The ancient Acropolis, sanctuary to the gods for two millenni is barely discernible today. Soot and haze camouflage its surroundings in this city so full of change.

The sea, beaches littered with plastic, refuse and tar, is visible from the plateau of Athens only after a heavy rain.

With no concession to taste, sprawiling blocks of concrete ad continually rising, and Athens, a burgeoning city of three million, becomes more uninhabitable each day.

The rush to the cities has concentrated one third of this Mediterranean nation's population in the capital. One half of its industry is here. Noxious fumes from the shipyards and refineries of suburban Skaramanga waft through the citadel of the Acropolis, blackening its marble frieze. This edifice with its legacy of 2,500 years may have been more ravaged during the past 40 than at any time in its history, by human error and the growing pollution threat.

The capital's streets are so clogged by its 13,000 taxis and 500,000 private cars, that it is possible to walk faster than travel by car. If the walker can find the pavement, that is. Cars park on the sidewalks of the city's narrow streets and pedestrians take their lives into their hands.

"We say that tourism is our ruination, said Eleni Vlachos, publisher of the prestigous newspaper Kathimerina. "But it cannot ruin Athens. It's already in such a horrid state. We are victims of our own self destruction through pollution . . . And the building anarchy! This is clear and simply Greek bad taste"

"Ah," she lamented, "anything that is beautiful about Athens was given us by the late 19th century, by the ancients, or - the mountains, the once pure light of Africa - given us by the gods."

Sounding an alarm that cut deep across the boundaries of social and economic class, former Minister Dimitrios Vranopoulos warned that 75 per cent of the capital's young women have lost their sexual ardor because of the highly polluted air.

"Though there is natural curiosity as to how the 78-year-old professor arrived at his apocalyptic report, scientists confirm that 150,000 tons of sulphur dioxide is spewed into the city every year.

IN 1920, THERE were 293,000 Athenians. Then, with the Greek defeat in Asia Minor, a Nazi occupation and the 1944-48 civil war, the city swelled with refugees. Prestige, poverty and the quest for opportunity was to further strip much of the harsh countryside bare.

A master plan for Athens, the first then since it became the capital of Modern Greece in 1834, was completed in mid-1976 by the Doxiadis Institute. After months of bitter debate within government departments, the study was approved in principle, but relegated to a bottom drawer.

"It had anticipated a population of 15 million," said a disgruntled architect. "The feeling was obviously, 'We've got only three million at the moment so we have time to wait.'"

"One must blame history," he continued. "For, though officials are beginning to get worried, after decades of anarchy and neglect, the efforts are too little and look around you, they're obviously too late."

In an attempt to disperse the population, the Constantine Karamanl is government has drawn up legislation to provide incentives for industrial relocation. Although it has also unauguarated an ambitious reforestation program - presently only 3 per cent of the city is covered with green - it demonstrated the inconsistency that often characterizes this violatile nation, by cutting down 68,000 Christmas trees.

MINISTER OF CULTURE and Science George Plytas has thrown down the gauntlet, charging that this former center of Western civilization has become an "Oriental garbage heap." He has vowed to clean up the Plaka, the old part of the city nestled under the Acropolis, where neon lights pimps and pueshers have suplanted the walkway of the gods.

The once buoyant open air shops of the Plaka have been transformed by a flourishing tourist trade.Gone are the antiques and heirlooms, the hand-carved furniture, spices and staples of life. Supermarkets have taken over, and the Greeks have lept onto the bandwagon of a disposable society and plastic bags.

One once bought beans out of a sack, and olives and the resin-flavored wine Retsina out of the barrel, carrying containers from home. This has disappeared, as have the old shoe-shine men who once breathed life and tradition into the streets of Athens. The congestion of people and traffic has forced them to flee to the suburbs with their makeshift, wooden stands.

The advent of television and the spiraling cost of living have cut into Athenians' spirited life style.

The traditional, tiny taverna, with its bare light bulb and greasy windows, sheets of paper on the table and sawdust on the floors, is becoming an obsolete institution. From the pizza parlors of Plaka to the French cuisine in the chic suburb of Kifissia, restaurants have sprung up to cater to foreign palates and new upper-middle class Greek taste.

"IT'S A JUNGLE movement," said sociologist Vassilis Filias, director of the National Center of Social Research.

"People are being driven away from the old, traditional values, which has both a positive and negative effect.There is a general tendency against the hypocrisy of Greek life as we've known it. Women are working, people are becoming more educated, more politicized. All of those things which depersonalized human relations - the dowry, the church, the often suffocating family confines - are being eroded. This is healthy . . . but something must fill the void."

The Greek family, a tough and resilient unit, is beginning to feel the strain. Day care centers and homes for the aged are gaining acceptance in a society where a once unspoken axiom was that the young and the old of the family were the responsibility of the home.

The excitement and affluence of urbanized living has made this tiny nation vulnerable to the same revolutionary upheavals seen in Italy, West Germany and Spain. Drugs are becoming increasingly available, although the risk of purchase remains high. Virginity before marriage is on the decline.

Athens is one of the busiest abortion markets in Europe, and operations to restore the physical attributes of lost virginity find young maidens standing in line. The posters of Che Guevera and Chairman Mao are held in higher reverence than the icons of the church.

"There's no need to go to church" said Angeliki Patridis, looking around her high-rise flat. "Though I can hear my neighbour's plumbing, know what time he gets up and goes to bed, I've never met him. There's no personal contact. In the village, you were watched very carefully. Everyone knew who went to church."