Athens was considered the intellectual and artistic center of Greece, a jewel of the ancient world. It was the city where mankinds' most precious and most significant moral values were founded. Philosophy, science, literature, art and drama are just some of the concepts born in ancient Athens. Democracy, freedom, justice and forward thinking are ideals conceived in this great city, which are the core principles of western civilization and our society today. So much of Ancient Greek History took place in the city of Athens.
myths & prehistoric era
According to mythology, the Olympian goddess Athena and the Olympian god Poseidon competed over who would be the protector and patron god of the city we now know as Athens. This was to be decided based on which god gave the city the finest gift. Poseidon, the sea god, hit the Acropolis rock and created a sea water spring. Athena, who was the goddess of wisdom and knowledge, presented an olive tree. Thereinafter, the city was called Athens and the olive tree branch has become the symbol of good will and noble rivalry.
mycenean era & early city formation
It is believed that Athens has been inhabited since the Neolithic Period. It originally was a provincial town during the Mycenaean Era. As it gradually began to develop economically and artistically, it expanded and more tribes moved to the area. Poets and scholars began to emerge, the Acropolis became a place of worship and rhetors started to gather at the Agora, debating and arguing. Athens was slowly growing into a major city of importance.
the golden age
In the 5th century BC, Athens fought the Persians, who invaded the area twice. The Athenians, who had become a great military power, won both times, once in Marathon and once in the naval battle of Salamina. The Persian War was the reason for the Greek states to unite against a common enemy, and this was a decisive point in world history. If the Greeks had been defeated, Persian culture would have been the basis for western civilization. Athens' position was greatly strengthened due to its victory over the Persians and it ultimately became the leader of the Greek world. During the 5th century, or the period otherwise known as the Golden Age of Athens, the great statesman Pericles led the city. Athens was the first democracy and the greatest of all states, giving birth to ideas and principles that had never been thought of before and which all owe their existence this city.
In this era, Athens was also considered the intellectual and artistic center of Greece. Historians Herodotus and Thucydides, and scholars and playwrights such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes, flourished. Pericles instructed sculptor Pheidias and architects Iktinos and Kallikrates to construct the Parthenon and the other buildings on the Acropolis, which still stand today as proof of the artistic, intellectual and spiritual power of the era.
In 431 BC Sparta declared war on Athens and after many years of fighting, Athens was finally defeated. The Peloponnesian War, as it was called, had weakened most of Greece, enabling Philip II of Macedonia to subdue the majority of the Greek states, including Attica. Later, Philip's son, Alexander the Great consolidated all of Greece and established his empire, conquering areas in Africa and the East, spreading the Greek language and culture. During Alexander's reign, Athens remained an intellectual center.
roman era & byzantium
In 146 BC, Greece was conquered by the Roman Army, which greatly contributed to the decline of Athens and to the loss of the city's power and glory. Later, Christianity began to spread throughout the country. In 330 AD the Roman Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to the former Greek colony Byzantium, and renamed it Constantinople. Thus the Empire was split into western and eastern halves and Athens became part of the eastern Byzantine Empire, which lasted for over 1000 years. During this era, most ancient temples were converted into churches, and this is the reason that modern Athens is full of wonderful Byzantine ecclesiastical art.
middle ages & the ottoman occupation
Unfortunately, the history of Athens in Byzantine times is one of repeated invasions, which resulted in the Empire's eventual collapse. Throughout the Middle Ages, Athens came under the rule of other Mediterranean powers such as the Franks, the Catalans, the Florentines and the Venetians. Ultimately, the Ottoman Turks took control of the city in 1456 AD. For the next 400 years Athens, and indeed all of Greece, was occupied by the Ottoman Turks. In this era, many of the antiquities were damaged terribly, the most important being the Parthenon. The Ottoman forces had stored their gunpowder in the Parthenon, which had been converted into a mosque. Venetian mercenaries fired explosives through the roof of the temple and reduced it to ruins.
greek revolution & independence
The Greek people finally rose up against the Ottoman Turks in 1821 and so began the Greek War of Independence. The war lasted 8 years, and in 1830 the three great powers - Britain, France and Russia - declared Greece to be a legally independent nation. In 1834, King Otto I named Athens the capital of Greece.
In 1896, the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens at the Panathenaic Stadium. This grand athletic institution still carries on today, spreading the spirit of peace, good will and noble rivalry across the globe.
world wars & the 20th century
After WWI and the Asia Minor catastrophe, Athens changed immensely due to the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey. Most people settled in Athens and the greater Attica region. Although the new population crowded the city and new districts needed to be developed, Athens bloomed in the cultural aspects of life.
Athens participated to a great extent in WWII. On October 28, 1940, Greece refused to open its borders to the Italians, and thus began its participation in the war. With precious little forces and arms to assist them in their battle, Greeks managed to force the Italians to retreat back into Albania. The Nazi invasion of Athens in 1941 proved to be a difficult task for the invading forces due to the rough terrain and the courageous spirit of the Greek resistance. During the eventual Nazi occupation, the population suffered greatly due to famine and hardship. Greece was finally liberated in 1944.
Civil war and the military junta followed during the next 30 years. The junta was overthrown in 1974 and one year later, Greece was declared a Presidential Republic. The year 1981 marked the entrance of Greece into the European Union. Since then Athens has blossomed into a modern, exciting, multifaceted European metropolis.