A Modern City with a Glorious Past
Known as the birthplace of democracy, Athens is a city with a long and glorious past, which started as early as 1400 BCE as an important center of the Mycenaean civilization. Athens is where western civilization took roots. At its heyday, Athens was the leader of the Greek city-states. It was home to many great philosophers, including Socrates (469 – 399 BCE), Aristotle (427 – 347 BCE) and Plato (384 – 322 BCE). In addition to philosophy, Athens was at the forefront of arts, medicine, astronomy, and mathematics.
After Athens declined as the powerhouse of the Greek city-states, it was ruled by Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Many iconic structures of Greece that include Parthenon are in Athens. The ruins of ancient monuments that are spread all over the city speak of different eras in Athens’ history.
Athens is also called Athina in Greek. It is located on mainland Greece.
Athens is the capital of Greece and a cosmopolitan city. It also has one of the biggest ports in Europe. The port of Piraeus is part of greater Athens and handles large passenger traffic.
This is the central square of Athens where the Greek Parliament building is located.
The current Greek Parliament building was built in 1836 as the royal palace of King Otto I, the first king of modern Greece.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is in the front of the Greek Parliament building and guarded by the members of the presidential guards.
The Greek National Gardens is located behind the Parliament building.
Athens Olympics Games
The modern Olympic Games are modeled after the ancient Olympic Games that were held in Olympia for many centuries in ancient times. The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens on April 6, 1896, and held again there in 2004.
The Panathenaic Stadium is one of the main attractions of Athens. The original stadium at this site was built in 330 BCE and was remodeled in 144 CE by Herodus Atticus, an Athenian aristocrat who rose became a Roman Senator. This site was excavated in 1869 and a new stadium was reconstructed at the same site.
It was used for the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympic Games. This stadium was remodeled for the 2004 Olympic Games. This venue was the finishing point for the men’s and women’s Marathon races. In addition, the archery competition was held there. It currently being used for a variety of purposes, including as a venue to transfer the Olympic flame to the host nation.
Views of the City
The city of Athens contains many hills, including Acropolis, Philopappu and Lycabettus hills. The views of Athens with these hills are spectacular.
Views of Athens
The Acropolis is a citadel located on a flat-topped rock in the city of Athens. It is about 500 ft above sea level and has a dominating presence in Athens.
The Acropolis has ruins of many iconic structures of Greece, including the Parthenon.
The Parthenon is known all over the world as an iconic symbol of ancient Greece and western civilization. It is also regarded as a symbol of democracy.
Located at the center of Acropolis, the Parthenon was built as a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin) by Pericles. It replaced the existing temple of Athena, which was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BCE. The construction of Parthenon began in 447 BCE and ended in 438 BCE. A gold and ivory statue of Athena stood in the cella (inner sanctum) of the temple. In addition to being a temple of goddess Athena, it also served as a treasury.
Over the years, the Parthenon was plundered, destroyed and converted many times. The Germanic tribes destroyed inner a part of Parthenon in the 3rd or 4th century. When Athens came under the Roman Empire, the Parthenon was converted to a church in the 6th century by early Christians and was called the church of Holy Wisdom. In the 11th century, it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. After the Frankish crusaders took over Athens, it became the Church of Notre Dame in 1204. When the Ottoman Empire took control of Athens in 1458, the Parthenon was converted to a mosque and a minaret was added to it.
A large part of Parthenon was destroyed during the bombardment of Athens by Venetians in 1687. During the war with the Republic of Venice, the Ottoman Empire stored ammunition inside the Parthenon. A cannonball fired by the Venetian troops led by the Venetian general Francisco Morosini hit the Parthenon directly igniting the stored ammunition and resulting in the destruction of precious sculptures and part of the structure.
One of the biggest damage to the Parthenon was caused by then English Ambassador to Constantinople, Thomas Bruce (7th Earl of Elgin), who in 1801- 1802 bribed Turkish authorities and sawed away many priceless sculptures and transported them to England. Today most of them are on display in the British Museum in London.
The Parthenon is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and is currently being restored by the Greek Government.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
This theater was built in 161 CE on the southwest slopes of Acropolis by Herodes Atticus to honor his wife Aspacia Anna Regilla. Herodes Atticus was an aristocratic Athenian who became a Roman Senator. He was responsible for constructing many buildings in Greece and Athens in particular.
The Odeon was used as a music theater and could seat about 5000 people. It was destroyed by a Germanic tribe in 267 CE.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Built on a slope on the north side of Acropolis in Athens, Greece, the Erechtheion, a temple built by the famous sculptor Phidias and dedicated to the legendary King Erichthonius, is second only to the Parthenon in importance. Its complex ground plan has porches on the east, north and south sides. The east side porch is dedicated to Athena and the west side to Poseidon. The construction of the original monument began in 420 BCE and ended in 406 BCE. After Roman General Sulla sacked it 80 BCE, it underwent many modifications in the subsequent years.
Porch of the Caryatids
The image shows the south side porch of the Erechtheion. As you can see from the image, the porch has six caryatids, which are replicas. The original caryatids were moved to the museums for safekeeping. Five of them are now in the new Acropolis Museum in Athens, and the sixth, which was taken by Lord Elgin in the 19th century to decorate his mansion in Scotland, is in the British Museum in London.
Note: A Caryatid in Greek architecture is a female sculpture that serves as a column that helps to support a structure.
A recent study suggests that this building was referred to as the Parthenon in ancient texts, instead of the structure we now identify as the Parthenon, because it fits the name and description in those texts. Note that Parthenon means a room for virgins in Greek.
Theatre of Dionysus
As the name suggests, this theater was dedicated to Dionysus, the god of plays and wine. Situated on the foothills of Acropolis, this theater in its current form could seat as many as 17,000 people. The theater was in existence since 6th century BCE but underwent many modifications. It is believed to be the birthplace of Greek tragedy.
Arch of Hadrian (Hadrian’s Gate)
This is a Roman-era monument honoring Roman Emperor Hadrian.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
The Temple of Olympian Zeus is located near the Arch of Hadrian, and as the name suggests it is dedicated to Olympian Zeus. The construction of this temple started in the 6th century BCE but completed much later by the Roman Emperor Hadrian.
The original temple when completed had 104 columns, out which only 16 survived.
In ancient Greek cities, the Agora was like the public square where people assembled to hear announcements, engage in political discourses, watch theatrical performances and athletic contests, and participate in religious activities. Because the Agora was a meeting place of people, it also served as a market place.
The Ancient Agora of Athens was the center of Athenian democracy where the political power was exercised. Starting from the 6th century BCE, the Agora gradually expanded to contain numerous public buildings, fountains, temples, and statues and attained the final form in the 2nd century CE. The image below shows the map of the Ancient Agora when it reached this form.
Temple of Hephaestus (Hēphaistos)
Hephaestus is the Greek god of fire and metal works and was worshiped by craftsmen and artisans in ancient Greece, especially in Athens.
The Temple of Hephaestus is one of the well-preserved buildings in Athens. It has two facades, one facing east and the other west. The east facade faces the Agora.
Temple of Hephaestus
The temple was converted to the church of St George in the 7th century. This is also the place where the first of king of modern Greece, King Otto, was officially received.
As Athens became Christian, the pagan traditions of Athens disappeared. Ancient buildings such as Parthenon were converted to churches and many new churches were built. During this period Athens lost its character, and the grandeur and splendor with which Greeks built their buildings were gone forever.
Church of the Holy Apostles
This church was built in the 11th century but was altered many times. It was restored to the current form in 1956.
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