
The Athens International Airport main terminal building, seen at night.
Athens is served by the state-of-the-art Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport (AIA) located near the town of Spata, in the eastern Messoghia plain, some 35 km (22 mi) east of Athens. The airport was awarded the “European Airport of the Year 2004” Award. Intended as an expandable hub for air travel in southeastern Europe, it was constructed in a record 51 months costing 2.2 billion euros and employing a staff of 14,000. Express bus service is provided, connecting the airport to the metro system, and 2 express bus services connect the airport to the port at Piraeus and the city center respectively.
Eleftherios Venizelos accommodates 65 landings and take-offs per hour, with its 24 passenger boarding bridges, 144 check-in counters, and broader 150,000 m2 (1,614,587 sq ft) main terminal, and a commercial area of 7,000 m2 (75,347 sq ft) which includes cafes, duty-free shops, and a small museum. In 2007, the airport handled 16,538,390 passengers, an increase of 9.7% over the previous year of 2006. Of those 16,538,390 passengers, 5,955,387 passed through the airport for domestic flights, and 10,583,003 passengers travelled through for international flights. Beyond the dimensions of its passenger capacity, AIA handled 205,294 total flights in 2007 or approximately 562 flights per day.
Railways, highways, and ferry connections
Athens is the hub of the country’s national railway system (OSE), connecting the capital with major cities across Greece and abroad (Istanbul, Sofia, and Bucharest). Ferries departing from the major port of Piraeus connect the city to the numerous Greek islands of the Aegean Sea. There are two main highways; one heading towards the western city of Patras in Peloponessus (GR-8A, E94) and the other heading to the north, towards Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki (GR-1, E75). From 2001 to 2004, a ring road toll-motorway (Attiki Odos) was gradually completed, extending from the western industrial suburb of Elefsina all the way to the Athens International Airport.
The Ymittos Periphery Highway is a separate section of Attiki Odos connecting the eastern suburb of Kaisariani to the northeastern town of Glyka Nera; this is where it meets the main part of the ring road. The span of the Attiki Odos in all is 65 km (40 mi).
1896 Summer Olympics
Main article: 1896 Summer Olympics The opening ceremony of the 1896 Summer Olympics in Kallimarmaron Stadium.
1896 brought forth the revival of the modern Olympic Games, by Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin. Thanks to his efforts, Athens was awarded the first modern Olympic Games. In 1896, the city had an approximate population of 123,000 and the event helped boost the city’s international profile. Of the venues used for these Olympics, the Kallimarmaro Stadium, and Zappeion were most crucial. The Kallimarmaro is a replica of the ancient Athenian stadiums, and the only major stadium (in its capacity of 60,000) to be made entirely of white marble from Mount Penteli, the same material used for the construction of the Parthenon.
1906 Summer Olympics
The 1906 Summer Olympics, or the 1906 Intercalated games, were held very successfully in Athens. The intercalated competitions were intermediate games to the internationally organized Olympics and were meant to be organized in Greece. This idea later lost support from the IOC and these games were not made permanent.
2004 Summer Olympics
Main article: 2004 Summer Olympics Athens Olympic Sport Complex
Athens was awarded the 2004 Summer Olympics on 5 September 1997 in Lausanne, Switzerland, after having lost a previous bid to host the 1996 Summer Olympics, to Atlanta, United States. It was to be the second time Athens would have the honor of hosting the games, following the inaugural event of 1896. After the 1990’s unsuccessful bid, the 1997 bid was radically improved also including an appeal to Greece’s Olympic history. In the last round of voting, Athens defeated Rome with 66 votes to 41. Prior to this round, the cities of Buenos Aires, Stockholm, and Cape Town had already been eliminated from the competition, having received fewer votes.
The Olympic Flame at the Opening Ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games, conceived by the avant-garde choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou.
During the first three years of preparations, the International Olympic Committee had repeatedly expressed some concern over the speed of construction progress for some of the new Olympic venues. In 2000 the Organising Committee’s president was replaced by Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, who was the president of the original Bidding Committee in 1997. From that point on, preparations continued at a highly accelerated, almost frenzied pace.
Although the heavy cost was criticized, estimated at $1.5 billion, as is usually the case with most Olympic cities, Athens was literally transformed into a more functional city that enjoys state-of-the-art technology both in transportation and in modern urban development. Some of the finest sporting venues in the world were created in the city, all of which were fully ready for the games. The games welcomed over 10,000 athletes from all 202 countries.
The 2004 Games were judged a huge success, as both security and organization were exceptionally good, and only a few visitors reported minor problems mainly concerning accommodation issues. The 2004 Olympic Games were described as Unforgettable, dream Games, by IOC President Jacques Rogge for their return to the birthplace of the Olympics, and for superbly meeting the challenges of holding the Olympic Games. The only observable problem was a somewhat sparse attendance of some early events. Eventually, however, a total of more than 3.5 million tickets were sold, which was higher than any other Olympics with the exception of Sydney (more than 5 million tickets were sold there in 2000).
In 2008 it was reported that almost all of the Olympic venues had fallen into varying states of disrepair: according to those reports, 21 of the 22 facilities built for the games had either been left abandoned or are in a state of dereliction, with several squatter camps have sprung up around certain facilities, and a number of venues afflicted by vandalism, graffiti or strewn with rubbish. These claims, however, are disputed and likely to be inaccurate, as most of the facilities used for the Athens Olympics are either in use or in the process of being converted for post-Olympics use.
The Greek Government has created a corporation, Olympic Properties SA, which is overseeing the post-Olympics management, development, and conversion of these facilities, some of which will be sold off (or have already been sold off) to the private sector, while other facilities are still in use just as during the Olympics, or have been converted for commercial use or modified for other sports.”