This article is about the Greek city of Athens. For other uses see Athens (disambiguation)

The Acropolis, centre of ancient Athens, along with the Parthenon. The ancient monuments of Athens are a mainstay of its thriving tourism industry.

Athens (Greek Athina or Αθήνα) is the capital of Greece, and also the capital of the Attica region of Greece.

(In Ancient Greek Athens was called Athinai (Αθήναι), and in the 19th century this name was formally re-adopted as the city's name. Since the official abandonment of Katharevousa Greek in the 1970s, however, the popular form Athina has become the city's official name.)

Table of contents
1 Location and setting
2 Outine history
3 Transportation
4 Local government
5 Ancient sites in Athens
6 Other notable places in Athens
7 Related topics
8 See also
9 External links

Location and setting

Modern Athens: Omonia Square with Mt Lykabettos in the background. Athens today is the largest city in Greece.

With its suburbs, Athens has a population of about 3.7 million, or more than a third of the total population of Greece. Athens has grown rapidly in recent years and suffers from overcrowding, traffic congestion and air pollution.

Athens sprawls across the central plain of Attica, which is bound by mount Aegaleo on the west, mount Parnitha on the north, mount Penteli to the northeast, mount Hymettus on the east, and the Saronic Gulf on the south-west. Athens has expanded to cover the entire plain, and is thus unlikely to grow significantly in area in the future, because of the natural boundaries. The geomorphology of Athens frequently causes temperature inversion phenomena partly responsible for its air pollution problem (Los Angeles has similar geomorphology and similar problems).

The land is rocky and of marginal fertility. The ancient site of the city is centered on the rocky hill of the Acropolis. In ancient times the port of Piraeus (modern name Pireas) was a separate city, but it has now been absorbed into greater Athens.

The centre of the modern city is at Syntagma Square (Constitution Square), site of the former Royal Palace, the Greek Parliament and other 19th century public buildings. Most of the older and wealthier parts of the city and clustered around this area, which is also where most of the tourist attractions and museums are. The newer parts of the city are mostly constructed from grey concrete and suffer from a lack of parks and amenities.

The Athenian coat of arms, showing the goddess Athena

Athens will host the 2004 Summer Olympics. Athens was also the host of the 1896 Olympics and of the 1906 Intermediary Olympics.

The old campus of the University of Athens, on Street is one of the finest buildings in Athens, although most of the university's functions have been moved at a larger modern campus east of the city centre near Zográfou. Another university is the Athens Polytechnic (Ethniko Metsovio Politechnio), where 24 students were killed in 1973 during demonstrations against the Greek military regime.

Outine history

The Acropolis of Athens was inhabited from Neolithic times, and Athens was a Mycenaean city of some importance. From early in the 1st millennium BC, Athens was a sovereign city-state, ruled first by kings and archons and then by dictators of the Pisistratid dynasty (see tyrant). Its central location soon made it one of the leading centres of trade and colonisation. In the 5th century BC Athens led the Greek resistance to Persia (see Persian Wars), and as a result became the dominant city in Greece, at the head of the Delian League, which soon became an Athenian Empire. During this period Athens developed a political system of democracy (see Athenian Democracy), and also became a centre of literature and philosophy (see Greek philosophy).

Resentment by other Greek states of Athenian domination led to the Peloponnesian War, in which Athens was defeated by Sparta and her allies (404 BC). During the fourth century Athens regained some of her power, but the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC, at which Philip II of Macedon defeated the Greeks, effectively ended Athenian independence. After 200 years of Macedonian supremacy, Greece was absorbed into the Roman Empire in the 1st century BC.

The ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus in central Athens, showing the scaffolding with which many of the city's monuments are shrouded during restoration work in preparation for the 2004 Olympic Games

Athens remained a centre of learning and philosophy during 500 years of Roman rule, patronised by emperors such as Nero and Hadrian. But the conversion of the Empire to Christianity ended the city's role as a centre of pagan learning: the Emperer Justinian closed the schools of philosophy in 529. During the period of the Byzantine Empire Athens was a provincial town, and many of its works of art were looted by the emperors and taken to Constantinople. Attica was invaded successively by the Goths and the Bulgars.

During the period 1204 to 1458 Athens was fought over by the Byzantines and the French and Italian knights of the Latin Empire. The French knights of the de la Roche family held the title Duke of Athens. Later, Catalan and Sicilian adventurers ruled the city for some parts of the 14th century. Finally, in 1458, Athens fell to the Ottoman Empire. Contrary to subsequent mythology, the Turks understood and respected Athens' glorious past and protected its ancient monuments as best they could. But the city's population declined and by the 17th century it was a mere village.

The real damage to Athens was caused in the 17th century, when Ottoman power was declining. The Venetians attacked Athens in 1687. A shot fired during the bombardment of the Acropolis caused a powder magazine in the Parthenon to explode, and the building was severely damaged. After capturing the Acropolis the Venetians employed material from its ancient buildings in repairing its walls. The following year the Turks set fire to the city. Ancient monuments were destroyed to provide material for a new wall with which the Turks surrounded the city in 1778..

In 1822 the Greek insurgents captured the city, but it fell to the Turks again in 1826. Again the ancient monuments suffered badly. The Turks remained in possession till 1833, when they withdrew and Athens was chosen as the capital of the newly established kingdom of Greece. At that time the city was virtually uninhabited, being memrely a cluster of buildings at the foot of the Acropolis, where the fashionable Plaka district now is.

The National Academy in Athens, with Apollo and Athena on their columns, and Socrates and Plato seated in front

Athens was chosen as the Greek capital for historical and sentimental reasons, not because it was a functioning city. During the reign of King Othon (1832-1862) a modern city plan was laid out and public buildings erected - this is why there are virtually no buildings in Athens dated between the Roman Empire and the 19th century. The finest legacy of this period are the buildings of the University of Athens, the Greek National Library and the Greek National Academy on Panepistimiou Street.

Athens experienced its first period of explosive growth following the disastrous war with Turkey in 1921, when more than a million Greek refugees from Asia Minor were resettled in Greece. Suburbs such as Nea Ionia and Nea Smyrni began as refugee camps on the Athens outskirts. Athens was occupied by the Germans during World War II and experienced terrible privations during the later years of the war. In 1944 there was heavy fighting in the city between Communist forces and the royalists backed by the British.

The aftermath of street fighting in Athens, December 1944

After World War II the city began to grow again as people migrated from the villages and islands to find work. Greek entry into the European Union in 1981 brought a flood of new investment to the city, but also increasing social and environmental problems. Athens had some of the worst traffic congestion and air pollution in the world. This posed a new threat to the ancient monuments of Athens, as traffic vibration weakened foundations and air pollution corroded marble. The city's environmental and infrastructure problems were the main reason Athens failed to secure the 1996 centenary Olympic Games.


The public transport system in Athens consists of bus and metro service. A tram system is also under construction and is expected to begin service in June 2004.

The Athens Metro has three lines which are distinguished by the colours used in maps and signs. The green line, which is the oldest and for the most part runs on the ground, connects Piraeus to Kifissia. The other two lines were constructed mainly during the 1990s and were put to service in around 1998. They run entirely underground. The blue line goes from Monastiraki to Papagou, and the red line from Dafni to Sepolia. Extensions to both lines are under construction.

The bus service consists of a network of lines on which normal busses and electric busses run. Busses are frequently crammed with people and there are also complaints about the frequency and reliability of the service.

The tram will go from near Syntagma Square to Palaio Faliro and from there the line will be split in two branches, going to Glyfada and Piraeus. Only Syntagma - Palaio Faliro - Piraeus will be completed in 2004; the Glyfada branch is scheduled for later.

There are many taxis in Athens, which complement the saturated bus service. They are quite cheap, but in rush hours it is considered normal to halt a taxi even when it is on service (although, strictly speaking, this is forbidden); in that case, if the one halting it happens to go to the same direction as the customer, they are also allowed in, and each one pays normally as if they were the only customer.

Athens is served by the Eleftherios Venizelos Airport at Spata east of the city, about a 40-minute taxi ride from the city centre. There is also an express bus connecting the airport to the metro system. This airport recently replaced Ellinikon International Airport at the south part of the city.

Athens is also the hub of the Greek railway system, and ferries from Piraeus travel to all parts of the country.

There are two motorways that go to the west towards Patra and to the north towards Thessaloniki, and a ring motorway (Attiki Odos) which goes from Elefsina on the west to the airport after circling the city from the north.

Many of the transportation infrastructure works, especially the tram, the ongoing expansion of the metro, and Attiki Odos, have been rushed in order to be ready for the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Local government

The modern city of Athens consists of what were formerly distinct towns and villages which gradually expanded to form a single large city; this expansion occurred in the 20th century. The city is now divided into 54 municipalities, the largest of which is the Municipality of Athens or Dimos Athinaion, with about one million people (the second largest is Piraeus). Athens can thus refer either to the entire city (also called greater Athens) or to the Municipality of Athens, or even to downtown Athens. Each of the municipalities of Athens has an elected city council and a directly elected mayor. Dora Bakoyannis of the conservative New Democracy party has been Mayor of Athens (that is, of the Municipality of Athens) since October 2002. She is the first woman to be Mayor of Athens.

Ancient sites in Athens

Other notable places in Athens

  • Monastiraki

Related topics

See also

External links