Athens is the capital and largest city of Greece, and is one of the world’s oldest cities, its recorded history spans around 3,400 years.
Athens is situated in the prefecture of Attica and extends to the peninsula that reaches up to Central Greece. It is surrounded by mountains Ymmytos, Pendeli and Parnitha, northwards and eastwards, and the Saronic gulf southwards and westwards.
Athens (Athina) is named after Athena, the goddess of wisdom, who, according to legend, won the city after defeating Poseidon in a duel.
Location – Attica, Greece.
Time zone – GMT + 2 (GMT + 3 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
Average January temperatures – 9.5°C (49°F).
Average July temperatures – 27.5°C (81.5°F).
Annual rainfall – 14.5 inches.
Currency – Euro.
Language – In addition to Greek, people employed in the tourist trade generally speak some English, French or German.
The Acropolis (upper city) dominates the city’s skyline. The name refers to the rocky outcrop that formed the site of the original settlement in Athens. The Acropolis site includes the Acropolis Museum and four sacred buildings, all from the 5th century BC. The steep ascent to the summit leads to the Propylaea, a monumental gateway in the Ionic and Doric styles, which serves as the entrance to the site. The Temple of Athena Nike, which was destroyed by Turkish forces in the 17th century but has now been restored, is to the left of the Propylaea. The Parthenon is the largest building on the Acropolis and an icon of Western civilisation. Built entirely from marble, the Parthenon was originally built as a sanctuary for Athena and housed a statue (no longer in existence) of the goddess. The Erechtheion temple is a dual shrine to Athena and Poseidon-Erechtheus and was built on the site of the mythical battle between the two gods. The south side features a series of six support columns designed as maidens or caryatids. Due to severe environmental damage, the caryatids have been replaced by models.
Mouseío Akrópolis (Acropolis Museum)
Until recently many of the treasures from the Acropolis could be found in the Acropolis Museum, however exhibits are gradually being transferred to the New Acropolis Museum, at the foot of the Acropolis Hill. This is an all-glass structure and will be a new home for statues and artefacts from the Acropolis and hopefully persuade the British Museum in London to return the controversial Parthenon Marbles, seized by Lord Elgin in 1799.
Théatro Dionysou (Theatre of Dionysus)
On the southern slopes of the Acropolis Hill, the Théatro Dionysou was home to the original performances of the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripedes and the comedies of Aristophanes. This stone auditorium, from the fourth century BC, held 17,000 spectators and the ruins remain one of the most atmospheric of Athens’ ancient sites.
Although the site is now a jumble of monuments and ruins from different periods, in it’s heyday the Agorá was the focus of city life, serving not only as a place of trade but also as the city’s political, administrative and cultural heart. Law courts, temples and public offices were all based in this area. The site is dominated by the Hephaisteion (Temple of Haephaistos), from the fifth century BC, one of the best-preserved ancient temples in Greece.
The fascinating Museo tis Agoras (Museum of Agorá) contains an eccentric array of everyday artefacts found in the area. It is housed in the Stoa Attalou (Stoa of Attalos). This two-storey structure from the second century BC was restored by the American School of Archaeology and is thought to have been an early shopping arcade containing 42 separate shops.
Ethnikó Archaiologikó Mouseio (National Archaeological Museum)
Housed in a late 19th-century building, it is undoubtedly the best museum in Greece with one of the finest collections of ancient and classical Greek artefacts. Fascinating pieces include the Mycenaen Collection featuring hordes of finely crafted gold work dating from between the 16th and 11th centuries BC, and the Bronze Collection, including an imposing bronze statue of Poseidon from 460BC.
Vizantino Mouseio (Byzantine Museum)
Housed in the grounds of a neoclassical villa, this museum has an open-plan exhibition space, with exhibits presented in chronological order, tracing the development of the Byzantine Empire. It has one of the richest collections of religious icons in the world, the museum exhibits mosaics, frescoes, sculptural works and jewellery from the area that is now Greece, as well as from other regions of the former Byzantine Empire.
Mouseío Ellinikis Laikis Technis (Museum of Greek Folk Art)
Located on the edge of Pláka, this museum displays a vast collection of folk art that dates from 1650 onwards. Works are divided into specific sections devoted to costumes, embroidery, weaving, gold and silver jewellery, woodwork, weaponry, Greek shadow theatre and hand-painted ceramics. The highlights are the traditional costumes, set off against suggestive reconstructions of houses relating to their specific regions. Another highlight here is the Theofilis Room, the reconstruction of a house on the island of Lesvos, which was frescoed by Theofilis Hadjimichael (1868-1934).
Mouseío Ellinikón Mousikon Orgánon (Museum of Greek Musical Instruments)
Housed in a renovated 19th-century mansion in the heart of Pláka, the Mouseío Ellinikón Mousikon Orgánon displays a collection accumulated by the musicologist, Fivos Anoyanakis. Each display case here has a headset so that visitors can listen to the sound of the instruments. Films in the entrance feature their construction and performance.
Mouseío Kykladikís kai Archaías Ellinikís Téchnis (Museum of Cycladic and Ancient Greek Art)
The museum houses the private collection of Nikolas P Goulandris. Beautiful exhibits from the Cycladic civilisation (3000-2000BC) form the focus of the collection but other artefacts cover the pre-Minoan Bronze Age and the post-Mycenaen age up to 700BC, and a collection of Ancient Cypriot Art was added in 2004.
Panathinaiko Stádio (Panathenaic Stadium)
The elegant three-sided stone stadium was built in 1896, for the first of the modern-day Olympic Games. The design by Ernst Ziller was based on the plan of a fourth-century-BC stadium that originally stood on the site. During the 2004 Olympic Games, this stadium hosted the fencing contests and the marathon ended here.
Olympieion (Temple of Olympian Zeus)
Located close to the National Gardens and Pláka, this was one of largest temples in the ancient world, being dedicated to the god Zeus. Building work began in 515BC, but was only completed some 700 years later in AD131 under the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Today, 16 of the original 104 marble columns, which are 56ft high, survive. On the edge of the site stands the triumphal arch named Hadrian’s Arch.
Mouseio Benaki (Benaki Museum)
The museum houses the private collection of Antonios Benakis, the son of a wealthy Greek from Alexandria, Egypt. Displayed in a neo-classical mansion, the collection traces the development of Greek art, from the Stone Age up to the 20th century, with jewellery, ceramics, painting, sculpture, furniture and costumes laid out in chronological order.
Direct holidays to this historic city are available throughout the internet.