Athens

Short history

Athens has been the epicenter of civilization and democratic inception for over 3,400 years. The city’s history begins in the dim corridors of time, with evidence of human presence stretching back to the 11th to 7th millennia BC. Named in honor of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and warfare, Athens flourished as a potent city-state, central in the annals of ancient Greece. Its political environment was radically transformed with the establishment of democracy in the 5th century BC, a system that granted unprecedented power to its citizens in decision-making processes, thus laying the groundwork for modern democratic governance.

Throughout its long history, Athens has been at the heart of various epochs, including the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods, each leaving marks on its cultural and political heritage. In more recent history, Athens has not only emerged as a metropolis but also reasserted its role on the global stage by hosting the Olympic Games in 1896 and 2004, underscoring its enduring legacy and importance as a center of culture, politics, and sport.

Geography

This dynamic capital of Greece, is positioned in the Attica region in southern part of the country, encircled by four prominent mountains: Mount Aegaleo, Mount Parnitha, Mount Pentelicus, and Mount Hymettus. 

The city has a Mediterranean climate, characterized by hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters, a factor that significantly influences both the lifestyle of its inhabitants and the urban planning. The hottest month is typically July, with temperatures often soaring above 33°C (91°F), while January is usually the coldest month, seeing temperatures drop to an average low of 7°C (45°F). Furthermore, rainfall is predominantly observed during the autumn and winter months, with December being notably the wettest period, receiving an average precipitation of 69 mm.

The city’s urban layout reveals a mix of historical and modern elements, with the ancient Acropolis sitting at its heart, surrounded by a sprawl of contemporary neighborhoods.  The urban planning accommodates a dense network of streets and notable public squares, like Syntagma and Omonia, which are central points Athens’ economic, social, and cultural life. 

Population

Athens has a population of over three million people, positioning it as the eighth largest urban area within the European Union. The majority of Athens’ population is of Greek descent. Greek is the predominant language, serving not only as a means of communication but also as an integral part of their cultural identity.

Religiously, the populace primarily adheres to the Greek Orthodox Church, which plays an important role in the community’s life, influencing customs, traditions, and festivals. In recent years, Athens has seen a noticeable increase in multiculturalism, with significant numbers of immigrants and expatriates contributing to the city’s ethnic diversity. This meeting of cultures in Athens has led to a society where traditional Greek customs coexist with influences from around the world.

Main sights

  • The Acropolis of Athens: A testament to ancient Greek civilization, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is renowned for the legendary Parthenon. the Erechtheion with its Caryatids, and sweeping views of Athens.
  • The Ancient Agora of Athens: Once the heart of public life in Athens, it houses the well-preserved Temple of Hephaestus, sometimes mistaken for the Parthenon due to its remarkable condition.
  • The National Archaeological Museum: Home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of Greek antiquities, including the Mask of Agamemnon and the Antikythera Mechanism.
  • Plaka: Situated at the foot of the Acropolis, Plaka’s labyrinthine streets are filled with neoclassical architecture, cafes, and shops.
  • Syntagma Square: The central square of Athens, known for the Hellenic Parliament and the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
  • The Temple of Olympian Zeus: Once the largest temple in Greece, its towering Corinthian columns evoke the grandeur of ancient Athens.
  • The National Garden of Athens: A peaceful retreat in the heart of the city, with shaded walkways, ancient ruins, and a small zoo.

Food

  • Moussaka: A layered dish that combines slices of eggplant and potato with a savory minced meat sauce, all topped with a creamy béchamel and baked to perfection. It’s a staple in Greek households.
  • Souvlaki: Grilled skewers of tender, marinated meat, usually pork or chicken, served with pita bread, fresh vegetables, and tzatziki sauce. Souvlaki stands are a common sight in Athens, offering a quick and delicious taste of Greek street food.
  • Dolmades: Grape leaves stuffed with a delightful mixture of rice, pine nuts, and herbs, often served with a side of lemon and yogurt.
  • Spanakopita: A savory pastry, made with flaky phyllo dough, spinach, feta cheese, onions, and herbs. Spanakopita is a versatile dish that can be enjoyed as a snack or a light meal.
  • Tzatziki: A refreshing and cool dip or sauce made from yogurt, cucumber, garlic, olive oil, and occasionally lemon juice and dill. Tzatziki accompanies many dishes in Athens, adding a creamy texture and a burst of flavor.
  • Baklava: A rich, sweet dessert pastry made of layers of phyllo filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with honey or syrup. Baklava is a decadent ending to any Athenian meal and reflects the city’s Ottoman influences.

Fun facts

  • Athens is one of humanity’s oldest cities with a history that spans over three millennia.
  • The city’s ancient agora, or marketplace, was not only a center of commerce but also a crucial space for Athenian democracy, where citizens gathered to discuss and make decisions about public policy.
  • The Athens Metro, while serving as a modern means of transportation for the city, also displays ancient artifacts discovered during its construction, transforming several stations into mini-museums.
  • Athens is celebrated for its contributions to the arts and literature, having been home to historical figures such as Socrates, Plato, and Pericles, who played main roles in laying the foundations of Western philosophy, democracy, and theatre.