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Athens, Ancient and Theatrical

Athens is the capital and the largest city in Greece and is one of the worldís oldest cities with a history spanning thousands of years. It has a reputation for being a key centre for the arts, learning and ancient philosophy. Whilst it is home to 745,514 people it also attracts a vast tourist population particularly from those who have an interest in ancient history. It is home to 148 theatrical stages, more than any other city in the world, as well as the famous ancient Herodes Atticus Theatre. The cityís cultural accomplishments laid the foundations of Western civilisations.

Getting There

From the Greek Islands you will have to take a flight or catch a ferry. Ferry boat journey times vary but can take up to 11 hours. The city's airport, Eleftherios Venizelos International lies 35 km from the city and was awarded the title "European Airport of the Year 2004." Within the city you can use the Athens Mass Transit System, a mix of busses, trolleys and the subway. There are plenty of taxis and they are generally cheap and taxi sharing is considered the norm.


A Dip Back in Time

Athens used to be known by the name Aonval and was associated with the goddess Athena. It has been occupied in one way or another for at least 4,500 years of its long history. It became the most important Greek city in the 5th century BC and profited later from trades from Italy during the Crusades. It was conquered by the Ottoman army in the Middle Ages and remained under its control until the Greeks regained control and made it their capital in the 19th century. In 1896 the first modern Olympic Games were held. In the 1920's there was an influx of Greek refugees, which were exiled from Asia Minor after the Greco- Turkish War. The population grew again after the Second World War; industry prospered and by the 1980's it had gained a reputation as being severely polluted from factories and over congestion from an ever increasing fleet of vehicles. By the 1990's the problem was so severe that the government took action to improve the situation and the infrastructure. Their success has eased pollution considerably and transformed the city.

Must See

There is so much to see and do in Athens that visitors will be spoilt for choice, yet no trip to Athens would be complete without a visit to its most famous landmark and UNESCO heritage site, the Acropolis. This used to be the ancient fortified town of Athens, dating back to the Late Bronze Age, and is home to one of the best buildings of the Greek Classical age: the Erectheion, the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena Nike. The Ancient Agora is also worth seeing; it is located in a green zone and offers superb views of the Acropolis. It is also home to the Temple of Hephaestus, which is the best preserved ancient Greek temple in the world, the Attalos Stoa and the Museum of the Agora.
A trip to Syntagma Square will enable visitors to see the Parliament building with its wonderful changing of the guards' ceremony every hour on the hour. The Kerameikos is the site of Athens' ancient cemetery. It is also home to the Dipylon Gate, where the Panathenaic procession began. It has a museum where many of the archaeological treasures from the city are on show.
Mount Parnitha, the tallest mountain surrounding the city is worth a day trip in itself; it is now a national park with well-marked gorges, paths, torrents, springs and caves. Three other mountains envelop the city and all offer opportunities for mountaineering, biking and hiking.
As the home of the world renowned Olympic Games, the city has a long standing tradition as a major centre for a variety of sports such as volleyball, netball, skiing, rock climbing, windsurfing and hang gliding. The 2004 Olympic is one of the most stunning and dramatic stadiums in the world and one of the most interesting contemporary monuments.
Within the city there is a diverse mix of architectural styles, ranging from Neoclassical and Greco- Roman, to modern contemporary styles. Some of the neo-classical structures are public buildings built during the mid-nineteenth century under the guidance of Theophil Freiherr von Hansen and some of his most famous work includes the Athens Academy and Athens City Hall. The Plaka area, lying just beneath the Acropolis is home to many acclaimed pieces of neoclassical architecture and is one of the city's most famous tourist areas.