The Historical City of Athens

The actual history of Athens, or Kekropia as it was then known after the King Kekropos, who had the body of a snake, begins at around 3000 BC.

Ancient Athens

On top of the Acropolis, a huge hill standing some 150 meters above sea-level and measuring around 330 meters in length was the place where Athens began. With attacks from other parties a very real possibility, it made sense that Athens should be situated at the very top of the Acropolis where it was very easy to defend against outside attack.

Though as previously mentioned the history of Athens started at around 3000 BC, it was in fact inhabited at around 8000 BC by the Pelasgians. These original inhabitants are credited with the building of the oldest walls around the rock of the Acropolis. They are known today as either the Pegasgian or Cyclopean walls. Many other ancient temples are also credited to them.

As well as King Kekropos being credited to the introduction of monogamy and the ritual of burning the dead, he was also present in the Council of the Twelve Gods of Olympus, when Poseidon and Athens were staking their claim to Attica. Mythology tells us that Poseidon struck the rock of the Acropolis with his trident and a horse leapt out from that point along with a stream of rushing water. Athena replied by striking the rock next to it with her spear and from this point, the very first olive tree appeared. It was decided that Athena had won the contest, and she became the protector of the city, which then took her name in place of Kekropia. To compensate Poseidon however, the Athenians built him a huge temple at Sounion, on the most southern point of Attica.

As well as Athena and Poseidon, Athens and Attica are also connected with two other Gods. The first being Dionysus, the God of Wine and Intoxication. His gift to the city of Athens which he loved was the vineyard. Dionysian, a festival in his honour was celebrated during the historical times in Attica. Dances took place and also shows of tragedy and comedy.

The other God or Goddess was Dimitra, and her daughter Persephone. Persephone was actually abducted by Hades who wanted to make her his wife. While Dimitra was desperately searching for her daughter, she was offered refuge by Kekleos, the King of Elefsis. As a gesture of gratitude, Dimitra taught the people of Elefsis how to cultivate the earth. A temple was built at the sight were Athenians first met the Goddess.

Athens was not always an important city and during the rise and decline of the Mycenaean civilization was merely like any of the other city-states. However, after beginning to merge with other villages around it, it did in fact become a very powerful city. The person responsible for this was Theseus, who was a hero to the people of Athens. He was the son of Aegeous, the King of Athens. Though a historical person, the life of Theseus lies somewhere between reality and myth.

Ancient Athens

Theseus was considered as a semi god, who was able to carry out amazing feats due to his amazing physical strength and ability and also his free spirit. It was his desire for Athens to merge with smaller surrounding villages that brought Athens to be a powerful force, and ruler of Attica. His accomplishment was rewarded with the Panathenaia, a collection of processions and contests.

Theseus also had a relationship with the area of Sounion in the most southern point of Attica. Mythology tells us that there was an obligation from Minos, the King of Crete, that each year, Theseus would send seven young men and seven young women to Crete as a sacrifice for the Minotaur. Theseus was against this blood-thirsty ritual and wanted to free Athens from it.

Getting on board the ship which was carrying these young people, Theseus had agreed with his father that the masts should have black sails, but on its return, if Theseus was successful in his mission, then these sails should be changed to white. After defeating the Minotaur with his superior physical strength and finding his way out of the labyrinth where the Minotaur was situated, the ship made its way towards Athens.

However, Theseus, too caught up in his happiness about defeating the Minotaur, forgot about changing the sails from black to white. His father Aegeus, who was at Sounion, watching the sea for the arrival of the ship saw that the black sails were still on the masts. Believing that the mission was unsuccessful and his son dead, Aegeus leapt to his death in the sea. The sea has been known ever since as the Aegean Sea.

The Acropolis of Athens

During the many years of being under the control of the Franks, Romans and Turkish rule, (which lasted over 400 years), the modern Athens was born in 1834. Athens was restored as the capital city of the newly independent Greece. At the end of the Greek-Turkish war, Greek refugees flooded into the city. During the period of 1922-1923, over 1 million Orthodox Greeks leave Asia Minor, and over 350,000 Muslims leave Greece for Turkey.

1940 was the year that Mussolini sent troops into Greece during the Second World War. When Mussolini demanded access to the ports of Greece, the Greek “General Metaxa” gave a one-worded answer, “oxi”, meaning “no”. From 1941 to 1944, German forces occupied the country. During WW2, an estimated 40,000 Greeks died from starvation due to huge food shortages.

After the Second World War, financial support from the US and other allies, leads to a massive expansion and regeneration of the country, especially in Athens. Most of the huge ugly buildings that can be found in Athens today are very recent buildings, having been constructed during the last 30-40 years or so.

The infamous military junta in 1967 leads to the exile of King Constantine. The colonels of the army control power in Athens. It was in 1973 that students in Athens held a massive uprising, protesting against the military junta, and began barricading themselves in the university. On the night of the 16th/17th November, armed troops broke into the university and killed 43 students. Since that day, every November 17th, there is a march and the laying of a wreath in Athens.

In 1974, after the end of the military dictatorship, Constantine Karamanlis made his return to Greece, and is sworn in to become the Prime Minister. After a referendum, the people of Greece voted in favour of a republic, and the Greek Royal family remained in exile.

After becoming a member of NATO in 1951, Greece joins the European Community in 1981. In 1985, Athens becomes the first Cultural Capital of Europe, in an idea devised by the Greek politician and actress, Melina Mercouri.

2004 Athens Olympic Games

The summer of 2004 started perfectly with the national Greek football side, causing a huge upset, and against all odds, becoming the European Football Champions. August 2004 then saw the Olympic Games take place, in the country of their birth, followed by the Paralympics Games taking the following month in September. The Olympic Games also gave a huge push for the improvement of infrastructure and transport in the city.

The new Athens International Airport, which opened in March 2001, greatly improved air travel to the capital, as well as public transport being hugely improved with the introduction of the Metro ( which is continously being expanded ) and the Athens Tram.

The past few years have seen development in the city slowing down, due to the financial difficulties that have faced the whole country. The city is still a very beautiful and thriving one, with lots to experience and enjoy. There are various plans for continued development in Athens including the coastal area of Ellinikon, which is where the old Athens airport was located.