Greece travel guide




Athens Travel Guide

History of Athens

In relation to mythology, the first town was originated by Phoenicians and more especially by Cecrops. The first name of Athens was Akte or Aktike, named after the first king, Akteos. Her second name, Kekropia, received it from the king, Kekrops, who succeeded Akteos, by marrying his daughter. As said by the legend, his lower body was that of a dragon. During his supremacy, goddess Athena and Poseidon were competing for the protection of the town and each one offered presents. Poseidon struck the rock at the Acropolis with his trident and a spring with salted water gushed up. With the blow also leaped the first horse, ready to serve the man faithfully, whilst Athena offered an olive tree. The mythology tell us, that all the men of Athens voted for the gift of Poseidon and all the women, for the gift of Athena and because there was one woman more than the men, goddess Athena was selected and from her, the town took her name.

The Acropolis of Athens was occupied from Neolithic times. By 1400 BC Athens had become a dominant focus of the Mycenaean civilization. Different to other Mycenaean centres, such as Mycenae and Pylos, Athens was not destroyed and deserted at the time of the Doric invasion of about 1200 BC, and the Athenians always maintained that they were "pure" Ionians with no Doric element. Nevertheless, Athens lost most of its power and undoubtedly declined to a small hill fortress once again.

By the 8th century BC Athens had disappeared, by feature of its central location in the Greek world, its protected fortress on the Acropolis and its access to the sea, which gave it a natural advantage over potential rivals such as Thebes and Sparta. From early in the 1st millennium, Athens was governed by Ionian kings, who had gained suzerainty over all Attica. After the Ionian kings Athens was rigidly governed by its aristocrats through the archontate , until Solon began to enact liberal reforms in 594 B.C. Solon abolished subordination, modified the severe laws attributed to Draco (who had governed Athens c.621 B.C.), and changed the economy and constitution to give power to all the propertied classes, thus establishing a limited democracy. His economic reforms were largely retained when Athens came under (560 511 B.C.) the directive of the tyrant Pisistratus and his sons Hippias and Hipparchus. Throughout this period the town's economy grew and its culture flourished. Building on the system of Solon, Cleisthenes then established (c.506 B.C.) a democracy for the free person of Athens, and the town remained a democracy during most of the years of its excellence.

The Persian Wars (500 449 B.C.) made Athens the most potent Greek city-state. Much smaller and less powerful than Sparta at the start of the wars, Athens was more lively and more effective in the fighting against Persia. The Athenian heroes Miltiades, Themistocles, and Cimon were largely reliable for building the town's strength. In 490 B.C. the Greek military conquered Persia at Marathon. A great Athenian fleet won a major victory over the Persians off the island of Salamis (480 B.C.). The powerful fleet also enabled Athens to gain hegemony in the Delian League, which was created in 478 477 B.C. through the confederation of several city-states; in succeeding years the league was converted into an empire headed by Athens. The town arranged peace with Persia in 449 B.C. and with its chief rival, Sparta, in 445 B.C., but warfare with smaller Greek towns continued. 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 founding of Democracy under Pericles.

The most magnificent period in the town's history was the 5th century BC, when it was the cultural and artistic heart of the classical world. Although overshadowed by the growth of Rome, it stayed a town of social and intellectual importance during the Roman Empire. St. Paul visited Athens, and the Emperor Hadrian accumulated money on its public constructions. Thereafter the town declined in importance. It was theme to attack by journalists and was reduced to a petty provincial town in the Byzantine Empire. In 1204, Athens was occupied by the Crusaders and remained under Western rule until its capture by the Turks in 1456. Greece achieved independence from the Turks in the war of 1821-32, and in 1833, Athens became the capital of Greece. In 1833, Athens was a small urban settlement of fewer than 4,000 people located north of the Acropolis in a district known today as the Plaka.

Modern History
Modern Athens was built only after 1834, when it became the capital of a once more independent Greece. Otto I, first king of the Hellenes (1832 62), reconstructed much of the town, and the first modern Olympic games were held there in 1896. The population grew rapidly in the 1920s, when Greek refugees arrived from Turkey. The town's inhabitants suffered extreme hardships during the German occupation (1941 44) in World War II, but the town avoided damage in the war and in the country's civil troubles of 1944 50. In the 1960s and 1970s, countless 19th century neoclassical constructions were torn down to make way for the infamous concrete apartment blocks that characterize much of the town today...

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