Bursting at the seams with culture and history, Athens is a city full of stories and anecdotes waiting to be discovered. There’s no better way to enjoy the city’s colorful history than to get out there and explore it yourself, but for now, here’s a few fun facts to get you started:
- Over a third of the Greek population call Athens home. Almost 4 of the country’s 11 million inhabitants live in the metropolitan area of the Greek capital, which spreads far beyond the borders of the Municipality of Athens and covers most of Attica.
- Established in 1837, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens is the oldest university in Greece. The Ionian Academy in Corfu was actually founded first, in 1824, but Corfu was then still a British protectorate. When the Ionian Islands became part of the Greek state, forty years later, the Academy was shut down and its library (and much of its staff) moved to the University of Athens.
- The Parthenon, the jewel of the Acropolis and one of the world’s most iconic monuments, has lived through a surprising string of ‘reincarnations’. Originally dedicated to the goddess Athena, over the centuries it has been used as an Orthodox church, Catholic cathedral, gunpowder magazine, and mosque –“the finest mosque in the world, without comparison” according to Wheeler and Spon’s 17th century travel books on Greece.
- Known for the characteristic caryatids, the sculpted female figures that line its south porch, the Erechtheion has also seen some unexpected uses. In addition to being converted to a church by the Byzantines, it was used as a palace during the period of the Duchy of Athens, and even served as a governor’s harem during the period of Ottoman rule.
- The National Garden was originally commissioned by Queen Amalia, the first queen of Greece, as her royal gardens in 1838.
It remained a private royal garden until 1920, and has since enchanted many with its beauty. After visiting the garden, Henry Miller wrote: “It remains in my memory like no other park I have known. It is the quintessence of a park, the thing one feels sometimes in looking at a canvas or dreaming of a place one would like to be in and never finds”.
- Visitors at the Acropolis Museum are literally surrounded by history and antiquities. The museum features floors that are made of clear reinforced glass, allowing guests to see the excavation of the ancient city under foot.
- The capital’s metro stations double as museums and galleries. Most of the capital’s metro stations contain works of art by contemporary Greek artists or feature archaeological exhibits that showcase items found during their construction.
- To protect the views of the Acropolis, legislation specifies strict maximum height restrictions for new buildings in the surrounding area. In fact, with only a handful of exceptions, the maximum height allowed in Athens is 27 meters.