Athens History

Athina is named after Athena, the goddess of wisdom, who, according to legend, won the city after defeating Poseidon in a duel. The goddess’ victory was celebrated by the construction of a temple onthe Acropolis, thesite of the city’s earliest settlement in Attica. As a city state, the coastal capital of Athens reached its heyday in the fifthcentury BC. The office of the statesman, Pericles, between 461BC and his death in 429BC, saw an unprecedented spate of construction resulting in many of the great classical buildings(the Parthenon, Erechtheion, Hephaisteion and thetemple at Sounion) now regarded as icons of ancient Greece.

Physical evidence of the city’s success was matched by achievements in the intellectual arts. Democracy was born, drama flourished and Socrates conceived the foundations of Western philosophy. Remarkably, although the cultural legacy of this period has influenced Western civilization ever since, the classical age in Athens only lasted for five decades. Under the Macedonians and Romans, the city retained a privileged cultural and political position but became a prestigious backwater of the Empire rather than a major player. The birth of Christianity heralded a long period of occupation and decline, culminating in 1456 and four centuries of Turkish domination, which has left an indelible cultural mark on the city. By the end of the 18th century, Athens was also suffering the indignity of having the artistic achievements of its classical past removed by looting collectors.

Modern Athens was born in 1834, when the city was restored as the capital of a newly independent Greece. Greek refugees flooded the city at the end of the Greek–Turkish war, swelling the population. After World War II, American money funded a massive expansion and industrialization program. The rapid growth of the post-war years and the high temperatures of its Mediterranean climate have created a city that can often be polluted and could be described as an urban sprawl. Excessive traffic creates a gridlock on the streets and noxious fumes (nefos) in the air, although great efforts are being made to reduce this. Visitors with visions of gleaming marble and philosophers in white robes are understandably perturbed that the architectural achievements of Athens’ classical past are surrounded by the unforgiving concrete of indiscriminate 20th-century urbanization. Over three million visitors come to the city each year but the majority see the sights as quickly as possible (as if fulfilling some cultural duty) before heading off for the easy hedonism of the Greek islands.

However, Athens repays a closer acquaintance. In addition to the celebrated classical sites, the city boasts Byzantine, medieval and 19th-century monuments, as well as one of the best museums in the world and areas of surprising natural beauty. Despite the traffic, an appealing village-like quality becomes evident in the cafes, tavernas, markets and the maze of streets around the Plaka. Moreover, Athens has the finest restaurants and the most varied nightlife in the country and remains a major European center of culture, celebrated each year at the Athens Festival. The metropolitan area, including the port at Piraeus, is the indisputable industrial and economic powerhouse of the country, while the return of the Olympic Games in 2004 is prompting a flurry of new development. Major projects include the new Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, the extension of the Athens metro system, the building of new sports venues, the upgrading of hotel accommodation and the revitalization of the Piraeus port area. The world-renowned National Archaeological Museum, which was closed for renovation through 2003, is due to reopen for the Olympics, although the long-awaitedNew Acropolis Museum has fallen way behind schedule. In addition, ancient sites within the city center are being linked by a traffic-free ‘archaeological promenade’ intended to enhance the urban environment for locals and visitors alike.

The return of the Olympic Games in 2004 prompted a flurry of development, including a new airport, the extension of the metro system, the building of new sports venues, the upgrading of hotels, the renovation of several top museums, and the formation of a traffic-free ‘archaeological promenade’


The return of the Olympic Games in 2004 prompted a flurry of development, including a new airport, the extension of the metro system, the building of new sports venues, the upgrading of hotels, the renovation of several top museums, and the formation of a traffic-free ‘archaeological promenade’

TIMELINE of Athens City

c.3000BC Evidence of first settlement around the Acropolis
1400BC The Acropolis becomes a royal fortress
620BC Draco formalises the laws of Athens and Attica
594-593BC The birth of democracy under the constitution of Solon
490BC The Battle of Marathon. Athens defeats the Persians
480BC Persian invasion of Athens
479BC Defeat of the Persians at Plataea by Greek force led by the Spartans
461BC Pericles replaces Cimon as the ruler of Athens
461-429BC The Golden Age under Pericles. Construction of the Parthenon and
other Classical buildings
431BC Start of the Peloponnesian War against Sparta
430-428BC Plague wipes out a quarter of Athens’ population including Pericles (429BC)
404BC Peloponnesian War with Sparta ends in defeat
338BC Philip II of Macedon conquers Athens and other Greek states
336BC Murder of Philip and succession of his son, Alexander the Great
336-323BC Expansion of the Macedonian Empire under Alexander through the Mediterranean and
Middle East as far as India
146BC Roman Empire subjugates Macedonian rulers; Athens is incorporated into the province of Achaia
200BC-AD300 Roman rule in Greece
AD50 Paul the Apostle visits Athens to preach
AD330 Foundation of the Byzantine Empire by Constantine I as successor to the Roman Empire
AD395 Athens captured by Visigoths
AD529 Schools of Neo-Platonic philosophy closed by Justinian I, temples reconsecrated as
Christian churches
1204 Franks and Venetians capture Constantinople and divide Greece between them
1456-1821 Athens under Ottoman rule from Constantinople
1687 Venetians besiege the Acropolis
1821 Hellenic rebellion against Turkish occupation
1821-29 The Greek War of Independence
1832 Prince Otto of Bavaria is selected by Western powers as king of the modern Greek state
1834 Capital of modern Greece transfers from Nafplio in the Peloponnese to Athens
1896 First modern Olympic Games held in Athens
1917 Greece joins the Allied forces and enters World War I
1920-23 Greece at war with Turkey
1923 End of Greek–Turkish war sees massive influx of Greek refugees from Asia Minor to Athens
and Piraeus
1940 General Metaxas refuses Mussolini’s fleet access to Greek ports in a now famous one
word rebuttal – ‘Ohi’ (no)
1941 40,000 Athenians die in severe food shortages caused by the German and Italian occupation
1944 Liberation of Greece
1944-49 Greek Civil War
1967 Military coup results in the exile of King Constantine I. Greece ruled by Colonel Papadopoulos
1974 Overthrow of the military junta
1975 Republican constitution inaugurated
1981 Greece joins the European Union
1985 Athens becomes Europe’s first Cultural Capital
1998 Devaluation of the drachma to prepare for European monetary union
2004 Athens hosts the Olympic Games


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