Athens (pronounced: /ˈæθɨnz/; Modern Greek: Αθήνα, Athína; pronounced: /aˈθina/; Katharevousa: Ἀθῆναι, Athinai; Ancient Greek: Ἀθῆναι, Athēnai) is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, with its recorded history spanning around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful [[city-state. A centre 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 BCE in later centuries on the rest of the then known European continent Today a cosmopolitan metropolis, modern Athens is central to economic, financial, industrial, political and cultural life in Greece. In 2008, Athens was ranked the world's 32nd richest city by purchasing power and the 25th most expensive in a UBS study.
The city of Athens has a population of 655,780 (796,442 back in 2004) within its administrative limits and a land area of 39 km2 (15 sq mi). The urban area of Athens (Greater Athens and Greater Piraeus) extends beyond the administrative municipal city limits, with a population of 3,074,160 (in 2011), over an 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). Athens is also the southernmost capital on the European mainland.
The heritage of the classical era is still evident in the city, represented by ancient monuments and works of art, the most famous of all being the Parthenon, considered a key landmark of early Western civilization. The city also retains Roman and Byzantine monuments, as well as a smaller number of Ottoman monuments.
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 1833, 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 Athens' name was Ἀθῆναι (Athēnai; pronounced: /atʰɛ̂ːnai/) in plural. However, in earlier Greek, such as Homeric Greek, the name was in the singular form, as Ἀθήνη (Athēnē) and was then rendered in the plural, like those of Θῆβαι (Thēbai) and Μυκῆναι (Μukēnai). The root of the word is probably not of Greek or Indo-European origin, and is a possible remnant of the Pre-Greek substrate of Attica, as with the name of the goddess Athena (Attic Ἀθηνᾶ Athēnā, Ionic Ἀθήνη Athēnē and Doric Ἀθάνα Athānā), who was always related to the city of Athens. During the medieval period the name of the city was rendered once again in the singular as Ἀθήνα; pronounced: /aˈθina/. However, because of the conservatism of the written language, Ἀθῆνα; pronounced: /aˈθine/, remained the official name of the city until the abandonment of Katharevousa in the 1970s, when Ἀθήνα became the official name.
Previously, there had been other etymologies by scholars of the 19th century. Lobeck proposed as the root of the name the word ἄθος (athos) or ἄνθος (anthos) meaning flower, to denote Athens as the flowering city. On the other hand, Döderlein proposed the stem of the verb θάω, stem θη– (thaō, stem thē–, "to suck") to denote Athens as having fertile soil.
An etiological myth explaining how Athens acquired this name was well known among ancient Athenians and even became the theme of the sculpture on the West pediment of the Parthenon. Both Athena and Poseidon requested that they become patrons of the city and give their name to it, so they competed with one another for the honour, offering the city one gift each. Poseidon produced a salt water spring by striking the ground with his trident, symbolizing naval power. However, some myths suggest that he created horses out of sea foam as a gift for Athens. 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.
The city is often referred to with its nickname in Greek as τὸ κλεινὸν ἄστυ, which means in English the glorious city or simply as η πρωτεύουσα (protevousa), 'the capital'.
The oldest known human presence in Athens is the Cave of Schist, which has been dated to between the 11th and 7th millennium BCE. Athens has been continuously inhabited for at least 7000 years. By 1400 BCE the settlement had become an important centre of the Mycenaean civilization and the Acropolis was the site of a major Mycenaean fortress, whose remains can be recognised 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 BCE, 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 BCE onwards Athens was one of the leading centers of trade and prosperity in the region. The leading position of Athens 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.
By the 6th century BCE, widespread social unrest led to the reforms of Solon. These would pave the way for the eventual introduction of democracy by Cleisthenes in 508 BCE. Athens had by this time become a significant naval power with a large fleet, and helped the rebellion of the Ionian cities against Persian rule. In the ensuing Greco-Persian Wars Athens, together with Sparta, led the coalition of Greek states that repelled the Persians, defeating them decisively at Marathon in 490 BCE and crucially at Salamis in 480 BCE.
The decades that followed became known as the Golden Age of Athenian democracy, during which time Athens became the leading city of Ancient Greece, with its cultural achievements laying the foundations of Western civilization. The playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides flourished in Athens during this time, as did the historians Herodotus and Thucydides, the physician Hippocrates, and the philosopher Socrates. Guided by Pericles, who promoted the arts and fostered democracy, Athens embarked on an ambitious building program that saw the construction of the Acropolis of Athens (including the Parthenon), as well as empire-building via the Delian League. Originally intended as an association of Greek city-states to continue the fight against the Persians, the league soon turned into a vehicle for Athens's own imperial ambitions. The resulting tensions brought about the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BCE), in which Athens was defeated by its rival Sparta.
By the end of Late Antiquity, the city experienced decline followed by recovery in the second half of the Middle Byzantine Period, in the 9th to 10th centuries CE, and was relatively prosperous during the Crusades, benefiting from Italian trade. In 1458 it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and entered a long period of decline.
Following the Greek War of Independence, Athens was chosen as the capital of the newly independent Greek state in 1834, largely due to historical and sentimental reasons. At the time it was a town of modest size built around the foot of the Acropolis. The first King of Greece, Otto of Bavaria, commissioned the architects Stamatios Kleanthis and Gustav Schaubert to design a modern city plan fit for the capital of a state.
The first modern city plan consisted of a triangle defined by the Acropolis, the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos and the new palace of the Bavarian king (now housing the Greek Parliament), so as to highlight the continuity between modern and ancient Athens. 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's 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 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 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. In 2004 Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Athens sprawls across the central plain of Attica that is often referred to as the Athens or Attica Basin (Greek: Λεκανοπέδιο Αττικής). The basin is bounded 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. Beyond Mount Aegaleo lies the Thriasian plain, which forms an extension of the central plain to the west. The Saronic Gulf lies to the southwest. Mount Parnitha is the tallest of the four mountains (1,413 m (4,636 ft)), and 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 complex in the world due to its mountains causing a temperature inversion phenomenon which, along with the Greek Government's difficulties controlling industrial pollution, is responsible for the air pollution problems the city has recently faced. This issue is not characteristic of Athens alone; for intsance, Los Angeles and Mexico City also suffer from similar geomorphology inversion problems.
Athens has a subtropical Mediterranean climate (Köppen Csa) and receives just enough annual precipitation to avoid Köppen's BSh (semi-arid climate) classification. The dominant feature of Athens's climate is alternation between prolonged hot and dry summers and mild, wet winters. With an average of 414.1 millimetres (16.30 in) of yearly precipitation, rainfall occurs largely between the months of October and April. July and August are the driest months, where thunderstorms occur sparsely once or twice a month. Winters are cool and rainy, with a January average of 8.9 °C (48.0 °F); in Nea Filadelfeia and 10.3 °C (50.5 °F) in Hellinikon; Snowstorms are infrequent but can cause disruption when they occur. Snowfalls are more frequent in the northern suburbs of the city.
Mount Parnitha creates a rainshadow for the city, as a result of which precipitation is typically lower than in other parts of the Balkans; for a typical comparison, Tirana receives over three times more rainfall and Shkodra about five times as much. Daily average highs for July (1955–2004) have been measured at 33.7 °C (92.7 °F) at Nea Filadelfeia weather station, but other parts of the city may be even warmer, in particular its western areas in part due to industrialization or in the main several natural reasons, knowledge of which has been available from the mid-19th century. Temperatures often surpass 38 °C (100 °F) during the city's notorious heatwaves.
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, and bearing detrimental effects on energy usage, expenditure for cooling, and health. The urban heat island of the city has also been found to be partially responsible for alterations of the climatological temperature time-series of specific Athens meteorological stations, due to its impact on the temperatures and the temperatures 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.
Athens holds the World Meteorological Organisation record for the highest temperature ever recorded in Europe, at 48.0 °C (118.4 °F), which was recorded in the Elefsina and Tatoi suburbs of Athens on 10 July 1977.
The city of Athens incorporates architectural styles ranging from Greco-Roman and 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-19th century, under the guidance of Theophil Freiherr von Hansen and Ernst Ziller, and include the Athens Academy, Athens City Hall, the Greek Parliament, the Old Parliament (1875–1932) (Now the National Historical Museum), the University of Athens, and the Zappeion Hall.
Beginning in the 1920s, Modern architecture including Bauhaus and Art Deco began to exert an influence on almost all Greek architects, and 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 centre of the city; neighbourhoods developed in this period include Kypseli.
In the 1950s and 1960s during the extension and development of Athens, other modern movements such as the International style played an important role. The centre 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 aluminium, and many 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.
Culture and contemporary life
The city is a world centre 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, alongside regional and national archaeological authorities that form part of the Greek Department of Culture.
Athens hosts 17 Foreign Archaeological Institutes which promote and facilitate research by scholars from their 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.
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 ancient and modern coins;
- the Museum of Cycladic Art, home to an extensive collection of Cycladic art, including its famous figurines of white marble;
- 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 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 destination for travellers 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 European Union, 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.
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- Cityofathens.gr – City of Athens official website
- Athens The official website of the Greek National Tourism Organisation
- EIE.gr – Page on Archaeology of the City of Athens in the National Hellenic Research Foundation website
- Rg.ancients.info/owls – Athenian owl coins
- Kronoskaf.com – Simulation of Athens in 421 BC
- Athens Museums Information - Guide with pictures, visitor comments and reviews
- Athens Urban Transport Organisation
- City of Athens guide
- Online Athens guide with news and events
- City of Athens Hotels official website
- Zoomable Athens panorama
- Athens photoStream
- Timelapse video of Athens Timelapse showing Athens in the Attica region
- Athens 1973
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