Capital city of Greece and of ancient Attica; population (2003 est) 747,300, urban agglomeration 3,247,000. Situated 8 km/5 mi northeast of its port of Piraeus on the Gulf of Aegina, it is built around the rocky hills of the Acropolis (around 150 m/492 ft) and the Areopagus (112 m/367 ft), and is overlooked from the northeast by the hill of Lycabettus (277 m/909 ft). It lies in the south of the central plain of Attica, between the Kifissos and Eilissos rivers. Athens is Greece's largest city and its administrative, economic and cultural centre; it is also an important tourist centre. It has less green space than any other European capital (4%) and severe air and noise pollution. Athens hosted the Olympic Games in 2004.
The site was first inhabited about 3000 BC with Athens (named after its patron goddess Athena) as the capital of a united Attica before 700 BC. Captured and sacked by the Persians in 480 BC, it became the first city of Greece in power and culture under Pericles (443-429 BC). After the death of Alexander the Great the city fell into comparative decline, and was captured in AD 395 by the Visigoths under Alaric I. It did, however, continue to flourish as an intellectual centre until AD 529, when the philosophical schools were closed by Justinian. In 1458 it was captured by the Ottoman Turks, who held it until 1833; modern Athens was constructed only after 1834, when it was chosen as the capital of a newly-independent Greece. During World War II, it was occupied by the Germans from April 1941 to October 1944, and was then the scene of fierce street fighting between monarchist and communist partisan factions until January 1945.
The Acropolis dominates the city. Remains of ancient Greece include the 5th-century BC Parthenon, the Erechtheum, and the temple of Athena Nike. Near the site of the ancient Agora (marketplace) stands the Theseum of Hephaesteum, a well-preserved Doric temple (5th century BC), and south of the Acropolis is the theatre of Dionysus. There are many Roman remains in the ‘new’ quarter, built east of the original city walls by Emperor Hadrian (1st century AD). To the southeast stand the gate of Hadrian and the columns of the temple of Olympian Zeus. Nearby is the marble stadium built about 330 BC and restored in 1896.
Greater Athens, which includes numerous suburbs and the port of Piraeus, accounts for most of Greece's industrial output. Manufacturing includes silk,wool, and cotton textiles; steel, ships, machine tools; food products, beverages; pottery, printed materials, chemicals, electronics, and carpets. There are also oil refineries.
Pollution and pollution control
A three-month trial ban of cars in the city centre began in April 1995, following mounting public concern over the damage caused to historic monuments and inhabitants' health by the high levels of pollution. Compared with previous years, air pollution in Athens showed a general decrease during the late 1990s. The Athens city authorities installed a monitoring system, called Apollon, to measure roadside air quality and predict a pollution episode - when this occurs, the city's traffic managers can then divert traffic away from the central congested areas, preventing the predicted crisis from occurring. The system uses variable message signs (VMS) to advise drivers of alternative routes avoiding the city centre. On days when air quality is satisfactory, the VMS signs give real-time traffic information. A major influence on certain pollutant concentrations is the strong solar radiation during spring and summer. Despite some improvements in air quality, there remained a problem with ozone levels.
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