Athens Feature

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The Ageless City

Happily, you can still wander into less-touristy areas to discover pockets of timeless charm. Here, in the lovelier Athenian neighborhoods, you can delight in the pleasures of strolling. Peripatos, the Athenians call it, and it's as old as Aristotle, whose students learned as they roamed about in his Peripatetic school. This ancient practice survives in the modern custom of the evening volta, or stroll, taken along the pedestrianized Dionyssiou Areopagitou street skirting the base of the Acropolis.

Along your way, be sure to stop in a taverna to observe Athenians in their element. They are lively and expressive, their hands fiddling with worry beads or gesturing excitedly. Although often expansively friendly, they are aggressive and stubborn when they feel threatened, and they're also insatiably curious.

Amid the ancient treasures and the 19th-century delights of neighborhoods such as Anafiotika and Plaka, the pickax, pneumatic drill, and cement mixer have given birth to countless office buildings and modern apartments. Hardly a monument of importance attests to the city's history between the completion of the Temple of Olympian Zeus 19 centuries ago and the present day. That is the tragedy of Athens: the long vacuum in its history, the centuries of decay, neglect, and even oblivion. But within the last 150 years the Greeks have created a modern capital out of a village centered on a group of ruined marble columns. And since the late 1990s, inspired by the 2004 Olympics, they have gone far in transforming Athens into a sparkling modern metropolis that the ancients would strain to recognize but would heartily endorse.

Updated: 2014-01-14

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