Athens – Greece

Few cities in the world can compare to the historical significance of Athens. This city is not only the site of the first democracy in history; it has also been populated for over seven thousand years! When Ancient Greece started to rise in the fifth century B.C., it was Athens that sprang up as its capital and epicenter for the government. Athens is still the capital of Greece to this day but much has changed in the many thousands of years since it became the precursor to all of western civilization.

Despite its age, Athens still manages to be a very important and culturally relevant city in the 21st Century. It ranks among the top forty richest cities in the world and is also in the top thirty most expensive cities to live in. This owes much to the fact that Athens is and always has had a central role not only in the economic and political sphere of Greece but of the whole of Europe. Back when it was called “Classical Athens” and was considered one of many “city-states”, it was the educational capital of the world. The fathers of philosophy and modern thinking called Athens their home and the city fostered the growth of the mind, a concept relatively untouched by other countries at the time. Athens was the site of Socrates’ famous dialogues while Plato and Aristotle both used Athens as their headquarters for furthering the Socratic Method with the former’s Academy and the latter’s Lyceum still standing to this day within the city limits.

These days, Athens still boasts a remarkable beauty thanks to the combination of the ancient Greco-Roman architecture mixed with the Neo-Classical and Modern styles that stand side by side and, in some cases like Omonoia Square, are mixed together to create strikingly beautiful buildings. Though the city has withstood attacks from Persians, Romans, Germans, and many more in its thousands of years of existence, the beautiful art and architecture of Athens was nearly decimated by a very unlikely foe in the 1970s: Pollution. The vast amount of air pollution around Greece was taking its toll on the statues and sculptures until the Minister of Culture stepped in and completely revamped Athens’ energy policy. Thanks to his efforts visitors today can stroll around the Acropolis and the Parthenon without breathing in smog and the gorgeous caryatids and sculptures now seem poised to withstand yet another millennium.

Tourists still flock to Athens on a large scale each year and it isn’t hard to see why. Whether it is the history buff reveling in the leftovers of the first democracy or the partygoers who worship Athens’ beautiful beaches and nightlife, there is truly something for everybody in this remarkable city. Few ancient towns possess the immediacy of modern day Athens and it is a testament to the city’s unerring dedication to furthering the mind with intellectual pursuits rather than warmongering that this gorgeous area still stands proudly as a shining beacon to the brilliance of Ancient Greece.

Athens Hotel Guide

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 Athens  is a  city  which arguably has one of the richest histories in the world. It was the home and center of the world empire of Greece, and is still the capital of the country today. If you are looking for a lively  city  rich in culture and history, there are few places better to visit than  Athens .

 Athens  is a  city  riddled with mythology. The city is very ancient, and was the center of learning and Greek culture. Many of the concepts and ideas formulated in ancient Greece are what we today call “western civilization.” Today the city is home to nearly three and a half million people.

 Athens  is named after Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and the best time to visit is during the late summer or fall. Winter is also a good time to visit, as there will be few tourists and the weather will be good with the exception of a bit of rain.

 Athens  is a  city  full of parks, gardens, and cafes. While the hustle of the  city  might remind you of New York, you will find that  Athens  has a charm of its own. There are many landmarks for tourists to see, and you don’t have to travel far to see all of them.

The first place you may want to visit is the Acropolis, the ancient part of  Athens  field with beautiful temples. You will be able to fully appreciate ancient Greek architecture after viewing the Acropolis with your own eyes.

The Agora market is another area of  Athens  you will need to visit. In antiquity this was the center of the commercial and political activity in the city. This was once the place where Socrates gave his speeches, and is also the place where St. Paul searched for potential adherents to Christianity.

When it comes to dining, Athenians love to eat out. You will find a lot of fresh produce while touring the city, and there are plenty of places to eat traditional Greek cuisine. You will want to try the country salad and eggplant mixed with mince meat.

 Athens  is no longer the cheap  city  it used to be. Frugal backpackers can expect to spend 40 euros per day by hiking and staying in hostels. Having your own room and eating at hotels will cost you about 80 euros a day, and if you really want to enjoy yourself you can expect to spend up to 120 euros daily. No matter what budget you’re on, traveling to  Athens  is the trip of a lifetime.

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Athens City Breaks Guide

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For more than 3500 years  Athens  has been attracting visitors. Rich in history and home to one of the most famous buildings of the world – the Parthenon, which represents the golden age of  Athens  urban planning, it is impossible to compete with the impressive architecture of the  city . Apart from being just a tourist spot,  Athens  is also home to more than half the population of Greece.  Athens   city  breaks will surely help you know about this extremely beautiful city.

You are sure to fall in love with the jumbled and elegant skyline of neoclassical facades, whitewashed sugar-cube houses, the Plaka quarter – a colorful mixture of flea markets and antique shops, markets that have stalls piled with huge tubs of olive, fresh fish and well stocked tables laid out of the pavement tavernas.

The acropolis is one of the places visited most by tourists. It provides the best of classical architecture that you can find anywhere else in the world. You find the slender ionic columns of the Temple of Athena and the six female caryatids of the Erechtheion included in the satellite buildings. Theater had a great role in ancient Greece. The Roman theater of Herodes Atticus still stages summer shows for theater enthusiasts. After having a cultural feast at the Acropolis, you can visit the Benaki Museum where you can kindle your curiosities, and the National Archaeological Museum will keep you occupied for days. If you are looking to take a break from the hustle of the Athenian life, a peaceful walk along the 40 acres of the National Gardens is the best.

It is believed that modern  Athens  was born in 1834 and restored as the capital of the newly independent Greece. After the second world war, a massive expansion took place that was funded by American money. The Mediterranean climate was responsible for the high temperatures in the city. Pollution and excess traffic were some of the problems that  Athens  began to face. Visitors and philosophers felt that the architectural excellence were overshadowed by the urbanization. However, more than 3 million people visit this city each year and have a quick look at their favorite places.

Apart from the celebrated classical sites, the city also boasts of Byzanthine, the medieval and ninth century monuments and some of the famous museums in the world. You will also appreciate some of the areas that are immersed in surprisingly natural beauty. Though there is heavy traffic, the village like qualities are very evident in their cafes, markets, tavernas, and in the maze streets surrounding Plaka.  Athens  is also known for its fine restaurants and colorful and varied night life. The port at Piraeus and the metropolitan area are economic powerhouse and industrial areas of Greece. The Olympics in 2004 brought in many new developments that included an airport, new sports venues, extension of the metro system, up-gradation of hotels and renovation of many top museums.

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Athens Concert Hall

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Usually people who visit Athens are more impressed with the antiquities and the famous monuments like the Acropolis and the Parthenon and don’t get me wrong I am impressed too… how couldn’t I be, but there are more things to Athens than people think so, theatres, cinemas, shopping malls and the Concert Hall of Athens which is not too far from the center of town and boats state-of-the-art technology and acoustics.

It was designed by a consortium of foreign and Greek consultants to correspond to the stringent demands of contemporary audiences and performers and can be considered one of the finest in the world.

Apart from the main hall Filon tis Mousikis – Friends of Music- which seats an audience of 2.000 it contains a smaller hall seating 500 people, a music library, recording studios, a restaurant and a foyer in which exhibitions of various kinds are held. It also houses an ultramodern conference centre.

The Megaro schedules concerts of all kinds from classical music of all periods to jazz and folk preformed by world class soloists, groups orchestras, operas and ballet companies throughout the year, except in summer.

It started operating in 1991 and it is an important cultural center of the whole Europe. Its superb acoustics have been acclaimed both by the public and by renowned performers of the music and art world.

The Athens Concert Hall has welcomed top class artists, music ensembles, composers, conductors and performers in an artistic trajectory that has left its mark in the country’s culture scene.

It is very easy to reach the Concert Hall of Athens since there is a metro station named after it which is only a few meters away. It is really easy to find it if you have a Metro Map. Buses and taxis are also available in the area.

As far as accommodation is concerned, there are many Concert Hall Hotels, meaning hotels close to “Megaro Mousikis” to choose from. Athens Hotels are among the best of Greece.

I went there many times for several performances and I even got the chance to see a classical concert dedicated to Antonin Dvorak, a famous musician. The Concert Hall of Athens really impressed me so I thought that I should really share this with you. Don’t miss an excellent opportunity to visit a place like this one!

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Collecting Ancient Athenian Coins

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Coins issued by certain cities or empires took the leading role in dictating which coins were readily acceptable for trade in the Mediterranean lands. One such   city  was  Athens , which established the “Attic standard” that was to be adopted later by Alexander the Great. Silver was used to pay civil servants, soldiers and mercenaries, and it is believed that the latter is the reason that many Greek silver coins were struck in the first place. The non-Greek lands of the Near East issued large quantities of silver coins, most notably the Parthians, Sassanians and Baktrians. These coins vary in style and fabric, the thickness and purity of the planchet on which the coin was struck, and are relatively under valued compared to the more widely collected issues of Greece proper.

In Greek mythology, Athena was the goddess of warfare and wisdom. Later known as Minerva by the Romans, she was the goddess of not only wisdom and battle, but of certain crafts and the protector of all cities and states. At birth, according to one myth, she sprang from the forehead of Zeus, the king of the gods, fully grown and dressed in armor. Athena is usually shown wearing a helmet and a magic shield called the aegis. The goddess Athena was not only wise in war but also in the arts of peace. She supposedly invented the plow and taught men how to yoke oxen. Athena’s chief symbol was the owl and in Greek mythology, the owl is firmly linked with Athena who is usually picture with her owl perched on her shoulder. Some say that is why the owl, in modern times, associated with wisdom.

Athenian coins were used in exchange throughout the Greek world, hoards have been found as far away from  Athens  as Babylon, Afghanistan and Iran. The quantity of Athenian coins minted in last half of the fifth century BC, reflect the changed and powerful position of  Athens  in the eastern Mediterranean, from a small  city-state  defending itself on land against the onslaught of Darius at Marathon,  Athens  grew to be the  center  of an empire whose power was dependent on its control of the sea. From being a partner in and administrative head of the Delian League,  Athens  became its leader and its many  city-state  members paid  Athens  tribute.

Huge sums must have been necessary for the commercial activities of  Athens  port  city , Piraeus, construction atop the Acropolis and in the city, financing of the Athenian fleet, and perennial warfare. The money was derived not only from annual tribute received from the Delian League  city-states , but from rich silver deposits  Athens  owned and mined at Laurium, close to Cape Sunium as well. The mines provide the silver that paid for construction of the fleet that destroyed the Persians at Salamis in 479 BC.

Common to all issues of the coin are the goddess Athena, in profile on the obverse, and the owl, her constant companion, standing on the reverse, a sprig of olive leaves with a berry above its shoulder. Variations in design exist among denominations of the coin.

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Edinburgh – The Athens of the North

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Europe may be the second smallest continent in the world, but it is possibly one of the most diverse regions on earth.

The sheer variation in language, culture, architecture and even weather, makes Europe one of the most visited regions in the world, and it’s easy to see why. For modern metropolises there is London, Paris and Barcelona. For warm weather and beaches there is thousands of miles of Mediterranean coastline spanning Spain, France, Italy, Greece and numerous other countries; all with quite distinct historical, cultural and linguistic differences.

But as great as it is to have such massive diversity squeezed into such a relatively small space, it could be argued that there are probably bigger metropolises and better beaches located elsewhere in the world. Indeed, what makes Europe truly special are those ‘one-of-a-kind’ places, and Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, is such a place.

Located in the south-east of Scotland close to the River Forth, Edinburgh is often considered to be one of the most picturesque cities in Europe and is certainly regarded as a major tourist destination, attracting around 13 million visitors each year.

But what makes Edinburgh a truly mesmerising city is its landscape and architecture. To realise how stunning a city the Scottish capital is, it only takes a short hike up one of the several hills that the city is built around. Arthur’s Seat, for example, offers perhaps the most panoramic view of the city and is only a mile from the city centre. As an extinct volcano, it consists of rocky crags and basalt cliffs, rising to about 250 metres high and affords magnificent views across the city, with the world famous Edinburgh Castle taking centre stage.

The one striking feature of the Edinburgh skyline is the lack of skyscrapers or any other particularly tall building. This has been a deliberate attempt not to spoil the famous cityscape that has seen both the old and new town districts of Edinburgh listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

And it’s these two districts that make Edinburgh what it is. The medieval, windy streets and alleys of the Old Town sandwiched in between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, contrasts splendidly with the beautiful Georgian architecture and Greek-inspired neo-classical designs that are spread throughout the New Town.

Indeed, the New Town is generally considered to be a masterpiece of  city  planning and is partly responsible for Edinburgh’s reputation as the ‘ Athens  of the North’, which is quite a compliment considering the esteem in which Greek architecture is held throughout the world.

Of course, like any other city in the world there are all the usual activities to keep visitors happy throughout their stay such as restaurants, cinemas, clubs and pubs; ensuring that hotels in Edinburgh are always in great demand.

But in a city of Edinburgh’s breathtaking beauty, these could be considered merely as distractions from the main attractions. It is difficult to think of anywhere else in the world that can compare to Scotland’s capital city, which is why it truly is, one-of-a-kind.

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Athens – The Destination

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Athens was named after Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, which is certainly fitting for the birthplace itself. Evidence of its ancient heyday is everywhere, in the remnants of monuments, statuary and sacred sites that are still revered as survivors of one of history’s most important eras.

A Poseidon adventure in art

In Greek mythology, Poseidon is the god of sea, so it is only fitting that the astoundingly wrought bronze statue of him was raised from the bottom of the Aegean Sea, where it lay for centuries after a shipwreck off the Cape of Artemision. The two-meter tall figure stands with arms extended and leaning forward on its left leg. The right hand once held a trident, and the unknown sculptor clearly was a master in accurately duplicating the complicated balancing act that goes into the seemingly simple motion of throwing a spear.

This work of art is one of the many stunning bronzes at the National Archeological Museum in Athens. The museum’s collection – which includes pieces that date all the way back to the prehistoric period – offers the best collection of Greek art in the world. Renovations closed the museum for a year and half, but it was reopened just in time for the 2004 Olympic Games.

At 260 feet above the city, the Acropolis (“high city”) is not only the highest point in Athens, but for many people it is the high point of any visit to Greece. It is the oldest known settlement in Greece and was a sacred site for ancient Athenians.

During the period of 448 to 420 B.C., the distinguished Athenian statesman Pericles commissioned the construction of four new monuments on the Acropolis at the site of former ruins. The Athenian sculptor Phidias presided over the construction and interior design. The Ionic Erechtheum includes the Porch of Caryatids, with its column in the shape of monumental female figures that identify remains a mystery. The Ionic Temples of Athena Nike, dedicated to the cult of Athena as the goddess of victory, was built during the Peloponnesian War, its frieze depicts the Greek victory over the Persians in the battle of Plataea. The Propylaea, the gateway to the Acropolis with rows of both Doric and Ionic columns, replaced an earlier version destroyed by the Persians. And of course, the Acropolis remains home to what’s left of the Parthenon.

The Parthenon, designed by architects Iktinos and Kallikrates, took 15 years to complete. It was the closest to Pericles’ heart: Among various friezes depicting life among gods, the large statue of Athena represented his homage to the goddess and to the greatness of Athens.

Even in A.D. 131, savvy developers like the Roman Emperor Hadrian recognized the importance of signage. “This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus,” reads the inscription on Hadrian’s arch, situated at the foot of the Acropolis and once the marker between Hadrianopolis and the Athens city limits. The side facing the Acropolis and ancient Athens reads, ” This is Athens, the city of Theseus.”

Like all the surrounding monuments and the Athens infrastructure itself, Hadrian’s Arch has undergone a major facelift. The 60-foot high archway, constructed of Pentelic marble, upheld by columns with Corthinian capitals and topped by a series of Corinthians columns, lost a bit of structural stability in the mid-18th century, when 8 of its columns were removed.

Restorers shored up the arch, cleaned away centuries of pollution and repaired its cracks, just in time for the 2004 Olympic Games.

The Evzones

The Evzones were once the elite soldiers of the Greek army. Today they are the presidential guards, a ceremonial unit that maintains watch over The Parliament, The Presidential Mansion and The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The soldiers wear a traditional and highly photogenic uniform comprising a scarlet cap with a long black tassel, a cotton tunic, black knee tassels above white stockings, red clogs with black pompons and a woolen kilt called a fustanella. The fustanella has 400 pleats, one for each year that the Greeks were on the occupation of the Ottoman Empire. Bearing leather cartridge belts and rifles with a bayonet, the soldiers maintain strict physical discipline as they stand at attention and resist tourists’ attempts to distract them.

A changing of guard is performed daily before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but on Sundays, the complete ceremony – involving an army band and dozens of soldiers – is conducted.

Alice in Wonderland

Imagine Alice in Wonderland’s tumble into a magical world, and you will have an idea what this-off-beaten-path attraction in the Village of Paiania is like. Far larger than a rabbit hole, Koutouki Cave is a natural wonder that will awe you with its colors and formations. In 1926, a goat disappeared from its herd where it was grazing on the slope of Mount Ymittos. A search turned up a small crevice, and a brave soul descended by rope into the abyss below. The goat had not survived the fall, but its intended rescuer returned with a story of a beautiful underground chamber.

The vertical cave consists of a 38.5 meter shaft that opens onto a large cavern with a diameter of about 60 meters. Guided tours take visitors in through a man-made entrance and lead them on a path through stalactites and stalagmites formed by mineral deposits from water seeping through the limestone of the mountain. The tour ends with a light show accompanied by classical music. It’s just a short taxi ride from Athens to nearby Paiania.

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