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Athína is the capital and largest city of Greece and the birthplace of democracy. Named after goddess Athena, Athens is a bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis with a population of 3.7 million people. The Athens metropolitan area is currently growing both northwards and eastwards across Attica and it constitutes the dominant center of economic, financial, industrial, cultural and political life in Greece. The city is also rapidly becoming a leading business center in the European Union. Ancient Athens was a powerful polis city-state and a renowned center of learning, home of Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum. It is considered to have been the cradle of Western civilization, largely due to the immense 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 Athenian Enlightenment is still evident in the city, portrayed through a number of spectacular ancient monuments and artworks, the most famous of all being the Parthenon on the Acropolis. Most recently, Athens was the host city of the hugely successful 2004 Summer Olympics.
The founding of Athens is lost in myth and legend from times immemorial. As far as history is concerned, Athens has always been there. Athens was the leading city in Greece during the greatest period of Greek civilization during the 1st millennium BC. During the "Golden Age" of Greece (roughly 500 BC to 323 BC) it was the world's leading cultural and intellectual centre, and indeed the phrase "Western civilization" ideas, achievements, and practices. In 431 B.C, Athens went to war with another city-state, Sparta. Due to its losses during a plague, Athens was defeated by Sparta, and its walls were pulled down (however, remnants of the original walls of the era are still to be found today, especially in the coastline of Piraeus). The schools of philosophy were closed in AD 529 by the Christian Byzantine Empire, which disapproved of the schools' pagan thinking. Athens gradually lost a great deal of status at this time.
During the 11th and 12th centuries the Byzantine city experienced a revival. This period is considered the Golden Age of Byzantine art in Athens. Almost all of the most important Byzantine churches around Athens were built during these two centuries. Meanwhile, together with Corinth and Thebes, Athens was enriched by trade, and soon became an important and prosperous centre for the production of soaps and dyes. However, it faced a crushing blow between the 13th and 15th centuries, when the city was fought over by the Greek Byzantines and the 'French' and Italian Crusaders. In 1458 the city fell to the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Mehmet II the Conqueror. As the Emperor entered the city, he was greatly struck by the beauty of its ancient monuments and issued a firman (imperial decree) that Athens' ruins not be disturbed, on pain of death. The Parthenon was in fact converted into the city's principal mosque and therefore preserved.
Athens has been a popular destination for travellers since antiquity. Over the past decade, the infrastructure and social amenities of Athens have been radically improved, in part due to the city's successful bid to stage the 2004 Olympic Games. The Greek state, aided by the E.U., has poured money into major infrastructure projects such as the new, state-of-the-art "Eleftherios Venizelos" International Airport, the massive expansion of the Metro system, and the new Attiki Odos ring-road. Home to a vast number of 5 and 4 star hotels, the city is currently the 6th most visited capital in Europe.
Large parts of the city centre have been redeveloped under a masterplan called "Unification of Archaeological Sites of Athens". Notably, the famous Dionysiou Aeropagitou street has been pedestrianised, forming a scenic route. The route starts from the Temple of Olympian Zeus at Vasilissis Olgas Avenue, continues under the southern slopes of its acropolis near Plaka and finishes just outside the temple of Hephaestus in Theseum. This route provides the visitors views of the Parthenon and the Agora (the meeting point of ancient Athenians), away from the busy city centre.
Syntagma Square (Constitution Square) is situated in central Athens and it is the site of the former Royal Palace, now the Greek Parliament and other 19th-century public buildings. The National Garden behind the Parliament and stretching to the Zappeion is a verdant oasis in the center city. Syntagma is the largest square of the city and it is also home to a number of luxurious hotels, including the historic Grande Bretagne, Athens' first hotel. Syntagma is essentially the tourist core of the city, being in the centre of an area where most of the famous ancient monuments are located, all within a radius of 2 km.
The city's classical museums include the National Archaeological Museum of Athens at Patission Street (which holds the world's greatest collection of Greek art), the Benaki Museum in Pireos Street (including its new Islamic Art branch), the Byzantine Museum and the Museum of Cycladic Art in the central Kolonaki district (recommended for its collection of elegant white metamodern figures, more than 3,000 years old). Most museums were renovated ahead of the 2004 Olympics. A new Acropolis Museum is being built in the Makriyanni district according to a design by Swiss-French architect Bernard Tschumi. The Athens Planetarium, located in Andrea Syngrou Avenue, is considered to be among the world's best.
The old campus of the University of Athens, located in the middle section of Panepistimiou Street, is one of the finest buildings in the city. This combined with the adjacent National Library and the Athens Academy form the imposing "Athens Trilogy", built in the mid-19th century. However, most of the university's functions have been moved to a much larger, modern campus located in the eastern suburb of Zográfou. The second most significant academic institution of the city is the Athens Polytechnic School (Ethniko Metsovio Politechnio), located in Patission Street. More than 20 students were killed inside the School in November 17, 1973 during the Athens Polytechnic Uprising against the military junta that ruled the nation from April 21, 1967 until July 23, 1974.
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