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Athens

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CITY TOUR

About Athens

If you stepped here, probably the beaches of Greece are not occupying the first place in your agenda, and you are looking for a more...historical trip. Wonder what? You landed on the right place...Welcome to the cradle of democracy. Athens is either the capital, or the biggest city of Greece. Its names derives from Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, Civilization, Craftmanship and Strategy, since the city missed a patron deity and, when she competed with Poseidon in order to win it, she immediately gained the love of the inhabitants, offering them the olive tree. Athens has a long, long history, since it was first inhabited in the Middle Neolithic Era. Even though, it's golden age dates back to the V century BC, when the city had mastery over the traffics in almost all the basin of the Mediterranean Sea. It's exactly in this period of its history that the Acropolis and the Parthenon were built, in order to celebrate the greatness of a civilization with economical, cultural and political power that had seemed to be endless. Birthplace of Socrates, Plato and many other philosophers, the city - state was soon reduced to a province of the Roman Empire, thanks to the weakening strength of a city that was often engaged in fights against Sparta. The future lying in front of Athens wasn't a bed of roses. It enjoyed a certain recovery from its decline under the Byzantine Empire, and - after another downfall - under the Ottoman Empire without ever playing a key role, occupated by other forces. But, in 1834, it became the capital of Greece, and the foundations for a modern city were laid, with an "europeanization" of the architecture of the city.

City example of pullution and gridlocks for years, Athens underwent a massive transformation in order to host the Olympics of 2004, and - thanks to the embellishments - (among which the construction of the underground), and an extensive pedestrianization of the center - the ancient beauty is now reappearing and the problems are being solved. Athens is a blend of ancient and modern, of East and West and a gallimaufry of architectural styles, inherited either by the several different occupations, or by the growth in the decades after WW2.

There are a lot of things to do and see in Athens, and the list is just a short indication.

To start with, you could visit the Acropolis, the Sacred Rock. Even if other Acropolis are scattered all around Greece and the entire World, the Acropolis remains the one "par excellence" . It could be that you thought you've seen it already since it's visible from every corner of the city, but it's worth - really worth - a visit, and the several temples as the Propylaea and views cannot simply be missed. Just beware that, if you have to chose a moment of the day, in order to go there, the best one is at sunset or - alternatively - if you do not wish to doze in front of breakfast, early in the morning. But, before you even decide to go there, be sure to check that you know the essential about Greek mithology and, if you know already enough, why not to try either the Iliad or the Odissey by Homer?

 

A must is also Syntagma Square, whose name means constitution. All the key events of the history of Modern Greece have a connection to this square. Nearby is the Parliament, once the palace of the King, built between 1836 and 1840, (where you will see the colourful Evzones around the tomb of the Unknown Soldier). Just freed by Turks, the Great Powers of the XIX century decided that Greece needed a king. After an occupation, a new one began: Otto of Bavaria was too young, and his regents too greedy, imposing heavy taxes to the citizens. It's with the support of the British that Kallerges and Makriyannis demanded to the king to produce - within a month - a constitution. Even if this should have been the end to foreign occupation, Greece was quite unlucky and, after WW2, during which the people fought against Nazi occupation, Greece fell under Anglo-American influence, for an "influence exchange" with Romania, Bulgary and Hungary. To get rid of the partisans, who were Communists, a Military Junta was established. And it was Syntagma Place that greeted Karamanlis back from exile, with the aim at restoring democracy.

Once in Athens, you simply cannot miss the National Archeological Museum, with the biggest collection of ancient Greek artifacts and sculptures and you cannot miss the views from Mount Lycabettus, whose name means "path of the wolves"... Don't worry: If you are tired about walking, you can always catch the train that goes up there, and do not worry either: there are no wolves, just a magnificent view of Athens and of the Acropolis.

The Temple of Hephaistus, on the Agora, heart of social, commercial and political life in Ancient Athens, will amaze you too, since it's one of the best kept Doric Temples of the Classical Period.

On a less serious side, one of the funniest things to do in Athens is to go to shopping, either in the small shops you will find in Plaka, that range from kitsch to artisanal workshops, or to the markets, as the Agora Central Market, or the Monastiraki flea market, on Sunday, where you will have the chance to find anything, from A to Z, and to even see the Mosque built in 1759 during the Turkish occupation. But be advised, do not dare leave Athens either if you haven't bought a komboloi or if you haven't visited the shop of Stavros Melissinos. And when you are tired of the crowds that forms in the markets, just enojoy a stroll on much more quiet Alexandra's Square...

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