I just spent the last three days in the city of Athens, Greece. Athens, the capital city of Greece, is one of the oldest cities in the world, having been continuously inhabited for over 5000 years. Most of the history has occurred within the last 3400 years, with many prosperous moments and many moments of decline. The city was named after the goddess Athena after she won a competition with Poseidon over who would become the protector of the city. The location of the city was chosen because of its mild climate which was suitable for growing food, and close proximity to the Saronic Golf.
In 1400 BC Athens became an important settlement because it was the centre of Mycenaean civilization and housed the Acropolis Mycenaean fortress. Athens suffered destruction in 1200 BC (the bronze age) and went into economic decline for about 150 years afterwards.
In 900 BC Athens again became a leading centre of trade and was rather prosperous. This didn’t last more than a few hundred years before massive social unrest led to the reforms of Solon in 600 BC and the eventual introduction of democracy by Cleisthenes in 508 BC. Athens was also invaded twice (lets call it three times) by the Persians; once in 490 BC (which was unsuccessful) and twice within the same year in 480 BC. The Athenians and Spartans eventually defeated the Persian army in the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC.
The following decades were the prosperous Golden Age, during which time Athens became the leading city of Ancient Greece and the start of western civilization. During the Golden Age the Parthenon was built on the site of the Acropolis. Art, drama and philosophy were significantly developed during the Golden Age as well. The Peloponnesian wars between the Athenians and Sparta (yes Sparta turned on the Athenians) eventually brought an end to the Golden Age, but Athens continued to play an important cultural and intellectual center.
By mid 400 BC the Northern Greek kingdom of Macedon was becoming a dominant force and in 338 BC the army of Philip II ended Athenian independence. Alexander the Great made Athens obsolete by the 2nd century BC, and Greece was taken over by the Romans. The Roman’s ruled Greece for the next 500 years, and eventually converted Greece to Christianity and ended the Athens role as the center of pagan learning, and the schools of philosophy were closed in 529 AD, which marked the end of Ancient Athens and Ancient Greece.
The Byzantine’s ruled Athens by the end off 529 AD until 1204, a time of uncertainty and decline, but Athens was able to maintain its strong presence due to the Acropolis fortress. In 1204 the Fourth Crusade took over Athens and the Latins ruled Athens until 1458 when the Ottoman Empire took over.
The Greek Revolution occurred in 1821, and Greece was established as an independent Greek state in 1830 by the Treaty of London and Athens was once again proclaimed the Capital. Population quickly grew after the Greco-Turkish War in 1921 when over a million Greek refugees from Asia Minor were resettled in Greece.
Athens was occupied by the Nazis during World War II. Athens again began to grow as people migrated into the city looking for world following World War II. In 1981 Greece joined the European Union, which was crucial as Athens was in dire needs for an infusion of cash as it was crippled with social and environmental problems. Athens even failed to secure the 1996 Olympics because of its environmental and infrastructure problems, which should have been a huge milestone as it was the 100 year anniversary since the first modern day Olympic Games in 1896!
Since 1996 major initiatives to improve Athens infrastructure have occurred. A new airport has been built, a new metro system, and limiting the use of cars in the city centre to reduce air pollution.
Athens hosted the 2004 Olympic Games, which were considered a great success, but the facility quickly fell into disarray due shoddy craftsmanship and human destruction.
Greece again has fallen into economic disaster since the 2008 world economic recession, and has still yet to recover.
During my visit to Athens I saw the following sites:
- 2004 Olympic Stadium
- Technopolis (A former Coal Gas Generation Site)
- Ancient Agora of Athens (including Hellenistic Stoa of Attalos and Temple of Hephaestus)
- Hadrian’s Library
- Acropolis (including Parthenon, Erechtheion, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Theatre of Dionysus, Temple of Athena Nike)
- Acropolis Museum
- Kerameikos Cemetery
- Hadrian’s Arch
- Temple of Olympian Zeus
- Panathenaic Stadium
- Mount Lycabettus
- Communities of Plaka, Psyri, and Thiseio
Athens hosted the 2004 Olympics. What once was a beautiful facility back in 2004 has been thoroughly trashed by humans and left to decay in the weather. I wish we would build a few good quality Olympic facilities throughout the world and then have participating countries pay for upkeep of these facilities rather than financially burdening the cities these are built in. Prior to the 2000’s we could build an Olympic venue for under $1 billion but now the sticker price has shot to $50+ billion.
The site of Technopolis is an old coal gas plant that’s been converted into a museum and a trendy area with a coffee shop, restaurant, and a place to host events. I love seeing old places like this preserved like this. Coal gas was used to heat homes and for gas lanterns from the last 1800’s to about the 1940’s in many large cities including Athens, and in Seattle (I posted about this one previously. Just look up my Seattle blog. That one was also preserved).
The Ancient Agora of Athens dates back to 6th century BC and was used as a gathering place. The ruins were found in 1931 and currently being excavated even to this day. Over 20 buildings originally resided on the site, with only two currently standing. The Hellenistic Stoa of Attalos was reconstructed on the east side of the agora in the 1950’s, and the Temple of Hephaestus.
Hadrian’s Library was created in 132 AD by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The building was built in typical Roman architecture style. The library was severely damaged in the Herculean invasion of 267 AD and wasn’t repaired until 412 AD. During the Byzantine times three churches were built on the site, with some of the remains being preserved as you can see below.
The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient citadel located on a rocky outcrop that towers above the city of Athens at 490 feet above sea level. The citadel houses the remains of many ancient buildings including the Parthenon, Erechtheion, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Theatre of Dionysus, and Temple of Athena Nike. The Acropolis was constructed over time from the 6th Century BC onwards and was used to defend the city against many wars (see way above). The Parthenon and other buildings were severely damaged during the 1687 siege by the Venetians during the Morean War when gunpowder that was being stored in the Parthenon was hit by a cannonball and exploded. During the following years the Acropolis had a variety of Byzantine, Frankish and Ottoman structures. After the Greek Wars of Independence (1821-1822 and 1826-1827) these structures were cleared from the site to restore the monument to its original form.
The Acropolis Museum was absolutely fantastic, but sadly I wasn’t allowed to take any photographs except in designated areas. The museum will open up a tour of the archaeological dig site underneath the building starting next year. You can already see the dig site through the glass floor, but it would be amazing to explore them up close and personal.
The Kerameikos Cemetery dates back to roughly to the 3rd millennium BC, but became the site of an organized cemetery around 1200 BC.
Completed in 1888 in Neoclassical architecture, The Zappeion was erected specifically for the revival of the Olympic Games in the modern world and used as the main fencing hall. The Panathenaic stadium was also refurbished during this time. It received many different uses throughout history:
- In 1906 it was used as the Olympic Village
- Between 1938 and 1970 t was used by the National Radio Foundation
- In 1979 the signing of the documents formalizing Greece’s accession to the European Community
- Between 1998 and 1999 it was used as the first hose for the organizing committee (ATHOC) for the 2004 games
- In 2004 it was used as a press center
- Today it is used as a conference and exhibition center
Hadrian’s Arch, also known as Hadrian’s Gate is a monumental gateway that spanned an ancient road from the center of Athens. Built in 132 AD, it is believed that the arch was built to celebrate the arrival of Roman Emperor Hadrian.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus is a former colossal temple. It was dedicated to the Olympian Zeus. Construction started in the 6th century BC but was not completed until 2nd century AD! The Athenian tyrants building the greatest temple in the ancient world, but this didn’t occur and it took 638 years to complete the project. The temple included 104 columns, and was the largest temples in Greece, but not in the world. The temple’s use was short lived and fill into disarray by 3rd century AD, and slowly reduced to ruins thereafter.
The Panathenaic Stadium was originally completed in 330 BC and was used as a multi-purpose stadium. The 330 BC creation was made of limestone, but today’s creation (since 144 AD) is made entirely of marble.
The stadium was abandoned between the 4th and 18th century due to Christianity, and was even buried during this time frame. It was excavated in 1869 and used in 1870 and 1875 to host the Zappas Olympics.
It was then refurbished in 1896 and was used to host the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and as the venue for 4 of the 9 contested sports during that time frame.
It was even used in the 2004 Athens Olympics as a finishing point for the Athens Classic Marathon and the last venue in Greece where the Olympic flame handover ceremony to the host nation takes place.
Mount Lycabettus provides a fantastic view of the city. €5 will buy you a one way ride up or €7.50 for a return ticket. I decided to ride up and walk down as the funicular only runs every 30 minutes. I had a fantastic lunch consisting of Greek Salad and a Chicken Souvlaki.
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