A Very Brief History of Athens


City and sea have long been imbedded into the history of the city of Athens since the days of the Twelve Olympian Gods. According to ancient Greek myth, Athena, the goddess of wisdom fought with Poseidon, god of the sea, for the title of patron of the city by each offering a gift to the Athenians. The natives chose Athena’ s olive tree over Poseidon’s salt-water spring, hence the name Athens. Much like the Greek myths, Athens has withstood the test of time, its archaeological monuments and sites testament to the city’ s strength and ability to withstand and rebound adversity. It would take volumes to document the rich history of this city: to explore all the battles, to learn about the conquerors and the conquered, the tyrants, and the heroes.

Following are some highlights that will provide a very brief summary of one of the oldest civilizations.

Indications show that the Acropolis was first inhabited as far back as Neolithic times, around 4500 BC, with further expansion continuing into the Bronze (3200-2000 BC), Geometric (1050-700 BC) and Archaic Periods (700-480 BC). The sophistication of daily life during those periods is apparent by findings such as the Kerameikos cemetery, pottery designs, and in the latter part of the Archaic period, signs of law and order, democracy and rules of governing. Cleisthenes’ reforms can be attributed to bringing about the first Athenian democracy in 508/507 BC. The Golden Age, just prior to the Roman Rule of Athens, finds the city in its peak. It is here that Athens flourishes with arts and philosophy. Socrates, Pericles and the playwrights Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles and comic writer Aristophanes, are some of the protagonists in Athens’ history at this time. And rightly so. The plays and works of these wise men continue to inspire. What is interesting and unique to cities such as Athens is that its history’ s “ remains” is everpresent in its contemporary setting. Byzantine churches, mosques, Turkish baths are daily reminders of the peoples that have passed through Athens’ historic past. During the Roman Period (30 BC- Ad 300) emperor Hadrian and Greek-appointed senator Herodus Atticus contribute to Athens’ monuments that still stand today. In 131 the Athenians honour Hadrian by building a triumphal arch, known as Hadrian’ s Arch (found on Vassilissis Olgas Street). The centuries after the fall of Rome are religious in character: the expansion of Christianity in the 4th and 5th centuries, the start of the Age of Byzantine and the Crusades, brought Athens into an era that was marked by religious occupation. In the mid-6th and 7th centuries, for example, the caves of the Acropolis were transformed into Christian churches and the temple of Athena Parthenos into the church of the Virgin Mary.

A small Byzantine city, Athens became characterized by its churches and monasteries many that are still here today. During the first years of the Middle Byzantine period, schools ceased to operate, and Christianity had taken over, making Athens more of a provincial town. The invasion by Frankish crusaders in 1204 brought about further change, evident in the Acropolis now in the form of a medieval castle. After the somber Catalan rule of the city and prior to the Ottoman occupation, was the seizure yet again of the Acropolis this time by the Acciaiuoli (from Florence), who actually engaged in the city’ s betterment, repairing the port of Piraeus and once again revitalizing the city’ s rich tradition of literature and arts. This ended again with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. In 1456 the Ottomans occupy Athens and two years later, in 1458 the Acropolis surrenders marking the beginning of Ottoman rule. The years under Ottoman rule were marked additionally by the plague epidemic in 1789 and 1792. In 1821 the Greek war of independence begins and in 1833 the Acropolis is once again in the hands of the Greeks. In 1834 Athens is proclaimed capital of the Modern Greek state.