Are you planning to travel to Athens, Greece? Then this Athens travel guide will let you know some important information about the Greek capital. Athens, the capital city of the country of Greece was once the cradle of civilization and is considered to be the birthplace of modern democracy. It was also the place where the philosophers Socrates, Sophocles, and others were born and formulated ideas that are still used today. The city has a long history that stretches back to ancient times and the monuments and buildings vary from the ruins of ancient Greece as well as those that were built when the country was part of the Ottoman Empire.
According to mythology, Athens was founded by Cecrops, a Phoenician, who established the city in a huge rock overlooking the sea.
The Gods of Olympus organized a competition between the goddess of wisdom, Athena, and the god of the sea, Poseidon to see which one of them will make the best gift to the new city; after that, the city will take the name of the winner.
Poseidon struck a rock with his trident and a horse sprang forth; this symbolized qualities of strength and fortitude. Athena, in a symbol of prosperity and peace, produced an olive tree.
She was the winner because the Gods declared that her gift was the most valuable legacy for citizens of Athens and will better serve them than the arts of war offered by Poseidon.
History of Athens
After its birth, Athens past from a peaceful agricultural existence to a war-oriented city, in which the Acropolis was an ideal defensive position. 1400 BC was the age of the mythical Theseus who made of the Acropolis a powerful Mycenaean city, with a territory covering most of Attica.
Then, after the Dark Ages (1200 BC-800 BC), Athens lost control of Attica which split into different small kingdoms.
It is only by the end of the 7th century that Athens regained control of Attica and became the cultural center of Greece.
After that, in a quick summary, aristocrats and tyrants ruled the city until the beginning of the 5th century; this was followed by the Persian war during which Athenians defeated Persians twice: one at the Battle of Marathon and the other at Salamina.
The Classical Age was the famous age of Pericles, who led Athens into a golden age of unprecedented cultural, artistic, and scientific achievements: it was the age of all the famous tragedians, comedians, sculptors, historians, and philosophers that we study today.
The Peloponnesian wars followed (431-421 BC and 413-404 BC) and then the Spartan rule, the Roman and Byzantine rule, followed again by Christianity and the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman rule during 400 years which end with Greece’s independence in 1821.
A New Greek Nation was born, first run by the president Kapodistria, then by the Bavarian king Otho.
The German occupation came, followed by a civilian war between monarchists and communists and the terrible reign of a military group of colonels, the junta (1967-1974). After that and since nowadays, the country is controlled by the political party of the left.
As we saw, Greece has a tumultuous and terrible history full of wars, blood, dictatures, terror, hunger, and pain. That’s why all the Greeks are really proud of their history and roots and can be quite nationalists sometimes.
Greece is right next to the Balkan Peninsula, environed by Albanian, Yugoslav Republic, Bulgaria, and Turkey. It is the only EU country (member since 1989) without a land frontier with another member. This gives the country a proper and original character, mixed between west and east, between orient and occident.
This country is particularly mountainous and surrounded by sea.
What to Do when you travel to Athens
There are so many things to see and do in Athens, Greece that you will need more than just a couple of weeks if you want to take in all of the sites.
Of course you are going to want to visit the archeological sites of Ancient Greece such as the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Acropolis.
Also, when you travel to Athens, you can see the ruins of the Parthenon as well as other buildings. The Parthenon is also one of the main attractions in this ancient part of the city as is the Agora, which was the meeting place for ancient Greeks.
General Info for Greece and Athens
All around the city of Athens are hills: Mt Aigaleo to the west, Mt Parnitha to the north, Mt Pendeli to the north-east, and Mt Hymettos to the east.
The most famous hill in Athens is the Acropolis and the highest is Lycavittos (277m) situated north of the Acropolis.
Greece is very pro-space to earthquakes; a strong one in 1981, then in 1998 and a lot of minors ones every then and then, reminds us that Greece (and all the Eastern Mediterranean) lies at the meeting point of the Eurasian, African and Arabian continental plates, which grind away at each other constantly, producing countless earthquakes.
The climate in Athens is typically Mediterranean with hot, dry summers and mild winters.
The best period to visit is during April and May because they are warm (not too hot) and sunny and less crowded with tourists than summertime.
Greece is, since 1975, a democratic and parliamentary republic with a president.
The country is divided into regions (Peloponnese, Epiros, Thessaly, Macedonia, and Thrace) and island groups (Cyclades, Dodecanese, North-Eastern Aegean, Sporades, and Saronic gulf and the Ionian) which are divided into prefectures called “nomoi”; Athens is part of nomos Attikis (Attica).
Greece is an agricultural country but tourism is the biggest economical industry, followed by shipping.
The population in Athens is composed of descendants of families forced to live Smyrna (in south-western Turkey) in 1821, migrants from Albania, Romania, and Russia and, lately, from Bangladeshi, Iran, and Iraq.
If you are planning to travel to Athens, Greece, you will need a passport but not a visa. Dress for warm weather and be prepared to have a good time. Make sure you bring your camera as there are so many different buildings and monuments in this city that you will want to photograph.
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