Athens in a Nutshell

Athens (pronounced Athēna in Greek) is Greece's largest city and its administrative, economic, and cultural center. The city is named after Athena - the goddess of wisdom - who, according to legend, won the city after defeating Poseidon in a duel. The goddess’ victory was celebrated by the construction of a temple on the Acropolis, the site of the city’s earliest settlement in Attica.

As a city state, the coastal capital of Athens reached its heyday in the fifth century BC. The office of the statesman Pericles saw an unprecedented spate of construction resulting in many of the great classical buildings - the Parthenon, Erechtheion, Hephaisteion and the temple at Sounion - now regarded as icons of ancient Greece. Physical evidence of the city’s success was matched by achievements in the intellectual arts. Democracy was born, drama flourished and Socrates conceived the foundations of Western philosophy. Although the cultural legacy of this period has influenced Western civilization ever since, the classical age in Athens only lasted for five decades. Under the Macedonians and Romans, the city retained a privileged cultural and political position but became a prestigious backwater of the Empire rather than a major player. The birth of Christianity heralded a long period of occupation and decline, culminating in 1456 and four centuries of Turkish domination, which has left an indelible cultural mark on the city. By the end of the 18th century Athens was also suffering the indignity of having the artistic achievements of its classical past removed by looting collectors.

Modern Athens was born in 1834, when the city was restored as the capital of a newly independent Greece. The metropolitan area, including the port at Piraeus, is the industrial and economic powerhouse of the country. At the same time, Athens is home to some of the finest museums in the world and many areas of surprising beauty. Despite the traffic, an appealing village-like quality becomes evident in the cafιs, tavernas, markets and streets around Plaka. Psirri is another district nearby that’s up and coming, while upscale Kolonaki is a quiet retreat from the hectic pace of the city, especially in the hot summer months. Moreover, Athens has the finest restaurants and the most varied nightlife in the country and remains a major European centre of culture, celebrated each year at the Athens Festival. Athens is also the seat of several major Universities and Polytechnic Schools and of the Academy of Sciences. The return of the Olympic Games in 2004 has prompted a spate of urban development. Major projects include the recently opened Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, the extension of the Athens metro system, the building of new sports venues and the upgrading of hotel accommodation. In addition, ancient sites within the city centre are currently being linked by a traffic-free “archaeological promenade” that is intended to enhance the urban environment for locals and visitors alike.

In September, the average temperature ranges from 25o C to 32o C. For outdoor evening events, a light sweater might be necessary.

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