Greece- Athens- The 4th Best Destination in Europe

Greece

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Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic  historically also known as Hellas is a country in southeastern Europe, with a population of approximately 11 million as of 2015. Athens is the nation’s capital and largest city, followed by Thessaloniki.

Greece is strategically located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Situated on the southern tip of the Balkan peninsula, it shares land borders with Albania to the northwest, the Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north, and Turkey to the northeast. Greece consists of nine geographic regions: Macedonia, Central Greece, the Peloponnese, Thessaly, Epirus, the Aegean Islands (including the Dodecanese and Cyclades), Thrace, Crete, and the Ionian Islands.

The Aegean Sea lies to the east of the mainland, the Ionian Sea to the west, the Cretan Sea and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Greece has the longest coastline on the Mediterranean Basin and the 11th longest coastline in the world at 13,676 km in length, featuring a large number of islands, of which 227 are inhabited. Eighty percent of Greece is mountainous, with Mount Olympus being the highest peak at 2,918 metres.

Greece is a democratic and developed country with an advanced high-income economy, a high quality of life, and a very high standard of living. A founding member of the United Nations, Greece was the tenth member to join the European Communities (precursor to the European Union) and has been part of the Eurozone since 2001. It is also a member of numerous other international institutions, including the Council of Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF). Greece’s unique cultural heritage, large tourism industry, prominent shipping sector and geostrategic importance[a] classify it as a middle power. It is the largest economy in the Balkans, where it is an important regional investor.

Athens

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Athens is the capital and largest city of Greece. It dominates the Attica region and is one of the world’s oldest cities, with its recorded history spanning over 3,400 years, and its earliest human presence starting somewhere between the 11th and 7th century BC.

Classical Athens was a powerful city-state that emerged in conjunction with the seagoing development of the port of Piraeus, which had been a distinct city prior to its 5th century BC incorporation with Athens. A centre for the arts, learning and philosophy, home of Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum, it is widely referred to as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy, largely because of its cultural and political impact on the European continent, and in particular the Romans. In modern times, Athens is a large cosmopolitan metropolis and central to economic, financial, industrial, maritime, political and cultural life in Greece. In 2012, Athens was ranked the world’s 39th richest city by purchasing power and the 67th most expensive in a UBS study.

Athens is recognised as a global city because of its location and its importance in shipping, finance, commerce, media, entertainment, arts, international trade, culture, education and tourism. It is one of the biggest economic centres in southeastern Europe, with a large financial sector, and its port Piraeus is both the largest passenger port in Europe and the second largest in the world. The municipality (city) of Athens had a population of 664,046 (in 2011) within its administrative limits, and a land area of 38.96 km2. The urban area of Athens (Greater Athens and Greater Piraeus) extends beyond its administrative municipal city limits, with a population of 3,090,508 (in 2011) over an area of 412 km2. According to Eurostat in 2011, the functional urban area (FUA) of Athens was the 9th most populous FUA in the European Union (the 6th most populous capital city of the EU), with a population of 3,828,000. Athens is also the southernmost capital on the European mainland.

The heritage of the classical era is still evident in the city, represented by ancient monuments and works of art, the most famous of all being the Parthenon, considered a key landmark of early Western civilization. The city also retains Roman and Byzantine monuments, as well as a smaller number of Ottoman monuments.

Athens is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Acropolis of Athens and the medieval Daphni Monastery. Landmarks of the modern era, dating back to the establishment of Athens as the capital of the independent Greek state in 1834, include the Hellenic Parliament and the so-called “architectural trilogy of Athens”, consisting of the National Library of Greece, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and the Academy of Athens. Athens is also home to several museums and cultural institutions, such as the National Archeological Museum, featuring the world’s largest collection of ancient Greek antiquities, the Acropolis Museum, the Museum of Cycladic Art, the Benaki Museum and the Byzantine and Christian Museum. 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.

Athens Attractions

Undeniably, Athens has got a remarkable history and culture from the early years. As a result, there are fascinating historical monuments and attractions!!! Let’s start analyzing some of the most popular and interesting!

Parthenon

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The Parthenon  is a former temple, on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron. Construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the peak of its power. It was completed in 438 BC although decoration of the building continued until 432 BC. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered the zenith of the Doric order. Its decorative sculptures are considered some of the high points of Greek art. The Parthenon is regarded as an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece, Athenian democracy and western civilization, and one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments. The Greek Ministry of Culture is currently carrying out a programme of selective restoration and reconstruction to ensure the stability of the partially ruined structure.

The Parthenon itself replaced an older temple of Athena, which historians call the Pre-Parthenon or Older Parthenon, that was destroyed in the Persian invasion of 480 BC. The temple is archaeoastronomically aligned to the Hyades. While a sacred building dedicated to the city’s patron goddess, the Parthenon was actually used primarily as a treasury. For a time, it served as the treasury of the Delian League, which later became the Athenian Empire. In the final decade of the sixth century AD, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

After the Ottoman conquest, it was turned into a mosque in the early 1460s. On 26 September 1687, an Ottoman ammunition dump inside the building was ignited by Venetian bombardment. The resulting explosion severely damaged the Parthenon and its sculptures. From 1800 to 1803, Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin removed some of the surviving sculptures with the alleged permission of the Ottoman Empire.These sculptures, now known as the Elgin Marbles or the Parthenon Marbles, were sold in 1816 to the British Museum in London, where they are now displayed. Since 1983 (on the initiative of Culture Minister Melina Mercouri), the Greek government has been committed to the return of the sculptures to Greece.

Etymoly

The origin of the Parthenon’s name is from the Greek word παρθενών (parthenon), which referred to the “unmarried women’s apartments” in a house and in the Parthenon’s case seems to have been used at first only for a particular room of the temple.  According to this theory, the name of the Parthenon means the “temple of the virgin goddess” and refers to the cult of Athena Parthenos that was associated with the temple. The epithet parthénos (παρθένος), whose origin is also unclear, meant “maiden, girl”, but also “virgin, unmarried woman” and was especially used for Artemis, the goddess of wild animals, the hunt, and vegetation, and for Athena, the goddess of strategy and tactics, handicraft, and practical reason. It has also been suggested that the name of the temple alludes to the maidens (parthenoi), whose supreme sacrifice guaranteed the safety of the city.Parthénos has also been applied to the Virgin Mary, Parthénos Maria, and the Parthenon had been converted to a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the final decade of the sixth century. Because the Parthenon was dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, it has sometimes been referred to as the Temple of Minerva, the Roman name for Athena, particularly during the 19th century.

Acropolis Museum

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The Acropolis Museum  is an archaeological museum focused on the findings of the archaeological site of the Acropolis of Athens. The museum was built to house every artifact found on the rock and on the surrounding slopes, from the Greek Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece. It also lies over the ruins of a part of Roman and early Byzantine Athens.

The museum was founded in 2003, while the Organization of the Museum was established in 2008. It opened to the public on 20 June 2009. Nearly 4,000 objects are exhibited over an area of 14,000 square metres. The museum is located by the southeastern slope of the Acropolis hill, on the ancient road that led up to the “sacred rock” in classical times. Set only 280 meters, away from the Parthenon, and a mere 400 meters walking distance from it, the museum is the largest modern building erected so close to the ancient site, although many other buildings from the last 150 years are located closer to the Acropolis.

The design by Bernard Tschumi was selected as the winning project in the fourth competition. Tschumi’s design revolves around three concepts: light, movement, and a tectonic and programmatic element. Together these characteristics “turn the constraints of the site into an architectural opportunity, offering a simple and precise museum” with the mathematical and conceptual clarity of ancient Greek buildings.

The collections of the museum are exhibited on three levels while a fourth middle level houses the auxiliary spaces such as the museum shop, the café and the offices. On the first level of the museum there are the findings of the slopes of the Acropolis. The long and rectangular hall whose floor is sloping, resembles the ascension to the rock. Then, the visitor is found at the large trapezoidal hall which accommodates the archaic findings. On the same floor there are also the artifacts and sculptures from the other Acropolis buildings such as the Erechtheum, the Temple of Athena Nike and the Propylaea and findings from Roman and early Christian Athens. Visitors are intended to see the latter during descent in order to keep the chronological order: they will first be directed to the top level, which displays the Parthenon marbles.

The top level of the Museum sits askew on the lower levels to achieve the same cardinal orientation of the ancient temple on the Acropolis. The spacing of the columns of the Parthenon hall is the same as that of the ancient temple, and the use of glass walls on all four exterior walls allows the natural light to illumine the Parthenon marbles as they do on the ancient temple. The 48 columns in the Parthenon hall mark the outline of the ancient temple and form a colonnade for the display of the Parthenon marbles.

As the museum is built over an extensive archaeological site, the floor, outside and inside, is often transparent using glass and thus the visitor can see the excavations below. The museum also provides an amphitheatre, a virtual theatre and a hall for temporary exhibitions.

Panathenaic Stadium

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The Panathenaic Stadium also known as Kallimarmaro is a multi-purpose stadium in Athens, Greece. One of the main attractions of Athens, it is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. Originally, since the 6th century BC, a racecourse existed at the site of the stadium. It hosted the Panathenaic Games (also known as the Great Panathenaea), a religious and athletic festival celebrated every 4 years in honor of the goddess Athena. The racecourse had no formal seating and the spectators sat on the natural slopes on the side of the ravine.

A stadium was built on the site of a simple racecourse by the Athenian statesman Lykourgos c. 330 BC, primarily for the Panathenaic Games. It was rebuilt in marble by Herodes Atticus, an Athenian Roman senator, by 144 AD and had a capacity of 50,000 seats. After the rise of Christianity in the 4th century it was largely abandoned. The stadium was excavated in 1869 and hosted the Zappas Olympics in 1870 and 1875. After being refurbished, it hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and was the venue for 4 of the 9 contested sports. It was used for various purposes in the 20th century and was once again used as an Olympic venue in 2004. It is the finishing point for the annual Athens Classic Marathon. It is also the last venue in Greece from where the Olympic flame handover ceremony to the host nation takes place.

The stadium is built in what was originally a natural ravine between the two hills of Agra and Ardettos, south of the Ilissos river. It is now located in the central Athens district of Pangrati, to the east of the National Gardens and the Zappeion Exhibition Hall, to the west of the Pangrati residential district and between the twin pine-covered hills of Ardettos and Agra.

Plaka

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The Plaka will be one of the most enchanting places you visit in Athens even though it is geared towards tourists it has retained a charm and picturesque quality. Plaka is a neighborhood at the foot of the Acropolis constructed on the same site as ancient residential areas. Today it is a labyrinth of narrow lanes lined with beautiful neo-classical buildings. The Plaka is divided into the Upper Plaka (Ano Plaka) and the Lower Plaka (Kato Plaka) by the main street (Adrianou Street) which runs through the neighborhood. Many of the houses have red tile roofs and balconies dripping with flower boxes. It is a village within a city. Tourists come here for shopping and to enjoy the many good restaurants. There are outdoor cafes, many pedestrian streets, street musicians and public squares.

The Plaka was built on part of the ruins of the Ancient Agora and it became the Turkish Quarter under the Ottomans as the Turkish Governor resided here. Residents abandoned the Plaka during the Greek War of Independence (1821-1832) and returned once the new Greek State had been proclaimed under King Otto. In the late 19th century a large Arvanite (Albanian) community resided here and it was referred to as the Arvanite Quarter. Following a fire in 1884 excavations have led to the discovery of several ancient Roman structures. In the 1960s it was the birthplace of Greek new wave music and during the 70s it was known for its rowdy bars and nightclubs which have since been restricted.

Within the Plaka you can visit the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art, the Kanellopoulos Museum, Jewish Museum, the Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments and the Museum of Greek Folk Art. You’ll find the Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds at the west end of the Plaka. Shopping in the Plaka includes both store shopping and market shopping.

Traditional Greek dishes

Greek cuisine is a Mediterranean cuisine which provides a sense of the greek culture and habits. Contemporary Greek cookery makes wide use of vegetables, olive oil, grains, fish, wine, and meat (white and red, including lamb, poultry, rabbit and pork). Other important ingredients include olives, cheese, eggplant, zucchini, lemon juice, vegetables, herbs, bread and yoghurt. The most commonly used grain is wheat; barley is also used. Common dessert ingredients include nuts, honey, fruits, and filo pastry.

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Moussaka – Popular traditional greek dish

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Ingredients
For the vegetables

  • olive oil, for brushing and extra for vegetables
    2 potatoes, cut into thin slices
    1 onion, cut into thin slices
    1 eggplant, cut into thin slices
    2 medium zucchini, cut into thin slices
    salt
    ground pepper
    thyme
    For the ground meat mixture
  • olive oil, for sautéing
    1 onion, minced
    1 clove of garlic, minced
    500 g ground meat (beef)
    salt
    ground pepper
    ½ teaspoon cinnamon
    pinch of ground cloves
    1 tablespoon tomato paste
    1 can chopped tomatoes
    For the béchamel sauce
  • 750 ml milk
    3 egg yolks
    100 g all-purpose flour
    100 g butter
    ground pepper
    pinch of ground nutmeg
    100 g grated parmesan
  • Preheat oven to 200* C (390* F) Fan.

For the vegetables

  • Brush a 25×30 cm baking pan with olive oil.
  • Peel the potatoes and onion and cut into thin slices.
  • Transfer to a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and some thyme. Toss to coat.
  • Spread in a single layer on the bottom of the baking pan.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, until they soften and turn golden.
  • Thinly slice an eggplant. The vegetable slices need to be thin in order for them to cook correctly in the oven.
  • Transfer eggplant slices to a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and thyme. Toss.
  • Remove pan from oven and add the eggplant slices. Spread them in a single layer over the potato and onion. If your eggplant looks a little dry, drizzle with some more olive oil.
  • Bake for another 20 minutes.
  • Cut the zucchini into thin slices. Once again, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and thyme. Toss to coat.
  • Spread them in a single layer over the eggplant and bake for 20 minutes.

For the ground meat

  • Pour a small amount of olive oil into a pan. Mince an onion. Add it to the pan and caramelize over high heat.
  • Mince a clove of garlic. Add it to your pan and mix. Sauté until it softens and turns slightly golden.
  • Add ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of ground cloves. Mix and sauté. It makes such a huge difference when you cook your spices before you add the meat.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of tomato paste. Sauté.
  • Add the ground meat. Use a wooden spoon to break it up into small pieces. Season with salt and pepper and brown over high heat.
  • Add a can of chopped tomatoes. Sauté for 5-10 minutes or until most of the liquid evaporates. The mixture should be quite dry. Set aside.

For the béchamel sauce

  • Place a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter. As soon as the butter starts to melt add the flour and start to whisk as you sauté.
  • Start to add the milk slowly and in batches. Whisk continuously throughout this process so no lumps form in the mixture. As soon as the first batch of milk is absorbed in the flour, you can add the next batch. Repeat process until all of the milk has been added and completely incorporated in the mixture.
  • When the sauce finally starts to bubble you’ll know it’s ready. It should be smooth, creamy and delicious.
  • Remove from heat. Add some freshly ground pepper, ground nutmeg, grated parmesan and 3 egg yolks. Stir and set aside.

To assemble

  • Add 1/3 of the béchamel sauce to the ground meat mixture. Mix together to create a sticky filling that will hold the dish together when serving and eating.
  • Spread filling over vegetable layers.
  • Pour béchamel sauce over meat filling. Use a spatula to smooth the top and sprinkle with some grated parmesan.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Remove from oven. Allow to cool for at least 1 hour.
  • Cut into pieces, serve and enjoy!
Furthermore, Greece is known for its drink ouzo- which an anise-flavoured aperitif that is widely consumed in Greece and Cyprus. Its taste is similar to other anise liquors like pastis, sambuca, arak, rakı, and mastika, that are traditionally produced and consumed in Mediterranean countries.!!!

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Greece and especially Athens is an amazing city with its own unique culture and attractions! It really worths to visit it!!!


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