Athens – Ancient Athens

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Let us try and bring to mind a picture of  Athens  as the ancients might have known it, drenched in diaphanous light, its arid mountains protecting it from the north winds and harsh weather, with the beauty of the Acropolis thrown into relief by the sun and the delightfully modest houses at the foot of the great rock. An  Athens  free of noise other than the voices of children and pedlars in the narrow streets. An  Athens  to be dreamed of.

That’s what it must have been like in the Age of Pericles, when the city was already very ancient. Research shows us that the area around  Athens  has been inhabited since the neolithic age, as testified to by artifacts found in wells near the Areopagos (Mars’ Hill) on the south side of the Acropolis, and in the Agios Kosmas peninsula near Alimos. The original inhabitants were then joined by waves of new settlers, Carians, Leleges and finally Pelasgians, mainly tribes of IndoEuropean origin. The intermingling of all these peoples contributed to shaping the Hellenes, with their contradictory temperament and frequent conflicts.

Sometime around the late 9th or early 8th century BC, Hesiod and Homer gave us the first myths, exaggerated, heroic tales which provided a glimpse of the kind of society where everything was dependent on an unknown divinity. During subsequent generations, these gods and heroes underwent many sea-changes in the service of local, often political needs. Myth may be a wonderful depiction of the world but it was also the easiest way for simple people to learn about their history. Thus the early inhabitants believed that their leaders-who sometimes took peculiar forms-were descended from the gods. Even their names can be explained in the light of societal needs.

Then gradually, over a period of time, the leaders ceased to be supernatural, and began taking on more human dimensions. And the people themselves, as they acquired knowledge of the outside world from the sea routes, stopped being afraid of the otherworldly and began to wonder about the world. It is a fascinating experience to watch myth evolving hand in hand with the development of a people and to discern historical truth through an imaginative construct.

Thus Kekrops and Erichthonios, the first kings of  Athens , were strange creatures, half-man and half-snake, whose form portrayed how they had sprung from the Attic soil. Kekrops had brought in master craftsmen, the Pelasgians who, having built a strong Acropolis, stayed on to settle round it. Names ending in -ttos or -ssos appear to have been Pelasgian, such as the Ilissos, Kefissos, Hymettos, Lycabettos, Ardettos; they are all geographic landmarks (mountains, rivers) which remain prominent in the topography of  Athens  up to the present day. Likewise, it was Kekrops who selected the goddess Athena as protector of his city, after whom he named it. It should be noted that some scholars believe the name of the goddess to have been derived from the Egyptian word aten.

With respect to Erichthonios, mythology provides us with a number of illuminating details. It is said that Hephaestos, the lame blacksmith of the gods, wanted to join in union with Athena, the great goddess of knowledge, but she drew back from his loving embrace and the divine seed fell on her legs. She then rubbed her leg with a swatch of the wool she was spinning and threw it to the ground. But whereas Athena refused the seed of the god, the Earth received it and thus did Erichthonios spring forth.

The Athenians always had a particular affection for their founding father in his snakish form: they built him an exquisite temple, the Erechthion, which priests made sure was constantly supplied with offerings of honey cakes. In some myths, Erichthonios is called Erechtheas; in others Erechtheas is the grandson of Erichthonios and in a third version, Erechtheas has come from Egypt. Perhaps all these versions represented attempts to explain the successive waves of colonists inundating the Aegean during those turbulent years.

If we seek to unravel the threads of the myths, then the truth emerges in all its radiance. The name of Erichthonios shows us his origin: eriochthon means wool-earth, i.e. born of the earth and from it. His descendants intermarried with peoples from Thessaly whose genealogical tree shows their founding father to have been Prometheus. He was the wise Titan who gave mortals the gift of fire, i.e. the light of knowledge-previously the exclusive realm of the gods or perhaps of some priestly brother hood- and for this reason was cruelly punished on a rock in the Caucasus.

It was Prometheus’ son Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha who brought the human race back to life in the mountains of Thessaly after the great flood. His grandson was Hellene. Today we know that the Indo-European Aryan tribes, after discovering the use of metals somewhere in the Caucasus, learned to craft strong weapons. Some tribes spread out into central Europe and the Balkans, some remained to take advantage of the good grazing lands while others pressed on southward.

The initial root began to put forth many branches as Hellene, grandson of Prometheus, had sons who were quite different one from the other. There were Aeolos, Xouthos and Doros, who gave their names to Hellenic tribes in later years. Xouthos, which means “the fair”, was quite distinct from the early Athenians who had the darker skin of the Aegean peoples. He was to marry Kreousa, the granddaughter of Erechtheas: their children were named Achaeos and Ion, the forefathers of the later Hellenes. Another variation of the myth had Ion as the offspring of Apollo’s secret liaison with the same princess. This detail helped advance the mythic cycle from the primeval, with its demonic forms of nature, evolving into humanized deities like Apollo who led man to thought, poetry and philosophy.

Many modern historians believe that the later Hellenes came from Pindus, on the border between Thessaly and Epirus. This fits in admirably with the Attic myths about the genealogy of their kings and the various intermarriages, documenting the arrogance of the ancient Athenians toward the other inhabitants of the region, since from the very outset, gods would frequently come down and intermingle with the mortals, lending a divine dimension to many conjugal dramas.

We know that the first inhabitants of the Attic earth were cultivators, but its poor, arid soil made them turn toward the sea. The story of Theseus who volunteered to go to Crete and kill the Minotaur, delivering  Athens  from the terrible annual tribute of youths sent to feed the insatiable monster, may perhaps be telling us about the Athenians’ first great campaign at sea and their independence from a ruling naval power.

From then on, Theseus never stopped traveling, like all those who, having once experienced the vastness of new horizons, could never thereafter remain closed within narrow confines. He went with the Argonauts to the Pontus (Black Sea), fought against and defeated the imperious Amazons, winning their queen, and taught the spoiled Centaurs a hard lesson in good behavior. But he also took care of his own region, joining together little individual townships into a large and powerful confederacy, with temples in which gods and ancestors were worshiped and with a citadel for security against jealous neighbors.

Theseus was possibly a historic figure who, over the passage of centuries, has become wrapped in the glory of myth to serve domestic expediencies and presented as the scion of the divine race of Ion. A hero who was also a demi-god was always more impressive than just a worthy leader; the inhabitants of the city favored with such a leader would feel special and try to emulate him. Thus the descendants of the first Athenians began their fearless exploration of the sea. As they succeeded in guaranteeing their livelihood, their numbers grew; they learned, became wealthy and expanded their activities around the Mediterranean coasts, creating bridgeheads of commerce and free thought. The colonizers of the east side of the Aegean were called Ionians; and it was there that the ideas of philosophy, the principles of human rights, ethics, metaphysics and the harmony of the universe were born.

Economic ease created a new order of things. Until then, the head of the largest family had been king; but when other men gained power through trade, they too claimed the right to a voice in government, thrusting aside the custom of the hereditary monarchy. A special place was needed for the exchange of commodities and this was how the Agora (market) grew up. The meetings of the local people with strangers made it necessary for them to learn how to develop convincing arguments; from this need sprang the art of rhetoric.

The interests of the people had to be protected. As there were already a great many people, the proper role models had to be found on whose example they could shape their behavior, which at its most sublime moment, led to the formulation of laws by Solon the Sage in the 6th century. Developments in the administrative system were accompanied by cultural progress. The local clay was used to make ceramics which, while initially serving the needs of daily life, soon became objects of trade and then developed into works of art, since men, having assured themselves of the necessities, now sought the beautiful. Athenian potters began producing enormous grave amphoras with austere ornamentation, dominated by Greek key designs and shadowy figures. Black-figured vases were the next phase, with their stylized silhouettes; these evolved into the marvelous red-figured vases which sometimes bear the craftsman’s name under vivid compositions depicting moments from the lives of gods and men.

The gods were worshiped in stately stone temples decorated with marble statues that replaced the earlier idols. The myths became overlaid by a multitude of heroic details, as gods and mortals alike came alive in a new form of ceremony which took place in the theater. Meanwhile, more and more Athenian ships were sailing to and fro in the Mediterranean, carrying new developments and provoking envy in other lands which rapidly turned into the desire of foreign leaders for conquest and expansion. The result was the Persian wars at the beginning of the 5th century BC.

The decisive military confrontation at sea and  Athens ‘ defeat of the Persians in the battle of Salamis, promoted  Athens  to a position of foremost power and intellectual leader over the other Hellenes, much to Sparta’s great annoyance. The Athenians, having acquired the social comfort that accompanies economic prosperity, had by then developed the versatility of thinking people with freedom of opinion and political views. On the contrary, the strapping sons of Sparta remained products of a rigid military education and attitude. Thus, when the gold-bedecked invaders, decimated and in tatters, retreated back into the hinterlands of Persia,  Athens  justifiably assumed a position of preeminence, achieved greatness which culminated in the classical age, and produced works of eternal beauty which have remained vital until the present day. It caused the historian Thucydides to prophesy that if ever the two great adversaries  Athens  and Sparta were someday lost, everybody would know where  Athens  had been by its wonderful monuments whereas Sparta would have left not a trace to remind people of its once great power.

These wonderful monuments were what roused military Sparta’s ire and ultimately led to the armed confrontation. Like all civil wars, the Peloponnesian War was devastating and, unbeknownst to anyone at that time, it signalled the beginning of the end for the proud  city  of  Athens . This was a slow decline which lasted for centuries; it saw insults and passions, tyrannies and uprisings, flaming rhetoric and objections; it saw  Athens  yielding to the Hellenes of the North, the Macedonians, and finally its subjugation by the Roman legions. All this occurred in the shadow of the Parthenon, at a time when the theatres continually presented works by playwrights whose names would become renowned throughout history, and when Athenians would gather under the colonnades of the Agora to listen to the wandering philosophers and discuss the current political situation.

The Christian religion which was slowly spreading hope of deliverance among oppressed peoples, began to gain followers while the philosophical schools were still full of young people seeking enlightenment on questions of rhetoric, the written word and even theology. One of the most famous students of these schools (4th century A.D.) was Julian, later the Byzantine emperor who came to be known as the Apostate because of his attachment to pagan religion; others were Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus, future Fathers of the Church. The philosophical schools of  Athens  functioned until the 6th century, at which point Justinian closed them by decree, perhaps because freedom of philosophic thought conflicted with the dogmatism of what had become the state religion. At this point,  Athens  entered the Dark Ages.

Deprived of its intellectual nourishment, the city was gradually forgotten, destined to continue its progress through time as an insignificant village, the roads of which were studded with pieces of marble from statues that had been smashed by fanatics remembering the heathen past of this once-great city. It was this past that made the official Byzantine state neglect the birthplace of art and beauty, which they regarded as a dangerous incitement to those who tended to disagree with the medieval terms of immortality. The religious exaltation of the period could in no way be reconciled with the frivolity of the ancient gods and thus Christianity’s fight for dominance was a tough one without concessions or exceptions.

In the 13th century, when the Crusaders transferred their need for expansion to the East, thinly disguised under a veil of religion, knights who had been excluded from the division of the conquered lands fanned out over the Aegean and around the coasts snatching land by brute force. During the years that followed, the Franks and Catalans established their principalities in Attica and fought to keep them safe from the rising power of Islam. All during this time, the few remaining residents of  Athens  were simply struggling to survive, as they sank ever deeper into the lethargy of illiteracy, poverty and obscurity. The rest of Europe welcomed the educated Byzantines who had fled after the fall of Constantinople (1453), and this infusion of new culture helped push forward the Renaissance, contributing substantially to what we now know as Western civilization. But at that time, this forgotten corner of the earth was not even called Hellas, even though from time to time, travellers would fill tour journals with notes about the monuments, carved stones and inscriptions they had seen on the ground along the pathways of Attica.

It was these descriptions which awakened the memories of Hellas and soon the travellers would start coming in earnest to look, dig and depart in order to send others in ever greater numbers. The Ottoman conquerors, gazing down indifferently from the heights of the Acropolis, where they had established themselves for security reasons, looked condescendingly upon those who came to do research, while the suspicious local population tried to make some money by helping those people whom they, in their ignorance, termed “silly strangers”. In the mid- 18th century, lists had already begun to circulate around Europe of the most significant Greek monuments; some of these lists were even accompanied by drawings. By the early 19th century a few collections of the plunder had already been established.

The French Revolution brought a different atmosphere to the intellectuals of Europe. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity became accepted values. Romantic verses by Lord Byron brought back to the Western mind the memory of Hellenic culture associated with this part of the Balkans, rather than the Greece that had become known through the wealthy Greek merchants in various cities of Europe. Thus the news that the Greek War of Independence had been proclaimed fell on fertile ground and the voice of the enslaved Greek nation was heard once again after centuries of silence, inspiring artists to paint episodes from the desperate struggle waged by the few descendants of the heroes of Marathon and Thermopylae. The scene depicting a mounted, turbaned warrior fighting against an impassioned footsoldier. In his fustanela inspired a sense of heroism and the confrontation between life and death, as well as awakening feelings of anger against the oppressors and support for the oppressed.

In June 1822, the Greeks captured the Acropolis and made it their command post, while the struggle continued with an uncertain outcome on all fronts. Five years later, Kiutahis Pasha had recaptured the citadel in a last ditch effort to suppress the revolution. But the Great Powers of the times formed an alliance -either because they wanted to bow to public opinion or because they were counting on gaining influence in the new independent state in the strategic Mediterranean region, or because they regarded the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire as inevitable-and in the decisive battle of Navarino, it was they who administered the final blow to the Sultan, which gave Greece her freedom.

As soon as it gained its independence, the newly constituted state became an apple of discord for European politicians, while the dusty village of  Athens  was, as a matter of courtesy, designated capital. Still reeling from their bloody fight and from the heady feeling of freedom, the Greeks were struggling to rediscover their identity, and at the same time to wipe out the taint of slavery. They wore European clothes, avoided the brigand-riddled mountains and began building mansions that resembled their monuments. The simple people were awed by the fact that their huts had been built on the settlements and graves of their forefathers and began to be aware of themselves as constituting part of a long, unbroken chain. They all started tearing down, clearing away, digging up and restoring. At last, the Attic earth was ready to surrender its treasures and ideals to humanity.

It was in this way that Greek archeology, the new science of antiquities, was born.

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The Land of Athena

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Have you ever been to the land of Athena? Come join us on our tour to Athena. We begin the tour at your luxurious Grande Bretagne Hotel. From your balcony, you can see The Changing of the Guard which takes place in front of the Parliament. It is quite a unique show! Fifty two National Guardsmen (in white uniforms) accompanied by a marching band, walk down the street. From the identical vantage pointe you can view the Changing of the Guard which is in front of the Unknown Soldier’s monument. This is a wonderful event to witness on Sundays! I have seen this event countless times. The King George Palace also stands across from the Parliament. This hotel can be seen with a similar vantage point, but the Grande Bretagne Hotel is a bit more regal in appearance. In addition, the national gardens are across the street at the Syntagma Square which is where Athenians take a walk and relax during the summer days.

The real estate areas of these properties are called Herodou Atticou which is the most expensive in   Athens . Impressive views of the Acropolis will be seen on top of a beautiful hill with the  city  of  Athens  as a backdrop. Do you enjoy taking photos? This is definitely the spot. Let us go to the entrance of the Acropolis and tour the Parthenon (constitutes a masterpiece of architecture that is renowned worldwide), and the Temple of  Athens  Nike, and other fascinating and historic sites on the “Sacred Rock” overlooking the  city  of  Athens . Did you know that the Acropolis was for many centuries the most important religious  centre  of the  city  of  Athens ? The archeological sites are universal symbols connected with the birth of democracy. And did you also know that  Athens  received its name because of Athena who as become the goddess of wisdom and peace in ancient times? Obviously there is much to see and ponder about in  Athens , especially The New Acropolis Museum is housed on the grounds of the Acropolis and is one of the best museums in the world. This new museum is set in a characteristic neoclassical building. It contains recently a refurbished collection of ancient Greek art and artifacts including more details about the goddess of Athena. This is a must see! You will be amazed at these antiquities.

We also won’t let you miss the other sites: The Dionysus Theatre, the Stills of Olympian Zeus, the Roman Agora, the Greek Agora and the Keramikos. The Museum of Cycladic art and The Benaki Museum and the National Archaeological Museum are also quite significant. How about the Kallimarmaro Stadium? It was originally made out of marble. The Marathon runners of the 2004 Olympics ended their journeys in this stadium. Can you imagine what it would be like to sit in the stands of this stadium? Let’s go in and sit!

In addition, did you know that there is a monument across from the Hilton Hotel? Another important monument we will see is the Marathon man which is made of fiber glass and is located across from the hotel. The “Marathon Man” was built in dedication to the Greek soldier Philidippides who in 490 BC ran from the town of Marathon to  Athens  (about 26 miles) to announce that the Persians had been defeated. He shouted “Nenikikamen” which means “We won” in ancient Greek and then he collapsed of exhaustion and died.

After visiting the above venues, we will visit Lycabettus Hill, passing through the Kolani Square which is in the Soho area of  Athens . Athenians gather in this square to have Greek coffee and chat in the nearby cafes. It also has some of the best shopping stores of known fashion designers. The drive up Lycabettus Hill is the tallest hill in  Athens . It reaches 277 meters and on its peak lays a small white Greek Orthodox Church of St. George which was built in 1852. Near the Greek Orthodox Church stands the St. George Lycabettus is another luxury property. This is another photo opportunity! We then head to the Plaka area where you can spend more time shopping and eating. According to a recent theory, the Plaka owes its name to the large stone slab found in the area of the Church of St. Alexandria. Plus, the best eatery is on the top of a hill, called the Csarda Taverna.

After spending some more time in the Plaka, we travel to the outskirts of  Athens  towards Cape Sounion along the coastline of  Athens . Before reaching Cape Sounion, we will stop at Lake Vouliagmeni which stands at 40 centimeter in elevation and its water maintains a constant 2.4 degrees year-round Celsius temperature. Due to the healing properties in the water, the Athenians swim here all year round.

Cape Sounion has the ruins of the Temple of Poseidon which was built in 444 BC. The view from the temple is spectacular. I never tire of the views. Here you will be able to enjoy the most beautiful sunset. There is a lovely taverna called Akrogiali in Palea Phokea on the way to the cape where we can enjoy lunch or dinner over-looking the blue waters of the Saronic Gulf. The five star Recital Cape Sounion Hotel is located in one of the world’s most celebrated archeological sites. This is another one of our most traveled Luxury Greece tours. After seeing Cape Sounion, you will return again and again as we do!

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Things To Do In Athens, Greece

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Athens is one of the oldest civilizations in the world and this means that there are ample places to see and visit in the city. The home of famous philosophers like Aristotle, Socrates and Plato has many things to offer visitors.

Acropolis is the considered to be one of the biggest attractions in the city. It is the site where ancient Athens was situated and home to temples dedicated in the honor of Athena, the patron goddess of the city. The main buildings in this ancient city were designed by Pericles, and most of them were constructed between the years 460 BC and 430 BC. The most popular attractions are Parthenon, Erechtheion, the Temple of Nike and Propylea. At the very foothills of the Acropolis is Plaka, where you can visit numerous museums. The Jewish Museum, the Greek Folk Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Greek and European Paintings are located here.

You should not miss a chance to visit the ancient agora in the city. Marketplaces played an important role in ancient Greece, and when visiting modern-day Athens, you will have a chance to see the ruins of the ancient marketplace in the city. There is an entrance fee levied, but it is worth it. You can also visit the Ancient Agora Museum to see the exhibits and also admire the marvelous architecture of the building.

If you are not a fan of history, then modern-day Athens will not disappoint you. The main square in the city is known as Syntagma Square and this where all the hot spots of the city are located. Here you will find restaurants, shops, hotels and bars situated around a huge water fountain. To the north and south of the square are some great gardens that house a number of cafes where you can sit down to sip a cool drink or take a quick bite. The square is also close to the Greek parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Kolonaki District is located close to Syntagma Square where you can visit designer stores and boutiques to purchase branded labels. The District also has posh eating places. It is considered to be one of the richest suburbs of the city.

If you are in Athens, you should not miss a trip to the local flea market situated at Monastiraki. You can get good bargains and souvenirs to take home. Finally, take the metro to get some information about this city. While the metro was being constructed, many ancient artifacts were found which are now displayed in some of the stations.

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A Short History of Athens

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The history of Athens is virtually the history of Greece, for this immortal city was for centuries the heart of the Hellenic world and the acknowledged leader of its civilization. Though in common with all Greek cities, its origins are too remote to be anything more than a matter for conjecture. The Cyclopean wall that runs round the rock of the Acropolis, the neolithic remains, traces of Bronze Age habitation and a number of pre-Hellenic place-names prove that Athens was occupied by man from the very earliest times.

Athens was perhaps the largest of the independent Attic communities with its king residing on the Acropolis, probably in the palace named after Erechtheus, whose memory is perpetuated in the magnificent temple of the Erechtheion. A tribe of their Ionian kinsmen from Marathon, from whom later generations of Athenians were proud to claim descent, invaded the city and rapidly became predominant. Under the rule of Cecrops, the first known king of Athens, and that of his successors, Pandion, Erechtheus, Aegeus and Theseus, Athens increased in size and importance, slowly absorbing the smaller communities of Attica, until in the reign of Theseus (c. 1300 BC) they were all united under his leadership.

About 1100 BC, the Dorians invaded the Peloponnese and swept all before them; it seemed that no army could withstand them, and Athens was in mortal danger. Its citizens sprang to arms, though with a presentiment of certain defeat in their hearts. It had been prophesied that the Athenians could only ensure victory by the death of their king. King Codrus then decided to sacrifice himself to save his people. Making his way disguised into the Dorian camp he provoked a quarrel in which he was killed. When the invaders discovered that it was Codrus they had slain they despaired of success and retreated; Athens was saved.

Since no one was thought worthy to succeed this heroic king, the monarchy yielded to government by the nobles, who appropriated all power. They chose three archons, or executive officials, from among their ranks to represent the king and share the royal power. This change was affected by the devolution of the military powers of the king to the polemarch, who then became the supreme military commander; the first archon, who later became the chief state official, was the civil governor, while the archon basileus, who was a descendant of Codrus, retained the title of king and had control of the religious rites of the state. Although first hereditary and limited to the royal clan, the tenure of the archonship was later reduced to a period of ten years and all noblemen were eligible for office.

This reform, however, did not satisfy the masses that resented the concentration of all state authority in the hands of the aristocracy and clamored for a written constitution. In 594 BC the nobles bestowed full power to remodel the new state on one of their number, the celebrated Solon, trusted by noblemen and peasant alike. For the first time in the history of the world the people were given a measure of participation in government, the grant of political rights and a constitution. Later the office of archon was made annual and elective and to the existing three offices, military, civil and religious, were added the six thesmothetae whose sole duty was to record judicial decisions. In spite of these concessions discontent was rife, and a number of popular revolts exposed the state to constant danger.

In 546 BC, Peisistratus, a distinguished and daring statesman seized power and made himself dictator. Under his autocratic rule Athens enjoyed great prosperity. He stimulated commerce and industry, and by fostering agriculture laid the basis for the development of Athens’ chief export, the olive. Through his vigorous foreign policy, for the first time, Athens emerged as an Aegean Power. Posterity is indebted to this devoted lover of the arts since he ordered the preparation of the first authorized version of Homer’s sublime epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. He also embellished the city with monuments whose splendor was later surpassed only by those of the Golden Age of Pericles.

Peisistratus died in 527 BC. Though a dictator, he had been an enlightened and benevolent ruler. He had cared for the interests of the common man and curbed the power of the nobles; but his sons, especially the elder, Hippias, were brutal tyrants who exercised their power solely in their own interests. They excited the hatred of the Athenians to such a degree that in 514 BC a conspiracy was organized and the leaders, two patricians, Harmodios and Aristogeiton, killed the younger brother, Hipparchus. Hippias was driven into exile and the civic liberties of the state were restored.

The resounding victories over the Persians at Marathon, in 490 BC, and particularly the glorious Battle of Salamis, in 480 BC, in which Themistocles proved himself a naval commander of genius, laid the foundations of Athenian supremacy over the Hellenic city-states. A statesman of uncommon foresight, Themistocles added diplomatic triumphs to his victories. By protracting the parleys with Sparta he gained the time necessary to complete the rebuilding of the city’s fortifications, which had been destroyed by the Persians during their second invasion.

Themistocles’ policies were continued by his successor, Cimon. Athenian domination over the states of Asia Minor was consolidated and no enemy ship now dared appear in the waters of the Mediterranean. Besides being a brilliant strategist Cimon was also a great lover of art. He embellished the city, and commissioned his intimate friend, the eminent painter Polygnotus of Thasos, to execute vast frescoes recording the glorious deeds of the Athenians.

The year 460 BC saw the eclipse of Cimon and the rise of his political rival, Pericles, who controlled the affairs of the state, including the earlier period of the Peloponnesian war, until his death in 429 BC. An aristocrat but at the same time leader of the democratic party, he was a fervent advocate and champion of people’s rights. During the years of his administration Athens reached the summit of her grandeur, and the most brilliant century of Greek history is known as the Age of Pericles. Athens was now mistress of a superb fleet of three hundred sail and an army of thirty thousand perfectly armed and disciplined soldiers, with fortifications extending to the port of Peiraeus; she was impregnable to attack from land or sea, while her commercial prosperity and the tribute of the Delian League amassed in the treasury made her the richest city in all Hellas.

If the material prosperity of Athens was great during this period, her attainments in every field of culture were incomparable. A galaxy of architects, sculptors and painters and their gifted assistants adorned the city with a dazzling array of temples, public buildings and other works of art. Nor were Athenian achievements in literature less noteworthy. In this period the Attic drama produced many immortal masterpieces. It is also to Periclean Athens that the scientific thought of Europe in logic, ethics, rhetoric and history owes its origin. Supreme in the arts of war and peace, Athens was the most illustrious city of antiquity and seemed destined to endure for ever, but the inconstant gods were envious of happiness that matched their own.

The outbreak of the Peloponnesian War in 431 was the first of a series of misfortunes to fall upon the city. Two years after the beginning of this internecine and intermittent struggle between Athens and Sparta for the hegemony of Greece, Athens suffered irreparable loss in the untimely death of Pericles during the dreadful plague that ravaged the city. Twelve years later the treachery of Pericles’ nephew, Alcibiades, was the cause of an even greater calamity.

Idol of the masses, Alcibiades was a gifted but completely unscrupulous demagogue who served his native city only when it suited him. Against the opposition of more experienced generals he succeeded in persuading his fellow citizens to embark upon the Sicilian Expedition (415) and was appointed one of the commanders. Shortly after the fleet had set sail he was recalled to stand trial on a charge of sacrilege, but fled to the Spartans, to whom he betrayed Athenian plans for the invasion of Sicily.

The crushing defeat of her fleet before Syracuse with the loss of forty thousand men and two hundred and forty ships, struck a crippling blow at the naval prestige of Athens and in 404 after twenty-seven years of war, utter exhaustion and starvation forced her to capitulate to her rival, Sparta.

Though her defeat deprived Athens of the leadership of Hellas, she retained her cultural eminence. The plays of Euripides and Aristophanes, the sculpture of Praxiteles and Scopas, the paintings of Zeuxis and the philosophical works of Plato mark this period as one of particular brilliance in the history of arts.

During the Corinthian War (395 BC) there was a revival of the Athenian naval power under Conon, whose squadron utterly routed the Spartan ships at the historic battle of Cnidus (394 BC). Following his triumphant return Conon ordered the rebuilding of the Long Walls (393 BC), which Athens had been compelled to demolish by the victorious Spartans at the end of the Peloponnesian War.

These walls completed the city’s chain of giant defenses. A roadway 8 kms in length and 170 m. wide, protected on either side by walls 18 m. high and 3 m. thick, secured communication between the city and the port of Peiraeus with its adjoining harbors. To the south was a had already been removed for the adornment of the new city on the Bosporus, and she was the object of further depredation in AD 523 when the great church of St. Sophia was erected. Under Byzantium the Parthenon and other glorious temples were converted into Christian churches, and in AD 529 Constantinople ordered the closing of the celebrated philosophical schools and the confiscation of their libraries; Athens was but a name.

After the Latin conquest of Constantinople in 1204 the Burgundian Count Otto de la Roche was granted the lordship of Athens, later raised to a duchy by Louis IX, and established his court on the Acropolis. On the death of Guy II, last duke of the House of de la Roche, the duchy passed to his cousin, Gautier de Brienne, the last French duke of Athens. Three years later (1311) he perished at the battle of Copais where a fearsome army of Catalan adventurers, known as the Grand Company, slaughtered the flower of Frankish chivalry. The Catalans terrorized the country for seventy years until they were overcome by another horde of Spanish mercenaries, the Navarrese Company.

In 1388 the Florentine Nerio Acciajuoli, Castellan of Corinth and Lord of Thebes, whom the Navarrese had elected as their leader, seized Athens and installed himself in the ducal court of the Acropolis. The house of the Acciajuoli lasted until 1456 when the last duke, Franco, was forced to yield to the Turks.

In 1684 when Venice declared war against the Turks, Doge Francesco Morosini was appointed to command the expedition. Ably seconded by a Swedish general, Count Otto Koenigsmark, he drove the enemy out of the Peloponnese and then marched against their garrison in Athens. In Morosini’s bombardment of the Acropolis, then held in force by the enemy, severe damage was done to the monuments there.

In 1821 the great revolution against Turkish occupation, which had lasted for almost four centuries, spread third wall, the Phaleric, which extended to the coastal town of Phaleron and protected the bay connecting it with Peiraeus. These massive walls rendered Athens an impregnable fortress, making it impossible for an invader to cut her off from her trade and food supplies.

From 338 BC the orator Lycurgus was archon. During his tenure of office he further embellished the city and restored those ancient monuments that had suffered either at the hands of man or from the ravages of time. In this same period, from the tribune of the hallowed rock of the Pnyx, resounded the voice of the great orator, Demosthenes, whose name will forever be linked with the last splendors of the immortal city.

Alexander the Great treated Athens with marked favor and granted her a considerable measure of autonomy. Though she had lost her supremacy in science and scholarship to Alexandria, Athens was still considered the natural home of philosophy, while in the theatre Menander’s New Comedy made Athenian life known throughout the civilized world.

After being sacked by Sulla in 86 BC for her part in supporting Mithridates the Great against Rome, she became part of the new Roman province of Achaea in 27 BC. Her only importance now lay in her philosophical schools which were frequented by such young Romans as Cicero, Herodes Atticus and Horace.

Athens was later restored to favor as a free and sovereign city and regarded as the cultural center of the Roman world; Hadrian and later Antonines lavishly endowed her with many new buildings. During the reign of the Emperor Hadrian a whole new city, Novae Athenae, to which the Arch of Hadrian was the gateway, rose around the Olympieion.

With the foundation of Constantinople Athens sank into the obscurity of a provincial Byzantine town and is rarely mentioned in the chronicles of the period. Pheidias’ statue of Athena Promachos and other works of art throughout Greece. A year later, in 1822, the intrepid Odysseus Androutsos, one of the principal figures of the War of Independence (1821-1833) succeeded by a surprise attack in capturing the Acropolis. In 1826 the Turks under Reschid Pasha again besieged it. An attempt by the French philhellene Colonel Baron Fabvier to relieve the heroic defense force was defeated, and the garrison commander Gouras killed. Further attempts to relieve the Acropolis proved no more successful than the first, instructions were therefore sent to the garrison to surrender.

On 24th May 1827, the Turks having accorded them the honors of war, the remnants of the gallant defenders marched out with flying colors.

The Acropolis remained in the hands of the enemy until 12th April 1833 when, in the name of Greece, Colonel Baligand took formal possession from the Turkish commander. On 13th December of the same year King Othon, the first King of Greece, entered the city. One year later, on 18th September 1834, Athens was officially proclaimed the Capital city of the Kingdom.

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All About Athens

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 Athens  is the capital  city  of Greece. It is a modern, big  city  as the capitals of other European countries are, and more than a million people live in  Athens  and its suburbs. But  Athens  is also one of the most important  cities  of history. Thousands of years ago, when most of the men on earth were still ignorant savages, the learning and the science and the art of today had their start in  Athens . About five thousand years ago, men first built a  city  where  Athens  stands today. They built the city around a rocky hill about four hundred feet high.

On this hill they built walled-in fortifications called an acropolis, about which there is a separate article. The people lived around the hill and farmed the land. If an enemy attacked, they could all go to the Acropolis for safety. All cities in those ancient times passed under the rule of one king after another, fought and lost many wars, sometimes were conquered and ruled by neighbouring peoples, and sometimes conquered the neighbouring peoples and ruled them. For hundreds of years,  Athens  rose and fell in this way.

But about three thousand years ago-not long after the year 1000 B.C. – the people of  Athens  began to develop a civilisation greater than the world had known before. The first step toward this was the Greek language as the Athenians learned to use it. No other language then had the words needed to write great books of science as well as great poetry and other literature. The poetry of Homer, written in this language, is still as great as any that has ever been written. In the hundreds of years that followed, the drama was born in the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and others. Three of the greatest philosophers of all time, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, taught and wrote in this Greek language.

Laws written in this language, by the great statesman Solon and others, gave  Athens  one of the earliest democratic governments. The Greek language is still used by scholars throughout the world.  Athens  became a democracy in 508 B.C. The two hundred years that followed were the times of its greatest glory. During this period the sculptor Phidias and other Athenian sculptors built the magnificent buildings on the Acropolis and carved statues that are still models of beauty. The people elected their own leaders.  Athens  was a “ city-state ,” which means that it was a city but also an independent country. There were many slaves, however. In 338 B.C.,  Athens  was conquered by King Philip of Macedon, a neighbouring country in Greece. (Philip was the father of Alexander the Great, who conquered almost the entire civilised world.)

After it fell under the rule of Macedon,  Athens  did not become big and independent again for more than two thousand years. The Romans ruled it, then a series of conquerors until the Turks made it part of Turkey about four hundred years ago.  Athens  became just a small town. In the year 1834, the entire country of Greece became independent again and  Athens  was made the capital. It began to grow, and now is a great city again. It is the seat of the Greek Orthodox Church (also called the Orthodox Catholic Church), and the capital of the kingdom of Greece. About two thirds of all the manufacturing in Greece is done in and near  Athens . The remains of many of the great buildings of ancient  Athens , including the Acropolis, can still be seen there. During World War II, the Germans occupied Greece and captured  Athens , but it was not damaged.

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