World of Athens holds its first meeting

There’s more than one Athens, there are 23, and their mayors gathered in the Greek capital for the first meeting of World of Athens. Most of the other cities called Athens are in the United States of America. Best known is Athens, Georgia, the name that comes up when you try to book an air ticket online. With a population of 112,000, it is the second largest after its namesake in Greece. The smallest is in Wisconsin, a rural village of 12,000 inhabitants. «Our towns are very different, but our hearts are the same,» said Village President Chuck Kornack, when he visited Greece recently with five US counterparts for the mayors’ meeting. The initiative for the meeting came from the nongovernmental organization World of Athens, which was established to form a network of cities called Athens so that «all together they could become ambassadors for the name of Athens and what it symbolizes in contemporary societies around the world,» said the NGO’s president Tatiana Karapanayioti. The City of Athens embraced the idea and helped organize the event together with the Athens Tourism and Economic Development Company and the Greek National Tourism Organization. The meeting was a success. «Its amazing here. What a beautiful country you have,» Athens Tennessee Vice Mayor William Perkinson told Kathimerini. «I wish we didn’t have to leave so soon.» His city officially took the name of Athens in 1822, following a proposal which, he believes, was based on its similarity to ancient Athens. Admiration & values Now travelers arriving there will see a sign reading «Athens Tennessee – The friendly city.» Similarly, Athens Wisconsin was named in 1880 because of the admiration of its founders for classical Athens. «And from what I can see they weren’t wrong,» said Kornack. George Whyte, mayor of Athens, Pennsylvania, came to Greece with his daughter. «I’ll be talking about the people here,» she said. «Your hospitality is unrivaled.» Her city, in reality a small town of about 3,000 inhabitants, is nothing like the renowned Greek capital. «But I’d like to think that we adhere to the values it stands for.» Athens Georgia Mayor Heidi Davison heads a city that may have borrowed the name of the Greek city, but has also created its own history. With many elements, including a statue of Athena, that allude to classical Athens, her city has one of the best universities in the US (its main building is modeled on the Parthenon), and it is considered a model city of the American South. «We are different,» she said, «but we are all Athenians.» Proud of the name The local paper ran a headline: «Athens New York mayor travels to Athens, Greece.» It noted that the trip was at the expense of the Greek city, «because the mayor stated he would not go if his trip was to be borne by the taxpayer.» While citizens of Athens, Greece, with its population of 4 million may want to get away from it all, tiny Athens NY, with its population of barely 1,800, hopes to become a holiday resort for rich New Yorkers. That difference is nothing compared to the difference in attitude expressed in the mayor’s statement. Athens NY is just under 200 kilometers from New York City, in an idyllic location on the banks of the Hudson River. Mayor Andrea Smallwood told Kathimerini that the village was originally called Lunenberg or Esmeralda, but when it began to prosper, largely thanks to the shipbuilding industry, it was named after «the brilliant city of Athens.» To this day, life in the village centers on the river, where the lighthouse is an attraction for thousands of visitors. «We experience the change of seasons intensely in Athens,» said Smallwood. «It gets extremely cold in winter and in summer we have heat waves. Tourists enjoy the river in summer, the colors of the leaves in fall, and skiing in the mountains in winter.» The Athens New York mayor was definitely one of the most enthusiastic visitors at the World of Athens meeting. «When I go back I’ll tell my fellow citizens how warmly I support the aim of World of Athens and that I’ll do what I can to promote it,» she said. «The people of Athens New York are very proud of the name their village bears, especially since it was in Athens that democracy developed. In that sense, our towns have a lot in common.»

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