Facts About Athens

Whether you're taking a tour with us or not and would like to learn more details about the popular sites in Athens and it's outskirts feel free to use this resource.

ATHENS

The city of Athens and the Acropolis with the Parthenon
Athens is the capital of Greece. It became capital during the reign of King Otto in 1834. Back then it was a small town with only 10,000 citizens. Today, the population of Athens including its parent state Attica, reaches the number of approx. 3.8 million. Athens is characterized by Greek poet Kostis Palamas in one of his poems as "the sapphire stone of the world's ring". According to mythology the name "Athens" was given to the city by goddess Athena and that is why ancient Athenians worshiped her. Athena gave them as a first gift the olive tree which is the symbol of peace. During the time of Pericles the Athenians built the Parthenon to honor goddess Athena. Millions of tourists visit Athens every year to view this magnificent specimen of human craftsmanship.

ACROPOLIS

The Parthenon lit up at night on top of the Acropolis

The word 'Acropolis' is the union of two Greek words: Acro + Poli. 'Acro' means the outer most point and 'Poli' means city. The Acropolis of Athens is the most significant citadel of Greece. It lies upon a rock whose height reaches 156 meters (512 feet) above sea level. There is a precipice on three sides and only the west side is accessible. The history of the Acropolis of Athens goes way back. Remains from the very early Neolithic era were found on top and the sides of the rock. During the Mycenic period (1600-1100 B.C.) the Acropolis was fortified with 'Pelasgian walls'. These walls were made out of enormous 6-meter (20 feet) wide slabs ( at that time the Acropolis was the center of the city and the kings base). Around the palace were the houses of noblemen. When enemies were present every citizen would flee there for protection.

As the years passed by the city grew and its form changed (the king is no longer situated on top of the Acropolis). During this time the Acropolis is turned into a spiritual center (named Sacred Rock) with sacred temples surrounding it.

We reach the Historical period where we find newly built sanctuaries and the foundations of the temple of 'Athena Poliad' (built around 570 B.C.) beneath the Caryatid statues. The sculptures of this temple can be found today in the museum of the Acropolis. Archaeologists state that there were more buildings, temples and statues during that period on the Acropolis. All of them though were destroyed by Persian hordes around 480 B.C.

The contemporary form of the 'Sacred Rock' began after the Persian Wars around 450- 420 B.C. when Pericles was lord of Athens. Pericles assigned a great task to three top artists of that time (Phidias, Iktinos and Kallikratis). The task was to rebuild anything that had been destroyed by the Persians and to decorate the Sacred Rock once again. Phidias was the general supervisor and Iktinos with Kallikratis were the architects. This was the time of the 'Propilea' (entrance of the Acropolis), the temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion with its famous Caryatids and last the Parthenon which is considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings of all time. The Parthenon was built in honor of 'Athena Parthenos' who saved the city of Athens from the Persians. It was built with Pentelic marble and was of Doric style. The exterior was decorated with many sculptures which were all creations of Phidias and of his pupils. Inside the temple stood the golden-ivory statue of the goddess Athena that held in her right hand goddess Nike. Outside the temple and towards the 'Propilea' stood the bronze statue of 'Athena Promachos' which was also a creation of Phidias. Pericles did not succeed to see the completion of everything that he had visioned. He only saw the Parthenon and the 'Propilea' everything else was completed after his death.

Up until the Roman Empire everyone respected the Acropolis. When Christianity prevailed as a religion, the Parthenon became a church called 'Madonna the Athenian'. The same thing happened to the Erectheion. During the rule of the Franks the Parthenon became a Catholic church and during the Ottoman conquest of Greece it was transformed into a mosque. During that time the Turks used the temples as a storage facility for gunpowder. During the Venetian siege in 1656 and 1687 a great part of the Acropolis was destroyed from explosions. The Acropolis was released from Turkish occupation and returned to the Greeks in 1833. Since then excavations and preservation of the ancient site have been taking place.

PANATHENAIC STADIUM

The all marble Panathenaic stadium

The Panathenaic stadium (aka Kallimarmaro) occupies the exact site of the original Panathenaic Stadium which was built in 330 BC. It is built with white Pentelic marble, it is 204 meters (669 feet) long and 83 meters (272 feet) wide and has a capacity of 60,000. It was first reconstructed during Hadrian's reign (76-138 AD) and then rebuilt in white marble by Herodes Atticus for the Panathenaic Games in 144 AD. The site was excavated between 1869 and 1879 by Ernst Ziller. In 1895 George Averof gave 4 million drachmas in gold (about $15,000) in order to restore the stadium in time for the first modern Olympic Games on April 5th, 1896. The stadium's contemporary structure is a true copy of the one built in 144 AD by Herodes Atticus.

MOUNT LYCABETTUS

Mount Lycabettus in Athens and the chapel of St. George
Mount Lycabettus is really a limestone rock located in the center of Athens. In ancient Athens it was located outside of the city's walls. It has a conical shape and its height reaches 277 meters (908 feet). The name Lycabettus has something to do with the first light of the day or with the astrological observations of the ancient Athenians. On the west side of the hill there used to be a tank from where Athenians were supplied with water. Today on top of the hill you will find a small whitewashed chapel of St. George which was built in the 19th century. Also on Mount Lycabettus you will find a restaurant, cafes and the Theater of Lycabettus where various artists from around the world perform (pop, rock, jazz and dance).

PHILOPAPPOS HILL

View of the Acropolis from Philopappos Hill
The Philopappos hill is the highest summit in the south of Athens. Its height reaches 147 meters (482 feet) and from up there you get a magnificent view of the Acropolis. The name Philopappos comes from a monument still which was built around 115 A.D. in honor of the Roman prince 'Caius Julius Antiochus Philopappos'.

PRESIDENTIAL MANSION

The national Evzones guards in Athens
The Presidential Mansion was built in 1878 by Ernst Ziller. It was occupied from 1890 until 1973 by the Greek Royal Family. It has been the seat of the Greek Parliament since 1935 and following the abolition of the monarchy it became official residency of the Prime Minister of Greece.

CAPE SOUNION

Breathtaking view of the Temple of Poseion at Cape Sounion

During antiquity Sounion was an important municipality of Attica that included a fortress within its cape (for the ship-navigation control), as well as two important sanctuaries of Poseidon and Athena Sounias. The fortified top of the cape was one of the five important fortresses that was responsible for the protection of the Attica region. Fortification is likely to have existed from the old times, not only because Sounion was an advanced military naval station for the Athenians, but also because of its position (the harbor sheltered each boat that was in danger). It is expressly reported that there was a fortification in the winter of 413-412 B.C. (the Athenians wanted to make sure that their ships which carried wheat would be protected). It was then when probably some rich tradesmen or seamen dedicated to the sanctuary about 10-12 oversized marble kourous. These statues certainly created a great impression to all the seamen that would pass by with their ships. Some of the kourous that were found are exposed today in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

The temple that the Athenians had begun building after 500 B.C., suffered great damage during a Persian raid. Around the mid-5th century B.C. with the inspiration of Pericles, the Athenians started building the classic Temple of Poseidon. It was a temple of Doric style with 6x13 columns with a double internal colonnade (where the statue was situated).

PLAKA

The picturesque Plaka area in Athens

This is Athens oldest and most picturesque neighborhood located on the north and northeast side of the Acropolis. Plaka is known to the locals as 'the neighborhoods of the gods'. The name 'Plaka' is apparently derived from a very large white plaque that was located at the junction of Thespidos, Adrianou and Tripodon Streets. Plaka was a well-maintained and fortified area during antiquity, while the ancient Athenians based their agora (marketplace and town commons) in the same general vicinity around the 8th century BC, a model of urban planning followed by other ancient Greek city-states.

The distinctive architecture of Plaka as well as the large number of monuments located in the district, dating from various historical periods (Classical, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman) gives an overview of Athens' historical development. The monuments and sites include: the ancient Agora of the Classical Era, Doric Temple of Hephaestus and Athena, and the marketplace of Caesar and Augustus, which is known as the Roman Forum. The Roman Forum had two entrances - on the west side there was the imposing gate of the goddess Athena, which still dominates the area and which today is used as the entrance for horse and carriages, while on the east side, there was an entrance for pedestrians.

On the east side of the Roman Forum, there is also a monument called the Tower of the Winds. The remains of what used to be Hadrian's library, one of the largest in the ancient world, can also be found in Plaka. The Stoa of Attalos has also been preserved. Another well-known monument found in Plaka is the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, located in Lysicrates Square and built by Lysicrates himself, a patron of the annual music contest held in the theatre of Dionysus. The churches that can be found in the Plaka include the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, the Church of Soteira Lykodimou, The Metamorphosis - Sotira Kottaki Church, Church of St. Nicholas Rangavas, the Church of Metamorphosis, the Little Metropolis and the Church of Holy Metohi Panagiou Tafou.

There are also many cultural monuments found in Plaka as well due to the pleasant and protected environment the district offers. There are more than 10 museums currently located in the district, including the Museum of Modern Greek Culture, the oldest museum of the area that includes collections of traditional handicrafts; the Kanellopoulos Museum, with its exhibitions of artifacts dating back from the Prehistoric Period right up until the end of the 19th century, and the Jewish Museum of Greece, with its exhibits depicting the daily and religious life of the Jewish communities of Greece. The museums in the Plaka are the Center of Popular Art and Tradition, the Historical Museum of the University of Athens, the Center for the Study of Modern Ceramics, the Museum of Greek Popular Musical Instruments (the Museum of Phoebus Anogianakis), and the Greek Children's Museum.

Plaka is also well-known for taverns, coffee shops and clubs. Plaka is the birthplace of the Athenian 'serenade' and it is also the location where many Athenians celebrate the annual carnival.