Historic Athens lies at the heart of a triangular-shaped plain that widens as it slopes gently towards the Saronic Gulf. The plain barely contains the modern capital’s burgeoning urban sprawl, while the four mountains (Parnes 1413 m, Pentelikon 1106 m, Hymettos 1037 m, Aegaleos 470 m) that form the landward perimeter rise so sharply that air pollution gets trapped and generates a lingering haze – Athenians have dubbed it to nefos (the Cloud). Around the centre of the plain lie a series of hills that include the cone-shaped Likavitos, which rises to 227 m above sea level and is crowned by a small, whitewashed church. The ancient city was founded a short distance away, at the foot of a 70-metre-high plateau large enough to fit a small settlement. In antiquity it served as a citadel (acropolis), but to this day the world knows it simply as the Acropolis. First-time visitors come essentially to see the Parthenon that now sits in splendid isolation on the plateau, but it is the plateau, this striking physical protrusion, where Athena and Poseidon did battle for the city, that enhances the temple’s majesty and allows it to dominate the cityscape.
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