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Useful Notes / Athens

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Modern Athens with Acropolis in the centre

"In short, I say that as a city we are the school of Hellas; while I doubt if the world can produce a man, who where he has only himself to depend upon, is equal to so many emergencies, and graced by so happy a versatility as the Athenian."

Oh, Athens… the eye of Greece, mother of arts and eloquence. The Cradle of Western Civilization.note  The Cradle of Hellenic Civilization. The birthplace of Democracy. The Renaissance city before The Renaissance itself. The violet-crowned city. The glorious city. You name it…

It is the capital of Greece and its largest city, with a population of 4 million residents. It dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, with its recorded history spanning over 3,400 years. The basin is bounded by four large mountains: Mount Aigaleo to the west, Mount Parnitha to the north, Mount Pentelicus to the northeast and Mount Hymettus to the east.

It has a large financial sector, and its port Piraeus is both the largest passenger port in Europe and the second largest in the world. The Municipality of Athens (also City of Athens), which actually constitutes a small administrative unit of the entire city, had a population of 664,046 (in 2011) within its official limits, and a land area of 38.96 km2 (15.04 sq mi). The Athens Urban Area (Greater Athens and Greater Piraeus) extends beyond its administrative municipal city limits, with a population of 3,090,508 (in 2011) over an area of 412 km2 (159 sq mi).[15] According to Eurostat in 2011, the functional urban area (FUA) of Athens was the 9th most populous FUA in the European Union (the 6th most populous capital city of the EU), with a population of 3.8 million people. Athens is also the southernmost capital on the European mainland and the warmest major city in Europe.


In ancient times, it was a powerful city-state and a "Center of Arts and Philosophy", a title it hold even in the Roman times. Nowadays, while it may pales compared to much larger and more economically powerful capitals, like London or Paris, for the Greeks it's an important city and a significantly commercial and cultural place.

Popular Landmarks

Athens is a world centre of archaeological research. Except from the Acropolis and the Parthenon, it also features:

  • The Athens Concert Hall (Megaro Moussikis), which attracts world class artists.

  • 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.

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  • 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.

  • The Olympic Stadium of Athens with the characteristic rooftop designed by Santiago Calatrava, especially for the 2004 Olympics and has since gained a reputation as one of the most beautiful stadiums in the world, and one of its most interesting modern monuments.

  • The Athens Planetarium, which is one of the largest and best equipped digital planetaria in the world.

  • The Zappeion, which is currently being used as a Conference and Exhibition Center for both public and private purposes.

  • The Benaki Museum with its several branches for each of its collections including ancient, Byzantine, Ottoman-era, and Chinese art and beyond.

  • The Numismatic Museum, housing a major 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 Kerameikos Archaeological Museum, a museum which displays artifacts from the burial site of Kerameikos. Much of the pottery and other artifacts relate to Athenian attitudes towards death and the afterlife, throughout many ages.

  • The Jewish Museum of Greece, a museum which describes the history and culture of the Greek Jewish community.

The Parthenon
The Parthenon, or to be more precise, what has remained.

You know it, you love it, you cry at its current state.

One of the wonders of the ancient world and a brilliant piece of architecture, designed by Iktinos and Kallikrates. It's regarded as an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece, Athenian democracy and Western civilization and one of the world's greatest cultural monuments. To the Athenians who built it, the Parthenon and other Periclean monuments of the Acropolis were seen fundamentally as a celebration of Hellenic victory over the Persian invaders and as a thanksgiving to the gods for that victory.

It derives from the Greek word παρθενών (parthenon), which referred to the "unmarried women's apartments".


Due to being such an old city (and the oldest capital of Europe), it has a long and complicated history. So, we will start with what most people know about it. It installed the world's first democracy in 508/507 BC., after its citizens overthrew two tyrants, Hippias and Hipparchus. The father of the Athenian democracy is Cleisthenis.

It played a huge role in the Greco-Persian Wars, which started in 499 BC., when Athens helped its colonies in Asia Minor rebel against The Achaemenid Empire. The rebellion failed, although the Athenians did manage to burn down Sardis.

The Great King, Darius I, furious for this, wanted to punish Athens and Eretria, so he started an Invasion in 492 BC. The Invasion ended in 490 BC., when the Athenians faced the Persian Army at the Battle of Marathon and received a major victory. This victory secured Greece's safety for another ten years.

During the second invasion (480 BC.), Athens was burned to the ground, but was rebuilt after the Persians left. From 478 BC. to 431 BC., Athens became one of the two most powerful city-states in Ancient Greece (alongside Sparta) and, with Pericles' contribution, enjoyed a period of cultural growth and influence throughout the greek world, which came to be known as "The Golden Age of Pericles".

But things changed when The Peloponnesian War started, which lasted for 27 years. Long story short, Athens lost and was forced to install an oligarchic system, also known as "The Thirty tyrants", though it retrieved democracy after a harsh period of fear and execution.

Despite these shortcomings, it still remained a big city and a "Centre of Arts and Philosophy", though it had lost its military and political influence. Just like the rest of the greek city-states, it was eventually conquered by the Macedons and replaced its democracy with plutocracy (and that's how the world's first democracy ended, folks).

It still remained a rich city (though, it had lost its autonomy), until the Romans arrived and, just like every other greek city-state, it turned into a tourist attraction. While it lost its power in the Byzantine period, it regained it in the 9th century AC.… only to lose it again when Constantinople (and the rest of the greek world) fell to the Ottomans.

After Greece earned its independence in 1830, Athens was merely a small town full of ancient and Byzantine ruins, while Nafplio hold the title of "the Capital of Greece". It was anything like its former glory. All this changed when King Otto of Bavaria (a huge ancient Greece nerd who had studied Classical Literature) decided that Athens should be instead, for its glorious past and for being the "Cradle of Hellenic Civilization".

Once he removed the title of "Royal Seat and Capital", constructions started immediately.

In the years to come, Athens became the pole of attraction for Greeks, who arrived from all parts of the country. It had expanded and now was a city of 140,000 residents with great buildings and important archeological sites, and the commercial and cultural intellectual center of the country. It hold the "Modern Olympic Games" twice (first, in 1896 and later, in 2004) and it's now a metropolis.


  • Adaptation Displacement: Something that not many people know is Athens was not always the capital of Greece. Nafplio was from 1821 to 1834, until King Otto removed its title.
  • Affectionate Nickname: It has been given two (dare we say, pretty cool) nicknames throughout the centuries: the first one is "the violet-crowned city" by the Theban poet, Pindar, and the second one is "the glorious city".
  • Archive Panic: It's a city over 3,000 years old, after all! Have a good time staying up late at night to learn its history!
  • Athens and Sparta: Their infamous rivalry, which led to The Peloponnesian War (where Sparta won). Nowadays, their rivalry has ended and Sparta has been Demoted to Extra and has accepted Athens as the capital of Greece and its largest city. One could say that Athens was the one to emerge victorious in the end.
    • On a related note, the mayors of these two cities signed a peace conference in 1996, both feeling sorry for being at war with each other.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Admit it; how many citied do you know that are named by such a badass goddess that Athena was!
  • Golden Age: Enjoyed it for a brief time (from 490 to 404 BC, to be more precise), starting from its victory at the Battle of Marathon and ending with its ultimate defeat at The Peloponnesian War.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Ancient Athens was a notoriously misogynist society. This wouldn't fly very well to modern days. Thankfully, Modern Athens is far more open to women.

Athens In Fiction

Due to being the capital of Greece, Athens appears in a lot of works of Greek fiction. Here are some examples:

Tropes Associated with Athens

Notable Athenians

Defined as people born and raised in areas now part of the modern metropolitan area, or who worked there for significant periods.

  • Aeschylus
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Aristophanes
  • Aristotle — born and raised in northern Greece, but made his initial reputation in Athens
  • Plato
  • Socrates
  • Sophocles
  • Thucydides
  • Xenophon
  • Pericles - statesman and Ancient Athens' most prominent politician. Often associated with "The Golden Age of Pericles"
  • Solon - Athens's first lawgiver and one of the Seven Sages of Greece
  • Aliki Vougiouklaki - Greece's most famous actress, well known for her blonde hair and for starring in many, many films of the 1960s
  • Peisistratus - charismatic tyrant
  • Cleisthenes - "The Father of the Athenian Democracy"
  • Miltiades - general, famous for his victory at the Battle of Marathon
  • Cimon - Miltiades' son and prominent general
  • Themistocles - a trickster statesman, remembered for his victory at the Battle of Salamis
  • Alcibiades - Pericles' nephew and Socrates's student, who had a big impact in the Second Half of the Peloponnesian War
  • Aspasia - born in Miletus, Pericles' mistress and one of the few prominent women of Ancient Athens
  • Phocion - elected general for 45 years straight
  • Demosthenes - orator, Phillip of Macedon's greatest enemy and Cicero's main inspiration
  • Theseus - mythical king of Athens
  • Irene of Athens - empress of the Byzantine Empire
  • Melina Mercouri - actress, singer and politician


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