On the Attic peninsula, near the Saronic Gulf, you can find the Greek capital Athens. It has about 5 million people, which is almost a quarter of the whole Greek population. Greece’s capital city offers numerous cultural monuments and museums, nightlife and many tourist attractions. A major problem however is considerable traffic and its associated smog. And also in these days it is numerous strikes due to financial problems of Greece. But anyway, this beautiful city still worth a visit.
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Athens was allegedly established in the 3rd millennium BC, but according to writings and documentation it was at the beginning of the 8th century BC. Significant development of Athens started in 547 BC during the reign of Peisistratos. At that time he began to build a temple on the Acropolis, which is a flat-topped rock that rises 150 metres above sea level. The temple was dedicated to the goddess Athena.
Democracy reached its peak during the reign of Pericles. In this “golden period” Athens was also home to the philosopher Socrates and many representatives of the ancient tragedy as Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides. In 395 the Athens with the whole Greece became a part of the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire).
New expansion of Athens returned in the 12th century when the Greek population began to come back. In the 15th century, the city came under Ottoman domination of the Turks and rebuilt it in his own image. In 1822, when the War of Independence took place, the Greeks conquered the local Turkish fortress which was built on the Acropolis, and drove the Turks from Athens. Four years later, however, came back and managed to suppress the Greek uprising. In 1830 Greece declared its independence and eventually Athens was ready for a new era of glory. In 1832, Athens became the capital of Greece, which until then was located in Nafplio.
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Architecture of Athens is a very cosmopolitan, as well as the city itself. There are countless monuments, therefore one of the main sources of income for the city is tourism. You can admire the original preserved ancient Greek monuments, relics of the period of the Roman Empire, Byzantine sanctuary as well as you can follow the development of modern Greek architecture. In addition, many buildings constructed in the late 19th century were designed along the lines of ancient buildings. Squares and parks feature the most ancient statues of Greek gods, philosophers and heroes fighting for the independence of Greece.
When you visit Athens you should definitely not miss its massive landmark, the Acropolis. Its top is decorated with columns of the Parthenon. Acropolis (Upper Town) can be found in a number of Greek cities, but that one in Athens is certainly the most famous in the world. Construction of the Parthenon, which is made of marble extracted from local quarries, lasted for 9 years and was completed in 438 BC. It has impressive dimensions (69.5 metres x 30.5 metres) and a simple and elegant Doric style. Parthenon is now undoubtedly one of the most interesting and best preserved ancient monuments in Greece. According to historians once shone colors – red, green and blue, and its main item was 12 metres high statue of goddess Athena, after which the city is named. The original model of the Parthenon can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum. Parthenon was partially restored in the 19th century, but archaeological works are still taking place here.
As the Parthenon was a place of worship, the Agora was the place of a simple life of Athenians. It was a place of markets, schools, spas and ordinary citizens homes. About 100 m east of the ancient Agora lies the Roman Forum (the marketplace). Although the place looks a bit old, it includes one of the rarest sights of Athens – The Tower of the Winds. Other important structures here are the Fethiye Tzami Mosque from 1458 and Hadrian’s Library.
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Other interesting places include Monastiraki Square, famous for its shops and stalls where you can buy anything. If you find something that is not possible to buy here, then it is probably not possible to buy anywhere else in Athens. The best atmosphere here is on Sunday morning, when the market floods the surrounding small streets and stretches up to the Kerameikos cemetery. This small cemetery, which served as a burial already in the 12th century BC is a quiet refuge and an oasis of greenery. On Monastiraki Square you can find the Byzantine church, which is now surrounded with modern buildings and shops with various goods. This old town district was formerly the heart of Ottoman Athens. Already under Turkish domination it was a place of the main market, so the area still retains a similar Oriental character. You can sit and rest comfortably in one of the tavernas and cafes with a view of the Agora.
If you want to rest, come to Plateia Mitropoleos – cathedral square. In fact there are two cathedrals, small and large one. On the right side is a Little Mitropoli – temple built in the 12th century and dedicated to St. Eleftherios. The interior of the temple resembles a cave and is illuminated by votive candles. There is spiritual atmosphere. The temple is decorated with graceful sculptural works. Other attractions of this district are Tsistaráki Mosque from 1759, Fethyie Mosque. Very beautiful is also the Byzantine church Kapnikaréa from 11th century.
Plaka is a tourist favorite district stretches in eastern and northern foot of the Acropolis. You will find here such as the Museum of Greek Folk Art, Kanellopoulos Museum or the Museum of folk instruments. Plaka is also known for a number of bars, restaurants, cafes and tavernas. As early as Byzantine times, it was the center of everyday life and is currently one of the most visited places in Athens. When you visit Plaka you should not miss a visit to one of the local restaurants and try traditional Greek cuisine.
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In the center of Athens you can find Syntagma Square, whose name could be translated as the Constitutional Square. It is one of the most important squares in the Greek capital, the home of important institutions, companies. It is a place of a popular guards’ changing of the National Guard. Perhaps the most expressive building in the square is the building of the Greek Parliament, which is sometimes also called Vouli. Construction of the original Royal Palace was completed in 1842. From its balcony, a King Otto I. proclaimed the first Greek constitution. The square hosts many banks and also a number of important buildings such as the National Library, the University or the Academy of Arts. Near Syntagma Square have been found remains of the largest temple in all over Greece – Temple of Olympian Zeus. Columns were 17 metres high and it took incredible 700 years until the temple was completed.
Around the Parliament buildings are situated National Gardens, which are also known as Royal Gardens, because they were established together with the palace. Gardens with an area of 16 hectares offer a pleasant rest. In small lakes you can see the sea turtles. You can enjoy the marble statues and fountains, and refresh yourself in one of the cafes that are located here. In the southern part of the gardens is Zappeion palace from the 19th century. This spectacular building was originally built for the Greco-Roman cousins Evangelos and Konstantinos Zappas, who wanted to use it as a hall for holding the tournament competitions. Zappeion palace currently serves as a conference center.
One of the most famous part of the Athens is undoubtedly Kolonaki, where compared to other parts of the city you will find much more galleries, antique shops and boutiques with fashionable clothing. There is also Kyklad Goulandris Museum of Art, which belongs to one of the most interesting buildings of the city. This modern museum was opened in 1986 and now shows the collection of 5000 years old artefacts from the Aegean and Cyprus. Kolonaki is a home to the Benaki Museum, which is one of the most important Greek institutions. It preserves and protects the cultural legacy of Hellenism. It is one of the largest and oldest museums in Greece. One of the most famous shopping street, which intersects the Kolonaki area, is Tsakalof Street. Right here you can find absolutely the most luxurious, most peculiar, and of course the most expensive goods throughout Athens. The street is rated among the six most expensive streets in the world.
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Another tourist attraction is the Athenian limestone hill Lykavittos, that reaches an altitude of 277 metres and is visible from any part of the Greek capital. From its top, where stands the Chapel of Agios Georgios, you can enjoy a beautiful views of the city.
Among the most busiest places in the city is Omonoia Square, the center of all commerce and nightlife. It is a key point of the whole city, and no other place can match it. The most important tourist attractions of the surrounding area is the National Archaeological Museum. This is one of the leading institutions of its kind in the world. If you want to see all the parts and collections of the museum, one day would certainly not be enough.
Athens is in addition to its heritage, unfortunately, also known as one of the noisiest cities in the world. It is among the cities with the lowest ratio of green space per capita in Europe – officially has only two square meters of greenery per capita. Also, the population density is very high. Through the streets run 4000 buses, at least 14,000 taxis and countless cars. So the main problem of the city is very busy traffic associated with never-ending smog. The Greek government took actions to reduce traffic so the situation is improving. Great improvements in the infrastructure of the city brought a summer Olympic Games hosted by Athens in 2004.
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