Athens, the capital and largest city of Greece, dominates the Attica periphery: as one of the world's oldest cities, its recorded history spans at least 3,000 years.
The Greek capital has a population of 745,514 (in 2001) within its administrative limits and a land area of 39 km² (15 sq mi). The urban area of Athens extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 3.37 million (in 2005). The area of Athens prefecture spans 412 km² (159 sq mi) and encompasses a population of 3,192,606. The Athens Larger Urban Zone (LUZ) is the 8th most populated LUZ in the European Union with a population of 3,894,573 (in 2001). A bustling and cosmopolitan metropolis, Athens is central to economic, financial, industrial, political and cultural life in Greece. It is rapidly becoming a leading business centre in the European Union. In 2008, Athens was ranked the world's 32nd-richest city in a UBS study.
Classical 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 its many other prominent philosophers, writers and politicians 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, represented by a number of ancient monuments and works of art, the most famous of all being the Parthenon on the Acropolis, widely considered a key landmark of early Western civilization. The city also retains a vast variety of Roman and Byzantine monuments, as well as a small number of remaining Ottoman monuments projecting the city's long history across the centuries. Landmarks of the modern era are also present, dating back to 1830 (the establishment of the independent Greek state), and taking in the Greek Parliament (19th century) and the Athens Trilogy (Library, University, and Academy). Athens was the host city of the first modern-day Olympic Games in 1896, and 108 years later it welcomed home the 2004 Summer Olympics, with great success.
Athens sprawls across the central plain of Attica, often referred to as the Attica Basin which is bound by Mount Aegaleo in the west, Mount Parnitha in the north, Mount Penteli in the northeast, Mount Hymettus in the east, and the Saronic Gulf in the southwest. The capital has expanded to cover the entire plain, making future growth difficult. The geomorphology of Athens causes the so-called temperature inversion phenomenon, and along with the failure of the Greek Government to control industrial pollution is responsible for the air pollution problems the city has recently faced. (Los Angeles and Mexico City also suffer with similar geomorphology inversion problems). The pollution of Athens was at one point so destructive, that according to the then Greek Minister of Culture, Constantine Trypanis, the carved details on the five caryatids of the Erechtheum have seriously degenerated, while the face of the horseman on the Parthenon's west side is all but obliterated. A series of strict measures then taken by the authorities of the city throughout the 1990s resulted in a dramatic improvement of air quality; the appearance of smog (or nefos as the Athenians used to call it) has become an increasingly rare phenomenon.
Athens enjoys a typical mediterranean climate, with the greatest amounts of precipitation mainly occurring from mid-October to mid-April; any precipitation is sparse during summer and falls generally in the form of showers and/or thunderstorms. Due to its location in a strong rain shadow because of Mount Parnitha, however, the Athenian climate is much drier compared to most of the rest of Mediterranean Europe. The mountainous northern suburbs, for their part, experience a somewhat differentiated climatic pattern, with generally lower temperatures and more substantial snowfalls during winter. Fog is highly unusual in the city centre but it is more frequent to the east, behind the Hymettus mountain range.
Snowfalls occur almost on a yearly basis, though these do not normally lead to significant, if any, disruption. Nonetheless, the city has experienced its share of heavy snowfalls, not least in the past decade. During the blizzards of March 1987; February 1992; January 4-6, 2002; February 12-13, 2004 and February 16-18, 2008, snow blanketed large parts of the metropolitan area, causing havoc across much of the city. Spring and fall (autumn) are considered ideal seasons for sightseeing and all kinds of outdoor activities.
Summers can be particularly hot and at times prone to smog and pollution related conditions (however, much less so than in the past). The average daytime maximum temperature for the month of July is 92.3 °F (33.5 °C) and heatwaves are relatively common, occurring generally during the months of July and/or August, when hot air masses sweep across Greece from the south or the southwest. On such days only temperature maxima soar over 100 °F (37.8 °C).
The all-time high temperatures for the metropolitan area of Athens of 48.0 °C (118.4 °F) were recorded in Elefsina, a suburb of Athens. The respective low-temperature record is −5.8 °C (21.6 °F), recorded at Nea Filadelfia. During the February 2004 blizzard (one of the worst snowstorms ever to hit the city), temperatures plummeted to −7 °C (19.4 °F) at the University Campus, and −10.1 °C (13.8 °F) at the meteorological station of the National Observatory of Athens, in Penteli.
The Parthenon (ancient Greek: Παρθενών) is a temple built for the Greek goddess Athena, the protectress of Athens, in the 5th century BC on the athenian Acropolis. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered to be the culmination of the development of the Doric order. Its decorative sculptures are considered one of the high points of Greek art. The Parthenon is regarded as an enduring symbol of ancient Greece and of Athenian democracy, and is one of the world's greatest cultural monuments. The Greek Ministry of Culture is currently carrying out a program of restoration and reconstruction.
The Parthenon replaced an older temple of Athena, called the Pre-Parthenon or Older Parthenon, that was destroyed in the Persian invasion of 480 BC. Like most Greek temples, the Parthenon was used as a treasury, and for a time served as the treasury of the Delian League, which later became the Athenian Empire. In the 6th century AD, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin. After the Ottoman conquest, it was converted into a mosque in the early 1460s, and it even had a minaret. On 28 September 1687 an Ottoman ammunition dump inside the building was ignited by Venetian bombardment. The resulting explosion severely damaged the Parthenon and its sculptures. In 1806, Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin removed some of the surviving sculptures, with Ottoman permission. These sculptures, now known as the Elgin or Parthenon Marbles, were sold in 1816 to the British Museum in London, where they are now displayed. The Greek government is committed to the return of the sculptures to Greece, so far with no success.
The Parthenon: Architecture
The first endeavour to build a sanctuary for Athena Parthenos on the site of the present Parthenon was begun shortly after the Battle of Marathon (c. 490-88 BC) upon a massive limestone foundation that extended and leveled the southern part of the Acropolis summit. This building replaced a hekatompedon (meaning "hundred-footer") and would have stood beside the archaic temple dedicated to the Athena Polias. The Older or Pre-Parthenon, as it is frequently referred to, was still under construction when the Persians sacked the city in 480 BC and razed the Acropolis. In the mid-5th century BC, when the Athenian Acropolis became the seat of the Delian League and Athens was the greatest cultural centre of its time, Pericles initiated an ambitious building project which lasted the entire second half of the century. The most important buildings visible on the Acropolis today – the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the temple of Athena Nike – were erected during this period. The Parthenon was built under the general supervision of the sculptor Phidias, who also had charge of the sculptural decoration. The architects, Iktinos and Kallikrates, began in 447 BC, and the building was substantially completed by 432, but work on the decorations continued until at least 431. Some of the financial accounts for the Parthenon survive and show that the largest single expense was transporting the stone from Mount Pentelicus, about 16 kilometres from Athens, to the Acropolis. The funds were partly drawn from the treasury of the Delian League, which was moved from the Panhellenic sanctuary at Delos to the Acropolis in 454 BC.
Although the nearby Temple of Hephaestus is the most complete surviving example of a Doric order temple, the Parthenon, in its day, was regarded as the finest. The temple, wrote John Julius Norwich, "Enjoys the reputation of being the most perfect Doric temple ever built. Even in antiquity, its architectural refinements were legendary, especially the subtle correspondence between the curvature of the stylobate, the taper of the naos walls and the entasis of the columns." Entasis refers to the slight bulge of the columns as they rise, though the observable effect on the Parthenon is considerably more subtle than on earlier temples with their noticeably cigar-shaped columns. The stylobate is the platform on which the columns stand. As in many other classical Greek temples, it has a slight parabolic upward curvature intended primarily to shed rainwater. The columns might therefore be supposed to lean outwards, but they actually lean slightly inwards; and since they are all the same height, the curvature of the outer stylobate edge is transmitted to the architrave and roof above: "all follow the rule of being built to delicate curves" Gorham Stevens observed when pointing out that in addition, the west front was built at a slightly higher level than that of the east front. It is not universally agreed what the intended effect of these 'optical refinements' was; it is often suggested that it was to enliven what might have appeared an inert mass in the case of a building without curves, but the comparison ought to be with the Parthenon's more obviously curved predecessors than with a notional rectilinear temple.
Some studies of the Acropolis, including the Parthenon, conclude that many of its proportions approximate the golden ratio. The Parthenon's facade as well as elements of its facade and elsewhere can be circumscribed by golden rectangles. This view that the golden ratio was employed in the design has been disputed in more recent studies. Measured at the top step, the dimensions of the base of the Parthenon are 69.5 metres by 30.9 metres (228.0 x 101.4 ft). The cella was 29.8 metres long by 19.2 metres wide (97.8 x 63.0 ft), with internal Doric colonnades in two tiers, structurally necessary.