National library of Greece

12 Bizarre and Odd Facts About Athens You Didn’t Know

You know the Acropolis, the Plaka, and the museums, but here are a few facts about Athens that may have slipped past you.

Last updated: 16 Dec 2023

1. Athens is not the First Capital of Greece!

Panoramic view of the Ancient Agora of Athens with the Acropolis hill in the background.

On the contrary, it comes fourth, after Nafplio, Corinth, and Aegina had preceded it.

It became a capital in 1834 and today has a population of about 4 million.

The center of the modern city is Syntagma Square, where you can find the old royal palace, which now houses the Parliament, and other 19th-century public buildings.

If you want to visit the scenic Nafplio or Aegina Island, check out the best day trips from Athens.

2. Athens’s Origins go Back as far as 5,000 Years Ago!

Acropolis and Herodeon overview
It is estimated that Athens was first inhabited between 3500 and 3200 BC.

Thus, it is among the ten oldest cities in the world.

At the same time, it is Europe’s oldest capital city.

The other nine cities are: 1) Aleppo, Syria. 2) Beirut, Lebanon. 3) Jericho, West Bank. 4) Byblos, Lebanon. 5) Plovdiv, Bulgaria. 6) Sidon, Lebanon. 7) Faiyum, Egypt. 8) Argos, Greece, and 9) Susa, Iran.

3. Athens has the Most Theatrical Stages in the World!

Odeon Of Herodes Atticus 2022

Specifically, there are more than 150 theatrical stages in town, more than in much bigger cities like New York or London.

For example, only in 2015, 1.228 play performances for adults, 314 for children, 104 monologues, 168 musicals, and 40 stand-up comedies took place.

4. Athenian Oranges: Look, but do not Eat!

Athens in 3 Days: Academy of Athens
Facts about Athens: the city is full of orange-like trees (top right), however, do not eat their fruits!

When you walk in the center of Athens, you cannot miss the orange-like trees that line up along the streets.

Well, no matter how delicious they look, do not eat them!

They are bitter oranges, not edible as they are.

However, you can try them as a tasty traditional bitter orange spoon-sweet.

For more information, check out the delicious local food you should taste in Athens and the finest local desserts like baklava.

5. Facts about Athens: How the Town got its name!

View of the Temple of Hephaestus in the Ancient Agora of Athens, with visitors around it.

According to the myth, the city’s king was Cecrops, a mythical creature half man and half snake.

Thus, the area was known as Cecropia, after his name.

Then, the twelve Gods of Olympus decided to have a city named after them to protect it.

In exchange, the citizens should offer them sacrifices.

The two gods who decided to contest for the right to name the city were Athena and Poseidon; they had to present a gift to the people who were the ones to vote and decide.

So first, Poseidon, the God of the seas, came up.

He stroked the ground with his trident, and a splash of salted water appeared.

Then, he explained to the citizens that his gift would make them the most important naval power, bringing them glory and victory in wars.

Close-up of the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, showcasing the Doric columns.

When Athena’s turn came, she hit her spear on a rock, and the first-ever olive tree appeared.

She explained that this evergreen tree was the symbol of peace, glory, and prosperity.

It could provide oil that would feed people, clean, and heal them.

Furthermore, they could use it in oil lamps during the night.

With its hardwood, they could build boats, and it would eventually make them rich through peace.

The final vote was for Athena, the goddess of wisdom, so the city took its name after her.

She always had Athens under her protection, and this legend became the theme of the sculpture on the West pediment of the Parthenon, Athena’s temple!

6. The World’s First Meteorological Station is in Athens!

Athens in 1 Day: Tower of the Winds
You can find the Tower of the Winds inside the Roman Agora.

It is an octagonal marble building, known as the “Tower of the Winds”.

We don’t know the precise date of the tower’s construction, but most scholars suggest the 2nd century BCE.

Each one of the eight sides corresponded to the eight wind deities.

At the top, there was a weather vane, a bronze Triton.

Turning by the wind, it pointed to the section that corresponded to the wind direction.

Moreover, there were nine sundials around it, and there was a hydraulic (water) clock in its interior.

It was there to indicate the time at night and on days with not enough sunlight.

7. The Word Idiot has its Roots in Ancient Athens!

The Stoa of Attalos in the Ancient Agora of Athens, lined with marble statues and lot of visitors.

The interest of Greeks in politics and public affairs goes back to the Classical period and the Athenian democracy.

In ancient Athens, citizens – free, native, adult, and male – had many opportunities to vote, make decisions, and elect the people to represent them.

They were aware of all the aspects of the political life of their city and valued civic participation.

At the same time, they were criticizing non-participants by calling them “ιδιώτες” (idiotes).

Athenians used the word to describe those who were only preoccupied with their selfish interests, almost exclusively with themselves, instead of public affairs.

They saw them as having poor judgment and education, and this meaning has traveled through time to our days.

In modern use, an idiot is foolish, but the word originally meant someone ignorant with poor judgment.

8. Open Air Cinemas since 1904!

Facts about Athens: open air cinema
Facts about Athens: you can still enjoy a movie under the stars in outdoor cinemas.

The first places in Athens that featured a purely cinematic spectacle were the Athenian squares.

In 1904, the first systematic screenings began in the cafes of Syntagma Square and Zappeion.

After all, these two spaces gathered most of the people of the capital.

Nowadays, there are still many Open Air Cinemas, a trademark of the Athenian summer.

9. Ban the Famous Men!

Entrance to the Ancient Agora of Athens with the Acropolis in the background.

During the years of the Athenian democracy, a procedure called “ostracismos” was taking place by the assembly of the Athenians.

The results led the man with the most votes into exile for ten years.

Politicians usually used it to remove their rivals and stay in Athens without serious political opposition.

When the city held ostracism, there was no list.

Instead, each voter wrote on an ostrakon, a fragment of pottery, the name of the man he wanted to leave.

At least 6,000 had to vote; the man with the most votes was exiled.

Some indeed voted against private enemies, but men who attracted large numbers of votes were public figures.

Most voters simply wrote a man’s name, sometimes adding his father’s name or the name of the area he came from.

Several thousand of these ostraka survive, and you can see them in the Museum of the Ancient Agora (Stoa of Attalos).

It’s a museum with exciting exhibits, all closely connected with the Athenian Democracy and the Agora, which was the “heart” of the city’s public life.

10. Facts about Athens: In the 19th century, gas was lighting the capital!

Athens in 4 Days: Technopolis
The old factory of Gazi is today known as Technopolis. You can find it next to the Kerameikos metro station.

The production plant was the famous Gazi, which operated until 1982.

The degraded area has always been a ghetto of workers and the poor of Athens, with the addition of economic migrants.

Today, the old factory has been turned into a place for cultural events.

At the same time, in the surrounding area, you will find numerous bars and cafes.

11. Don’t Even Think to Move!

Athens city center: Syntagma

Perhaps the second most photographed sight in Athens, after the Acropolis, is the Evzones in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

It takes tough training in the army, both physically and mentally, to become a member of this Guard.

They must stand without moving for many hours, while one should not even move his eyeballs under all the different weather conditions.

The evzones guard the Presidential Palace and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier around the clock.

They also raise the Greek flag at the Acropolis right after sunrise every Sunday and lower it at sundown.

In addition, they accompany the president on all his official visits abroad, welcome foreign leaders, and participate in two annual parades.

12. Stables in Kolonaki!

Facts about Athens: Kolonaki
Facts about Athens: Kolonaki was full of vineyards and stables just a few decades ago.

Kolonaki, one of the most luxurious districts of Athens, was not always full of mansions.

During the Ottoman period and the first years of the newly formed state, it was an area full of vineyards and stables!

The character it has today, with its expensive brands and luxury restaurants, began to appear during the first years of the 20th century and especially after 1945.

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