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About Athens

Within the sprawling city of Athens it is easy to imagine the golden age of Greece when Pericles had the Parthenon (the most eminent monument of the ancient Greek architecture) built. When the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were performed in the Theater of Dionysus. And when democracy brought all citizens together to decide their common fate on the Pnyx Hill. Athens is built around the Acropolis and the pinnacled crag of Mt. Lycabettus, which the goddess Athena was said to have dropped from the heavens as a bulwark to defend the city. (Athens currently has over four million inhabitants).

The suburbs have covered the barren plain in all directions and the city is packed with lively taverns and bustling shops. Dominating the Athenian landscape, the Acropolis is unsurpassed in its beauty, architectural splendor and historic importance. The entrance to the Acropolis is the Propylea (designed by Mnesycles, and constitutes an original architectural composition of great importance), which extends 150 feet adjoining the temple of Athena Nike or Wingless Victory (which was built from 430 to 424-3 BC).

The Parthenon is situated on the highest part of the Acropolis and was built between 447 and 437 BC and reflects the values and the objectives of the Athenian State at the time. It was here that modern democracy began its early foothold.


According to mythology, the first city was founded by Phoenicians and more especially by Cecrops. Athens was born when the gods of Olympus decided that the city should be named after the deity who could gave the most useful gift to the mortals and would become its patron deity.

An outrage took place between Athena (goddess of wisdom) and Poseidon (god of the sea). Athena won the right to rule the city by offering an olive tree, symbol of peace and prosperity while Poseidon struck a rock and a horse sprang forth symbolizing the strength. According to history, the Acropolis was first inhabited in the Neolithic period. The rock of the Acropolis was first used as a military fortress as its position offers a view towards the land and the sea. By 1400 B.C., the Acropolis became a Mycenaean city and also became for the first time a religious centre for the worship of the goddess Athena.

From the 12th century B.C. till the 8th, Greece felt into a dark age from which not much is known. Athens emerged from this Dark Age economically reinforced but had lost every control of Attica that was divided in several minor kingdoms. According to history, Athens regained the rule of Attica in the 7th century B.C. and became the artistic centre of Greece. The city, until the beginning of the 6th century was ruled by aristocrats and generals. The position of the citizen in the hierarchy depended to its wealth.

Poor people has no rights until Solon, the law giver and poet, took the road to democracy when he declared all free Athenians equal by law and abolished inherited privileges. It is during this period that the Acropolis was declared province of the gods by a Delphic oracle. In the 5th century, after victory against the Persians, Athens discovers a period of economical, cultural and political prosperity with the establishment of Democracy under Pericles. It is during this period that the Parthenon was built (ultimate classical Greek achievement in term of architecture and sculptures) and the theatrical masterpieces where written. Athens' golden age stopped after its defeat against Sparta during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.). The political power of Greece felt then into the hands of Phillip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great but Athens remained Greece's cultural centre. By the end of the 2nd century, a new threat came from the Roman Empire as they were ruling the western Mediterranean and they will slowly move to the east. They first attack the Macedonians who were finally defeated.

Athens escaped for the reason that it was very respected by the Romans for their scholarship, their art, philosophy and literature. The Pax Romana was established. In the 3rd century, Greece was invaded by the Goths and the Pax Romana started to break. In the meantime, Christianity became slowly the Empire's religion. St Paul came in Greece to proclaim the Christianity with his famous "sermon on an Unknown God" in 51 A.D. In 324 A.D., the Emperor Constantine I transferred the capital of the Empire from Rome to Byzantium which took the name of Constantinople. By the end of the 4th century, the Roman Empire was divided in two: the Roman Empire at the west and the Byzantine Empire at the east. After centuries of military success and great wealth, the Roman Empire started to decline leaving its place to the Byzantine Empire.

During the Byzantine Empire, the Parthenon of the Acropolis was turned into the church of Hagia Sophia. Athens still remained the centre of Greek education and culture until 529 when the Emperor Justinian banned the teaching of classical philosophy. Athens was invaded, between 1200 and 1459, by many west civilizations: Franks, Catalans, Florentines, Venetians and finally by the Ottomans who ruled for over 400 years. The Acropolis became home of the Turkish governor and the Parthenon was turned into a mosque.

In 1821, Greek Independence was declared and Athens started to be reorganized by foreign architects under the direction of King Otto, the first Monarch of the newly built nation. In the 20th century, Athens has grown spectacularly in population and industry. It is today one of the few capitals which houses one third (3.7 million inhabitants) of the country's population.


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