Greece. The lingering economic crisis paved the way for a turbulent year. The traditional political establishment was voted off and tough negotiations with international lenders were conducted – but in the end, the government was still forced to agree on tough loan conditions to obtain continued support from abroad.
According to COUNTRYAAH, Athens is the capital of Greece which is located in Southern Europe. A new election was held at the end of January, after Parliament failed before the New Year to elect a new president. The result was a big victory for the left-wing Syriza party, which went to elections to pledge to cut decisions on cuts and renegotiate aid terms. Syriza, which was merely a mandate from its own majority, formed government with the small right-wing populist party Independent Greeks. Syria’s 40-year-old leader Alexis Tsipras became prime minister, the country’s youngest prime minister of modern times.
The new government halted ongoing privatizations and reintroduced social benefits and demanded renegotiation of the aid programs concluded with the so-called troika: the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The government ended up collision course with the rest of the EU, which on the whole had a cold attitude towards the requirements for loan relief and debt amortization. Throughout the spring, a tug of war between the government and actors in the outside world continued.
In early June, Greece postponed an expected payment to the IMF, in protest of new austerity requirements. The tone was sharpened and, from the EU side, more and more warnings came that Greece was in danger of leaving the euro zone. People began withdrawing money from savings accounts to such an extent that the banking system threatened to collapse. Intensive negotiations were brought in last, before a deadline expired on June 30, when a large payment would be made to the IMF as a condition for Greece to receive new money. Then, in an unexpected play, Tsipras announced a referendum on the lenders’ demands – even though the negotiations were not concluded and thus it was unclear what the vote would mean. The crisis caused all banks to close and a limit of 60 euros a day was introduced for withdrawing from the ATM.
The government supported the downside – against austerity and tough lending conditions – which won convincingly by 61% in the July 5 referendum. Shortly thereafter, the uncompromising and unconventional finance minister Yanis Varoufakis resigned, who, among other things, accused the lenders of “terrorism”.
The banks opened again after three weeks, but restrictions on withdrawal rights existed. The stock exchange closed for five weeks in connection with the crisis, which hit hard on the already weak economy. The cautious growth that had started at the beginning of the year was halted and the economy shrank again. It would also turn out that the referendum was a blow in the air – the lenders were pushing hard against hard and soon it was clear that Greece would have to agree on at least as tough conditions as had previously been set in view. In mid-August, Parliament voted for a third five-year package of EUR 86 billion, linked to promises of continued cuts and structural reforms.
The settlement created tensions within the government and led to another election held on September 20. Despite the disappointment of the development among many voters, Syriza won again and Tsipras was able to re-form government with Independent Greeks. However, almost half of the electorate stayed at home, and later a strike was announced for the first time against the left government’s austerity policy. Growth for the year was estimated to be zero.
Greece played a key role in the refugee crisis that escalated during the year, with its strategic location between the rest of Europe and the Middle East. In the fall, thousands of refugees landed every day on Greek islands where dramatic scenes took place many times. In October alone, there were more than 200,000 people. Most people went north as soon as they could.
Building history and cityscape
The cityscape is dominated by the Acropolis (156 m above sea level). To the west are the Areopagen and three further heights, from north to south Nymphaion, Pnyx and Museion. The Lykabettos mountain range (277 m above sea level) lies outside the ancient city.
Athens has been inhabited since Neolithic times (about 3000 BC). The oldest settlement traces are at the foot of the Acropolis. During the Bronze and Iron Ages, the settlement was more scattered, judging by the locations of tombs and wells. From the 500s BC was the area northwest of the Acropolis, Agora (the ‘square’), the city’s political and commercial center. A controversial question is whether there was an older square, located closer to the Acropolis. Athens was ravaged 480 BC of the Persians. A new city wall, called the Themistocle Wall, was built in 479 BC, and in the mid-400s the city was connected with Piraeus and Faleron through the so-called long walls. Outside the city walls were the graves; the largest burial site was in Kerameikos (pottery district) outside the Dipylon Gate in the northwest. High schools were also located outside the city walls. After the Heruls attack 267 AD a new defense wall was built north of the Acropolis, the so-called Valerian Wall, comprising a tenth of the city’s area. In the 300s the buildings expanded, and yet in the 500s the old city walls were renovated.
The private houses of the classical era were mostly simple and have left few traces. Remains of residential and handicraft neighborhoods have been found in the western parts of the city. The streets were narrow and irregular, except for the Panathenic road, which went from Dipylon to the Acropolis over Agora.
At Agora there were council premises and other offices, courtrooms, temples, altars, well-houses, statues of honor etc. In Hellenistic times, large portico, so-called stoai, of which one was rebuilt in modern times (Attalos stoan from about 150 BC) were added. In Roman times, in the middle of Agora, the so-called Agrippas Odeion (concert venue) was built, and about 400 a large gymnasium or villa was built, which occupied most of the area.
To the west of Agora, on Kolonos Agoraios, is Hefaisteion, a Doric temple dating from the 400s BC, the most well-preserved Greek temple. East of Agora, in August time, the so-called Roman Agora, an open space intended for trade surrounded by portico, was built. To the north is Hadrian’s magnificent library.
On the northern slope of Pnyx lay the assembly point, on the southern slope of the Acropolis of Asklepios and Dionysos. Adjacent to the latter is the Dionyso Theater and Pericles Odeion. West of the theater was added in the Hellenistic era Eumenes-stoan and in the 100s AD. Herod Atticus Odeion. In the southeast, by the river Ilissos, lay several shrines, including a great Zeus temple, Olympieion.
During the 100s, which was a rich period in Athens’ building history, the urban area was expanded to the east, and an aqueduct and a large stadium were built. Typical of the Roman era was that the number of villas and bathhouses increased.
Athens’s importance as a cultural capital ceased when the city walls were closed and the schools of philosophy closed in 529 AD. The temples were gradually converted to Christian churches. New Byzantine churches were added, such as Kapnikarea and Mikri Mitropoli from the 12th century. From the 15th century, the bazaar-covered Plaza Quarter is located south of the Acropolis.
After the liberation war in 1834, German architects prepared a city plan with the places Omonia, Syntagma and Dipylon Gate as the corner of a triangle from which the new grid city spread. Then the so-called Athenian trilogy with public buildings in neoclassicism was also planned; The university (1839–50) by the Danish architect Christian Hansen and the Academy of Sciences (1859–87) and the National Library (1885–91) by the brother Theophilus Hansen. The right-angled, neoclassical city of the 19th century quickly developed into a metropolis, and in the 20th century Athens has grown together with the port city of Piraeus.