Athens is both the largest and the capital city of Greece, located in the Attica periphery. Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world with a recorded history of at least 3,000 years.
Today, the Greek capital is Europe's 8th largest urban area, a bustling and cosmopolitan metropolis with an urban population of 3.3 million and a metropolitan population of about 3.8 million people. The Athens metropolitan area is the centre of economic, financial, industrial, political and cultural life in Greece. The city is also rapidly becoming a leading business centre in the European Union. The city proper has a land area of 39 km² while the urban agglomeration of Athens spans 412 km².
Ancient Athens was a powerful city-state. A centre for the arts, learning and philosophy, home of Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum, Athens was also the birthplace of Socrates, Pericles, Sophocles and many other prominent philosophers, politicians and writers of the ancient world. It is widely referred to as the cradle of Western Civilization and the birthplace of democracy, largely due to the impact of its cultural and political achievements during the 5th and 4th centuries BC on the rest of the then known European Continent.
The heritage of the classical era is still evident in the city, portrayed through a number of ancient monuments and artworks, the most famous of all being the Parthenon on the Acropolis, standing as an epic landmark of western civilization. The city has also a vast variety of Roman and Byzantine monuments, as well as a small remaining number of Ottoman monuments that project the city's long history through the centuries. Modern landmarks can also be found, dating back as far as 1830 (establishment of the new, independent Greek State), such as the Greek Parliament(19th century) and the Athens Trilogy (Library, University, Academy).
Athens was the host city of the first modern-day Olympic Games in 1896 and in 2004 it welcomed the Summer Olympics back home with great success.
The history of ancient Athens is one of the longest of any city in Europe or the world. Athens has been continuously inhabited for at least 3,000 years. It became the leading city of Ancient Greece, even outdoing Sparta, in the first millennium BC. Its cultural achievements during the 5th century BC laid the foundations of western civilization. During the Middle Ages, Athens' experienced decline and then a recovery under the Byzantine Empire. Athens was relatively prosperous during the Crusades, benefiting from Italian trade. After a long period of decline under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, Athens re-emerged in the 19th century as the capital of the independent Greek state. In 1896, Athens hosted the first modern Olympic Games. In the 1920s, many refugees, expelled from Asia Minor after the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922), swelled Athens' population. Nevertheless it was essentially after the end of Second World War and into the 1950s and 1960s when the population of the city exploded, and Athens experienced a gradual expansion to all directions. In the 1980s it became evident that the smog from factories and an ever increasing fleet of automobiles as well as a lack of adequate free spaces due to overcongestion had evolved into the city's most important challenges. A series of anti-pollution measures taken by the city's authorities in the 1990s combined with a substantial improvement of the city's infrastructure (including the Attiki Odos ring road, the dramatic expansion of the Athens Metro and the gleaming new Athens International Airport) alleviated pollution considerably and transformed Athens into a much more functional city.
Athens is home to 148 theatrical stages, more than any other European city (including the famous ancient Herodes Atticus Theater, home to the Athens Festival, which takes place from May to October each year). In addition to a large number of multiplexes, Athens features many romantic, open air garden cinemas. Athens also has a vast number of music venues including the Athens Concert Hall known as the "Megaron Mousikis" that attracts world-famous artists all year round.The relatively recent and rapid redevelopment of many areas in central Athens has brought the city center back into the limelight.
The vibrant multi-cultural Omonia Square, located in the heart of the city is regarded as the transportation center of Athens.
Psirri and Gazi
The Psirri (Greek: Ψυρρή) neighborhood features mainstream and trendy bars making it a hotspot for the city, and a number of live music restaurants called "rebetadika", after Rebetiko, a unique kind of music that blossomed in Syros and Athens from the 1920s till the 1960s. The Gazi (Greek: Γκάζι) area, one of the latest in full redevelopment, is located around a historic gas factory, that has been converted into the Technopolis cultural multiplex and has a number of small clubs, bars and restaurants.
Syntagma Square, (Greek: Σύνταγμα), is the central square of Athens. It is adjacent to the Parliament and the most expensive hotels. Ermou Street, an approximately 1 km pedestrian road connecting Syntagma Square to Monastiraki, has traditionally been considered a consumer paradise for both the Athenians and tourists. Full of fashion shops and shopping centers featuring most international brands, it is in the top 5 most expensive shopping streets in Europe and the tenth most expensive retail street in the world. Near there, the renovated Army Fund building in Panepistimiou Street includes the "Attica" department store and several high-class designer stores.
Plaka, (Greek: Πλάκα), lying just beneath the Acropolis, is famous for its numerous neoclassic buildings, making it one of the most scenic districts of Athens. It remains the traditional top tourist destination or tourist trap to some, with many tavernas featuring traditional music.
Monastiraki and Thission
Nearby Monastiraki (Greek: Μοναστηράκι), on the other hand, is famous for its string of small tourist shops as well as its crowded flea market and the tavernas that specialize in souvlaki.Another district notably famous for its student-crammed, stylish cafés is Theseum or Thission(Greek: Θησείο), lying just west of Monastiraki. Thission is home to the remarkable ancient Temple of Hephaestus, standing on top of a small hill.
The Kolonaki (Greek: Κολωνάκι) area, at the base of Lycabettus hill, is full of boutiques catering to well-heeled customers by day and bars and luxurious restaurants by night. Kolonaki is often considered one of the most chic areas of Athens.
The Athens Metropolitan Area consists of 73 densely populated municipalities, sprawling around the city of Athens to virtually all directions. According to their geographic location in relation to the city of Athens, the suburbs are divided into four zones namely the northern suburbs (including Ekali, Nea Erythrea, Agios Stefanos, Drosia, Kryoneri, Attica, Kifissia, Maroussi, Pefki, Vrilissia, Melissia, Pendeli, Halandri, Psychiko and Filothei), the southern suburbs (including Palaio Faliro, Elliniko, Glyfada, Alimos, Voula and the southernmost suburb of Vouliagmeni), the eastern suburbs (including Zografou, Vyronas, Kaisariani, Cholargos, Papagou and Aghia Paraskevi) and the western suburbs (including Peristeri, Ilion, Egaleo, Petroupoli and Nikaia).
The Athens city coastline, extending from the major commercial port of Piraeus to the southernmost suburb of Varkiza for some 50 km, is also connected to the city center with a tram(which, although modern can be slow during rush hour) and it boasts a series of high class restaurants, cafes, exciting music venues and modern sports facilities. In addition, Athens is packed with trendy and fashionable bars and nightclubs that are literally crowded by the city's youth on a daily basis. Especially during the summer time, the southern elegant suburbs of Glyfada, Voula and Vouliagmeni become home to countless such meeting points, situated all along Poseidonos Avenue and Alkyonidon Avenue.
The refurbished Athens Olympic Stadium was the site of the 2004 Olympic Games and the 2007 UEFA Champions League Final.
In the winter time, the focus of the nightlife moves up into the city centre, in Piraeus as well as across the northern suburbs.The Mall Athens is a massive mall located in the northern suburb of Maroussi, which provides a vast number of selections. Nearby is the entirely new attraction of the massively upgraded main Olympic Complex (known by its Greek acronym OAKA). The whole area has been redeveloped under designs by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava with steel arches, landscaped gardens, fountains, futuristic passages and a landmark new blue glass roof which was added to the main Stadium.