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Athens: Ugly Duckling of Europe?
Athens, arguably, is a city which had its heyday in the distant past. Post war building and expansion lead to many a clunking architectural mistake. After the Olympics were held here in 2004, Athens began to receive major investment and some sort of a face lift but of course the financial difficulties experienced in Greece in the last few years have halted any progress of a cosmetic sort. Greece is a country in crisis, and sadly, Athens is looking rather brow-beaten and forlorn these days. Athens is in a tense situation as Greece waits to see if their proposed reforms will be enough to grant an extension to the bail out. Athens still has a certain allure to many tourists, but there is a sense, as with the economic situation, that this is not a good time. The Athens that many tourists want to visit is the one of ancient times. Unfortunately, to see the ancient sites, visitors have to traverse some mixed and not entirely attractive portions of the city. But looking forward, will Athens one day shrug off its ugly duckling image and become a beautiful swan?
412 km2 (159 sq mi)
Metropolitan - Population
2,928.717 km2 (1,131 sq mi)
1,282 /km2 (3,320 /sq mi)
In the Second World War Athens was mostly destroyed.
Nazi's in Athens
Athens really lost its way throughout the Twentieth Century. It was hit hard during the Second World War and then when the population grew suddenly and dramatically, the pace of construction was such that it is almost as if no one sat down to look at the big picture. A view of the big picture was also missing throughout the years when Greece was, essentially, spending money it did not have. This failure to look at the bigger picture was a large part of the cause of the current financial troubles. Some might argue that rather than kowtowing to Europe, Greece should have chosen to go its own way.
Putting politics and economics aside for the moment, it is by looking farther back through time that we catch more glimpses of what Athens could perhaps be again in the future. The truly remarkable monuments of the Parthenon, Erechtheion, Temple of Athena Nike and the Propylaia atop the Acropolis stand as testament to the Athenian Golden Age. Could Athens one day have another Golden Age, one where they dictate their own agenda and control their own affairs? It will be interesting to see.
The Beautiful Acropolis
For now, the more pertinent question: should tourists be put off visiting this ugly duckling city by its dispiriting first impression or by the current financial troubles and tensions? In my opinion, the answer is no. In spite of its ugliness and poverty, Athens has a lot to offer. Of course there is the Acropolis, and the pleasing pedestrianised area of Pláka, there is the market of Monastiráki and the night life and vibrancy of Psyrrí. Or head out of Athens to see the up and coming stretch of coast known as the 'Athenian Riviera' or nearby islands. There is a wealth of history and culture to be experienced both in and around Athens. What is more, without the influx of tourist money, Greece would never be able to start a recovery.
So, head for the complex, sometimes ugly but always fascinating city of Athens and hope for a speedy economic recovery for the people of Greece.
The beautiful Erechtheion
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