Athens – A Young Metropolis with a Rich History
Archeological discoveries indicate that Athens has been continuously inhabited for at least the past seven millennia. However, when it became the official capital of Greece in 1834, it had only about 4,000 inhabitants living on the northern slope of the Acropolis. Since then, the population of the capital has risen to a whopping 4+ million, the Athens Larger Urban Zone included.
The first significant settlement in the area dates back to the 1400s BC, when the people living here were Mycenaeans. Only in the 6th century BC did locals start thinking about descending the Acropolis and startingto build homes around the steep rocky outcrop. The city’s golden era began after the Greeks defeated the Persians in 479 BC, and the cultural peak of Athens was reached under the rule of Pericles (461-429 BC). That is when the fabled temples on the Acropolis were built.
Today locals and visitors can still get a glimpse into the past through the ruins of these magnificent temples: The Parthenon (the temple of Athena, the city’s goddess), The Propylaea, The Erechtheion, and the Temple of Athena Nike, which is the Acropolis’ earliest fully Ionic temple. Even during the Roman rule, the city kept its fame as a cultural, intellectual and philosophical center. But slowly this status began to fade away, especially after the city’s school of philosophy – the Academy –was shut down by Justinian I.
The following nine centuries were rough, Athens going through many changes brought by different conquerors: Byzantine emperors, French dukes, Catalan mercenaries, Florentine nobles, and finally Ottoman sultans (1456). It was only in the early 19th century that the country regained its independence and Athens was named the capital of the new Greece. After the end of the two devastating World Wars, the city was rebuilt and a new era of development began.
It was only during the 1950s and 1960s that the capital finally started to get the shape of the remarkable metropolis that it is today. Tourists coming here will have to face a pretty dizzying traffic, but once they get used to the challenging rhythm of the city, they will undoubtedly enjoy the little outdoor terraces and inviting cafés even without even noticing the noise.
However delicious the local food may be and however charming the hospitality and friendly smiles of the locals is, the one thing that tourists will always be interested in the mostis the wonderful vestiges of the Ancient Athens. This is why the Acropolis is the most visited place in the city. There are also other areas in which tourists can admire archeological treasures, including the Syntagma metro station in Syntagma Square.
Less old buildings can be seen in the Mitropoleos Square: here tourists have the possibility to visit the small Byzantine Church and the Metropolitan Cathedral, another important landmark in the city. For a truly satisfying visit you should add a few more items on your list of sights to discover: the medieval Daphni Monastery (a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with the Acropolis), the Athens Trilogy – Athens University, National Library of Greece, and Academy of Athens– and the Hellenic Parliament. Oh, and let’s not forget the Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum either.
- If you don’t mind hot temperatures of 104°F (40°C) in the shade, then summer is not a bad time to visit Athens at all! If extreme heat is not your cup of tea, though, then you should try the milder and wetter winter season that starts in October.
- Plush hotels that you should try include the DivaniApollon Palaceand Spa resort, the fabled Hotel Grande Bretagneand the Westin Athens Astir Palace Beach Resort.