Did you know that Athens, Greece, is Europe’s oldest capital city, and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, after Jericho and Byblos? There are many amazing facts to know about Athens, Greece- but let’s start at the basics!
Where is Athens?
Athens is located in the south-east part of the Greek mainland, in the region of Attica.
It sprawls out in a big plain called the Attica Basin, which is surrounded by four mountains: Mt. Parnitha in the North, Mt. Aigaleo in the West, Mt. Hymettus in the East, and Mt. Pentelicon in the Northeast. Of the four mountains, Mt. Parnitha is the tallest. Its gorgeous forest area has been declared a National Park.
Athens also has several hills that it has developed around. The tallest one is Lycabettus, which is opposite of the sacred hill of the Acropolis.
8 kilometers southwest from the center of Athens there is the port city of Piraeus, which has always been the largest port of Greece and one of the largest in Europe.
Quick Athens Facts
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What is Athens’ climate?
The Athenian climate is Mediterranean with very hot summers.
Summers are quite long and hot, with temperatures reaching up to 44 °C (around 112 °F) in the center of Athens at the peak of summer.
Winters are generally mild, with temperatures being around 12 °C (around 54 °F), with January and February being the coldest winter months.
Check out: When is the best time to visit Athens.
Is Athens safe?
Though Athens is often alive with demonstrations and protests or strikes, it actually ranks pretty high in city safety: it is at the 39th safest city out of 162 in the Safety Index and has ranked safer than cities like Dublin, in Ireland or Tampa, Florida.
Check out my post: Is Athens Safe?
Why is Athens called Athens?
Legend has it that in the ancient times, when Athens was being founded, the goddess Athena and the god Poseidon competed for whose name would be given to the city, and who would be its patron and protector.
They gathered the people, men and women, to display their bids and then a vote would take place for the naming of the city.
Poseidon threw his trident with fervor in the ground, and water sprung out in a big geyser. The people were very impressed but Athena smirked.
“Water is important, o Poseidon, but your water is salt water, and can’t be used for growth,” she said. “With my blessing, I will give this city everlasting life.”
Athena threw her spear into the ground, and from where it landed sprung up an olive tree. It grew high, spreading its branches and big shiny olives, ready for the taking, quickly weighed them down.
The people then decided that Athena’s patronage and protection would be more beneficial to the city, and gave it Athena’s name- and ever since, its name is Athens.
There’s also a side-tale to the legend, that in the vote that was held, all the men voted for Poseidon and all the women voted for Athena. Because the women were more than the men, Athena won, and Poseidon was enraged, causing a lot of havoc around the land. To appease him, the Athenians forbade women from ever voting again but they didn’t overturn the result.
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The Acropolis Got Blown Up
In 1687, the Venetians attacked Athens, which at the time was under Ottoman Turk occupation. The Ottomans were using the Acropolis as a stronghold, and the Parthenon as a gunpowder and ammo storage area.
The Venetian general Francesco Morosini landed at the port of Piraeus and met with little opposition as the Turks fell back and closed themselves off in the stronghold they had made of the Acropolis. Morosini deployed his troops around the area and ordered cannon fire against the Acropolis.
One of the cannon balls struck the Parthenon’s roof, and all the gunpowder and ammo inside exploded.
The explosion was so severe that more than 300 people died. The Parthenon’s three walls out of the four collapsed, and a big part of the frieze was smashed to pieces. 14 out of the 46 pillars collapsed. The chunks of marble flew so far that some landed within Morosini’s barracks. The big fire that resulted from the explosion burned for two days.
And what had been preserved for 2000 years completely intact, despite earthquakes, wars, a shift in religion, and the rise and collapse of two big empires, was now in ruins. The ruins that doggedly still stand today, a testament to the sturdiness of the marvel that the Acropolis is.
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Athens is an eternal city
For several millennia, Athens has been a cultural hub. Classical Athens is famous for being the cradle of Western civilization: from Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum to the Classical Theater that gave us Tragedy and Comedy to the incredible works of art and architecture, to the pinnacle of political systems, democracy, all of these originated in Athens.
Athens now is a global city, a metropolis that is a hub for trade, economy, culture, and industries in a wide variety of sectors.
Culture and the Arts
Athens has more than a hundred museums and art galleries of all types and categories. There are the must-see Archaeological and Acropolis museums, but there is also the War Museum, the Culture and Heritage Benakeio Museum, the Shadow Puppet Museum, the haunting WWII Gestapo Interrogation Memorial, the Museum of Ancient Greek Technology, the Museum of Greek Folk Art and innumerable others to satiate any interest and any hobby.
There are also art galleries from the National Gallery of Athens to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, to several private galleries featuring remarkable exhibits of all kinds of art and sculpture, which you can find all over the different neighborhoods and districts of Athens.
Food in Athens
Greece is famous for its delicious Mediterranean Greek cuisine, and Athens is a hub for it!
Gathered in different neighborhoods but easy to find all over, you will find traditional tavernas, small narrow restaurants famous for specific specialties among the locals, and delicious street food: the famous souvlaki and the different pies are filling and of the healthier types of street food out there!
If you want to go for international cuisine, fusion, vegetarian or vegan, Athens has got you covered, too, with astounding variety in styles and menus.
Check out the best Greek food to try in Athens.
Phone numbers to keep handy
112 is the European emergency number, which is common throughout the EU, for all kinds of emergencies. It is also operational in Greece, but it is good to know the local emergency numbers as well:
100 is the emergency number for the police (the equivalent of 911 in the USA).
166 is the emergency number for an ambulance.
1571 is the emergency number for the tourist police.
199 is the emergency number for the fire department.