Athens or Athina Is Probably One Of The Most Provocative Cities In The World But You Will Love It

Athens is probably one of the most provocative cities in the world. Visitors and locals alike either worship it or ignore it, love or hate it. Everyone says how chaotic the city is, but at the same time there is order in chaos. Some only every see the airport in Athens, while on the way to the islands. Others just want to be in an Athens café all day drinking frappé and in an Athens taverna all night drinking ouzo and listening to rembetika, the Greek blues. Some praise it as the mythical and glorious birthplace of Western civilization, others criticize it for being an unorganized and polluted city. With such mixed reviews of this ancient city, one can only really only do one thing: and that is to visit it and see for oneself.

Nothing beats walking along Athenian streets with the ever-present Acropolis hovering over the city like a secret from the past. The Acropolis and the Parthenon temple stand symbolically above the modern city as a message of Athenian glory and decline. This is the essence of Athens. This is what makes Athens a most exasperating and exhilarating city for those who live there and those to travel there.

Athens sits in the Attica Basin and is enclosed by the mountains of Ymittos, Pendeli and Parnitha, and the Saronic Gulf is to the south-west. Because of its geographical position, Athens enjoyed excellent weather all year round, with mild to chilly winters and hot, dry summers. It is close to one of Europe’s busiest ports, Piraeus and boasts a state-of-the-art airport, the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport.

Athens is a sprawling modern city that enjoyed an excellent make-over to get ready for the 2004 Olympic Games. It has varied architecture, from ancient ruins, to Neo-classical, to contemporary features. Athens has so many different characteristics it is difficult to describe it. In the historic neighbourhoods of Plaka, Thission and Psirri you can see dilapidated and forgotten buildings next to beautifully renovated and preserved mansions. In the commercial areas you can see big department stores next to small, family-owned shops. In the past, Athens was the political, social and cultural centre of the world, today Athens is the political, social, administrative, cultural and financial centre of Greece.

It’s not surprising that Athens is a city with so many aspects and contradictions. When a city as ancient as this one has been through so many periods and civilizations it retains a mark from each era and that adds to the complete puzzle of the modern city. In fact, people have inhabited Athens since the Neolithic Age. Athens rose to its most glorious period during the fifth century. This period of Classical Greece was when democracy, philosophy, architecture and culture was born. But then Athens went through a period of decline as other, more powerful civilizations emerged and claimed it – the Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans. But in 1834, Athens became the capital of the modern Greek state. And modern history began.

Modern Athens is busy, cosmopolitan, and very European. It is also quite easy to navigate. Everything begins in Syntagma (or Constitution) Square. Here are the buildings of the parliament and the ministries. A good landmark to note is the M of the McDonald’s at Syntagma as most Athenians will use this as a central meeting point. Standing with your back to Syntagma, the Acropolis and the old town of Plaka, Monastiraki and Thisseion are straight ahead and a little to the left. Lykavittos Hill is the highest peak behind you to the right, but before that is the stylish Kolonaki neighbourhood. The Panathinaiko Stadium, which was the home to the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, is to your left. To your right the city is organized along three parallel roads, Stadiou, Panepistimiou and Akadimias.

Not far from the city centre are the southern seaside neighbourhoods of Faliro, Glyfada, Voula and Vouliagmeni and to the north are the classy, upper-class neighbourhoods of Marousi, Melissia, Vrilissia and Kifissia.

Apart from the city’s famous historical gems – the Acropolis, the Agora, temples to the gods, arches to Roman conquerors – the city is just as famous for its night-life. Athenians boast that they have the best night-life in the world and that they are the best party goers. In fact, as far as entertainment goes, this city has everything from classical music concerts to bouzoukia clubs. If it’s clubbing you desire, you will head to the Glyfada Strip, which is south and seaside; if it is rock you will head to Exarcheia; for traditional Greek music the historic neighbourhoods of Plaka and Psirri are the place to be. In other suburbs you will find Cuban clubs and funky bars that play electronica music. If it is high culture you desire then a concert at the Athens Concert Hall is for you. Athens has something for everyone.

Athenians are also great eaters and as far as food goes you will find everything from greasy-but-tasty take-out to high cuisine. In Plaka you will find all the traditional fare, including moussaka, souvlaki, Greek salads and feta topped with plentiful olive oil and oregano. You will also find restaurants that prepare foods according to ancient Greek recipes, such as those described by the ancient culinary expert, Archestratus. You will also find everything in international cuisine from Japanese and Thai restaurants to Mexican and Cuban.

Most travellers arrive in Athens hoping to see the ancient, glorious city, but soon find themselves enchanted by the modern city and all its achievements. Museums are numerous and scattered around the city showing off the age-old history of Greece, but it is also the contemporary art museums that are especially interesting to view. Athens blends the past and present together like no other city.

After the 2004 Olympic Games, Athens has become a much friendlier city, especially for pedestrians as numerous roads have been pedestrianized, including the area around the Acropolis from Dionysiou Areopagitoy Street through to Thission and Keramikos. The old town of Plaka is also largely blocked off from traffic and the busy shopping street of Ermou is also for pedestrians only.

When you arrive in Athens by air you will land at the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, which is south-east of the city centre and easily accessible via taxi, bus transfer or the Athens Metro. You can choose to stay in the midst of all the Athenian chaos or stay further out of the city, while still remaining in the Attica periphery. The southern neighbourhoods with their endless beaches are a particularly good choice, because there you can enjoy a resort-style holiday with easy access to the best part of this bustling, historic city.

West Side Of The Ancient Athens Agora

One approaches the site of the ancient Agora today by descending a wide stairway to the right of the temple. At the edge of the plateau, the American School of Classical Studies which conducted the excavations has put up a chart assisting visitors to find their way around the site.

Some of the first public buildings from Solon’s rule were constructed on the west side of the Agora thereby creating the nucleus of Athens’ administrative centre. The Bouleuterion (Council House) was built first together with the adjacent Prytaniko; the first sewage ducts were installed and the boundaries of the site were marked with inscribed stelae. During the 6th century, buildings had been erected on top of pre-historic graves, and were covered over in turn by subsequent structures.

The first building we meet, to the left at the bottom of the steps, is the raised floor of the Tholos. In the 6th century a rectangular edifice with an internal colonnaded courtyard was built on this site and used as a refectory by the assembly members. It was called the Prytaniko to distinguish it from the initial Prytaneion which must have been still in use when the old agora was situated on the slope of the Acropolis. The Prytaniko was destroyed during the Persian wars and replaced by the Tholos, which then became the official Prytaneion. This circular structure was absolutely dependent on the adjacent Bouleuterion, the seat of the Assembly of the Five Hundred. The annually elected members were always divided into groups of 50 representatives from each tribe and in this form they presided on a rotating basis for a period of 36-39 days. This period was called the “prytaneia”, during which the members had the right to free meals at the Prytaneion, where they performed their duties. About one-third of them remained there continuously, even at night, in the event that some emergency decision had to be made. Every day near sunset, the prytaneis drew lots from among themselves to choose the epistatis (supervisor), who was the supreme archon for 24 hours, as he held the state seal and the keys to the state archives.

The Prytaneion was in essence the administrative seat of the Republic of Athens because the prytaneis had full control over military, political and financial matters. They even had the right to express criticism of the newly elected officials. They received ambassadors from other cities, studied the reports of the strategoi (military leaders), assigned contracts for public works and organised the sales of property seized from penalized citizens. The weights and measures of the state were kept in the Prytaneion; another duty exercised by the prytaneis was to keep close check on the measures of weight used in the market to prevent profiteering. They also had the power to arrest dishonest tax collectors and to take judicial decisions to impose fines of up to 500 drachmas. But the most significant task of the prytaneis was to prepare the bills to be passed; first the bills went to the Boule for drafting and then to the Assembly of the Deme for final approval.

The enormous weight attached by the Athenians to the duties of the prytaneis can be seen in Socrates’ defence, in which the philosopher cited his earlier refusal to pass a death sentence, by withdrawing from the Tholos while he was serving his term as prytanis during the rule of the Thirty Tyrants. In this way, Socrates believed that he had performed an act of resistance to oppressive power, even though he knew that his punishment for refusing to perform his duty would be exemplary. He himself proposed, with a large measure of irony, that the most appropriate sentence for the charges against him would be to oblige him to eat forever in the Prytaneion, near the citizens who already enjoyed this privilege.

The Tholos with its characteristic round shape was built after 470 BC. It had a simple entrance to the east and its ceramic tiled roof was supported by six poros stone columns, the bases of three of which have been found. The floor was earthen and the thick walls were built of stone. On the north side of the building was a small room that served as a kitchen; next to it traces have been found of a makeshift roasting pit. During the Roman years, the Tholos acquired an a outer gate, the floor was paved with marble slabs and the initial pyramidal roof-with a shape that made the Athenians call the building “skias”, i.e. sunshade -was replaced by a flatter one. Whatever remains on this site today is from the Roman era.

The classification of the population of Athens into ten tribes from Denies drawn at random was, as pointed out earlier, one of the more inventive measures taken by the reformer Kleisthenis in the 6th century. The members of every tribe elected fifty delegates annually to the Boule or Assembly of the Five Hundred thus weakening the power of the oligarchic families. Herodotus was the first to use the term isonomia (equality in law), denoting the fact that all male citizens of the tribe took part in the draw with an equal possibility of being elected. The same person could not be elected two years in succession. The members of the Boule took a strict oath before entering the Bouleuterion and wore myrtle wreaths as an indication of their office. During their term as bouleutis (member of the Assembly) they were relieved of all military obligations, and occupied a position of honour at theatrical performances and feasts. At the daily sessions of the Boule, decisions were made by raising the hand, and the members were remunerated with five obols for each time they attended. The election of the ten military leaders, one from each tribe, was also held there. This was an extremely important office for the running of the city and the colonies.

Elections to annual offices were held by a draw, and there had to be at least two candidates for each office. The usual system was to use as many black and white pebbles as there were candidates. As the name of a citizen was drawn from one container, the vote fell into the other. White meant election, black rejection. Among the various artefacts found in the region were small square clay tiles, cut in such a way that two pieces could be put together to make one complete piece; these might be evidence of another manner of election.

Any request by a citizen for settlement of a private matter of debt to the state had to be in writing and had to be checked by three secretaries elected by the Boule. There were also secondary state officials to ensure full transparency in the handling of public funds.

Apart from being a legislative body, the Boule also had executive powers. It could decide to call an emergency meeting of Athenians to ostracise a politician who showed dictatorial tendencies. If such an action was decided upon, an open space in the Agora was enclosed on the predetermined day, leaving ten openings to be used as entrances, one for each tribe. The citizens would present themselves at the entrance corresponding to their tribe and would hand over the potsherd (ostrako) on which they had written the name of the public person they believed to be dangerous. Then they would enter the fenced area where they remained until the end of the voting. The used potsherds were considered to be worthless after they had been counted, and for this reason, many of them were found under the main road through the Agora where they had been dumped as an under layer for the dirt road.

The primary use of this part of the Agora can be seen from the tablets found in the area, recording the written decisions of the all-powerful Boule. We can read the names of citizens penalized by the confiscation and sale of their possessions, together with tablets containing a detailed inventory of each of these men’s assets. Mention was made of the fact that these assets were sold off by responsible clerks and the sales tax was paid, about 1% of the total value of the goods seized. In the Agora Museum one can see such charts of state buying and selling. But votes were also found containing favourable mention of Assembly members who honoured their tribe during their prytaneia, as well as friendship treaties with neighbouring cities. From ancient texts we know that in the Bouleuterion there was a column bearing an inscription to the effect that any citizen who killed a traitor would not be punished. We still have the incised vote against the tyranny of the Archon Phrynichos in the 4th century. A clay water clock was found nearby in which the flow of water from one container to the other determined the time permitted for speeches. Some letters can still be discerned from the inscription telling us that this utensil was the property of the tribe of Antiochis, to which Socrates belonged. Another indication of its use was the marking of two XXs which means a period of about six minutes. That was all the time the speakers had.

The ruins of the Athenian Bouleuterion rest on top of other, older buildings. One of them was the prehistoric sanctuary of Gaia, the Mother of the Gods, together with the traces of a structure from the early 6th century which was probably the first rudimentary council chamber under Solon. A little later, the Old Bouleuterion was constructed, a square building with graduated wooden seats on three sides and a large entrance on the side facing the Prytaniko. The Persians destroyed this building when they invaded Attica, but it was later restored and continued to function until the end of the 5th century. This can be concluded from Xenophon’s Hellenica in which he described a dramatic meeting during the grim years of the Thirty Tyrants. In about 400 the New Bouleuterion began being built, right behind the old one, which very likely became the archives, taking the name Metroon, temple of the Mother of the Gods. There the votes of the Boule were kept, written on papyrus and ready for the first discussion.

In building the New Bouleuterion, part of the rock of the Agoraios Kolonos had to be cut. The edifice was smaller than its predecessor, with its back to the side of the hill and its seats turned eastwards. The early wooden benches may have been replaced later by stone ones. It was then that the roofed courtyard was built to the south of the building, creating an impressive entrance to the chamber. A two-tier marble gate, with two Ionic columns on the top part and four on the bottom, was part of the plan for the site. This gate rested on the southeastern corner of the Old Bouleuterion on which were found the remains of a fountain and the bases of votive statues. The problem of supplying water to the site obliged the masons to hew two cisterns out of the rock for rainwater; they were connected underground to a similar structure near the Tholos.

In the second century BC, the Old Bouleuterion was rebuilt. The old building was torn down and covered over by four rooms in a row, incorporating the sanctuary of the Mother of the Gods. This area was then exclusively turned over to the Athenian’s registry office. The largest of these rooms had two stories and an inner colonnaded courtyard with an altar; an upper room looked out onto it. Perhaps these were the reading rooms of the archives. An elegant Ionian portico of which only the foundation remains, adorned the entire facade of this grouping which is generally called the Metroon.

The civic buildings ended here, leaving a space vacant to permit an unhindered view of the temple of Hephaistos. Almost no trace remains of the stairs leading up to the temple entrance, but we can still see a group of semi- circular poros stone seats carved in the 5th century. These benches were carefully built, but we do not know what their function was. It might have been a meeting place for the citizens alongside the central stairway leading to the sanctuaries of the Agoraios Kolonos.

During the early years when the Agora was taking shape, and the buildings were still few and scattered, another sanctuary had been built some distance from the old temple of the Mother of the Gods, and dedicated to Patrons Apollo. The god was worshipped here in his attribute as father of Ion; his mother was the local princess Kreousa, and as a consequence, Apollo was considered to be father of all Athenians. Initially put up in the 6th century, the little temple was rebuilt in the 4th, with four Ionic columns on its facade and an additional small room on its north side, entrance to which was through the cella. Pausanias mentioned the cult statue in this temple, a work by the sculptor Euphranor; it was found nearby and can be seen today in the restored stoa of Attalos. The god was portrayed in a standing position wearing women’s clothes, as was the practice of musicians in antiquity, and possibly holding his lyre.

Incorporated into the temple of Patroos Apollo was most of a 4th century building identified as the sanctuary of Zeus Phratrios and Athena Phratria. Archaeologists drew this conclusion because of an inscription on an altar which, although found some distance away, fits perfectly in the temple’s altar space. The protectors of the clans were worshipped together with their forefather Apollo, perhaps this was where the feasts of the Apatoureia in the month of Pyanepsion, i.e. our October, were held. This significant Athenian feast was a distant memory from the time when the clans were still very important because the strength of the group lay in the bonds of kinship. The Apatoureia was initially the official recognition of newborn boys by their relatives, and for this reason, the feast was held nine months after Gamelion, the traditional month of weddings.

On the first day, all the members of the clan would gather together from the various demes in which they were living, to enjoy a meal together. On the second day animals offered by the infants’ fathers were sacrificed. The priest who performed the sacrifice had the prerogative of taking a leg, a side and an ear from the slaughtered animal together with half a drachma. The third day of the feast was the most important and was called koureotis showing clearly that some of the child’s hair was cut. One cannot help thinking that some of the details from the Apatoureia are similar to our baptism today. It seems that each tribe had its own day for recognising its new members, but this day was always in the month of Pyanepsion. These boys participated in the same feast when they became 18 years old and were registered officially in the city rolls. The formal part of the puberty feast was exactly the same as that for infants, except that the priest was given an additional silver drachma. Knowing the enormous significance attached by the Athenians to the title of free citizen, one can understand how important was this sanctuary to the Phratrioi (clan) gods.

Right next to the cluster of temples of Patroos Apollo and the Phratrioi gods, a large building, initially almost 50 metres long, has been revealed resting on three steps. It was the portico of Zeus Eleuthereus, which took its name from the statue of the protector god of that supreme value, Freedom (eleutheria).
And here the history of the Agora was repeated with the ruins of early buildings being covered over by later ones. The Portico of Zeus was built in the 5th century as its foundation dates from then; it was trapezoidal in shape with wings extending out at both ends. It should be noted that this is one of the first applications of this architectural plan which became very popular in subsequent centuries. Especially during the Hellenistic years, lateral projecting wings became a particularly popular feature of buildings, as the long facades were seen to be recessed, creating a variety of lines pleasing to the eye. In the Stoa of Zeus Eleuthereas an outer colonnade surrounded all the facade and the wings, giving the impression that the latter were little temples incorporated into the edifice. There were pediments on the wing facades, and at the corners of the roof, were statues portraying Victory. One of these, found at the southern corner of the portico in fairly good condition, is a lively young figure flying against the wind with her light garment billowing in harmonious folds. Pausanias saw a statue of Zeus Eleuthereus in front of the main part of this portico. The round shape of the base of this statue caused archaeologists to suppose that the archaic altar of the god might have been used subsequently as the most suitable pedestal for the cult statue.

In the inner covered area an Ionic colonnade, parallel to the outer Doric one, separated the portico and its wings into two parts while supporting the roof at the same time. Some square bases of these columns have been preserved, within which some little trees have now sprouted. At the time of Pericles, the building had a stone facing on its western wall, and a bench was built around the interior to accommodate passers-by. Here Pausanias spoke of the painted decoration on the middle and side walls, also works by Euphranor. The ancient traveller was particularly impressed by the representation of Theseus with the Deme and Democracy. The Greeks liked the human figures representing their ideals; on this spot, the founder of Athens was depicted attesting to the values of the City.

During the Roman years, the back of the Portico changed its appearance, as the natural rock was once again hewn out to make way for two additional rooms. Nobody knows for sure what these later extensions were used for; perhaps it was a place for some contemporary cult. The modern visitor can see only the ground plan of the portico and the south wing together with very few parts of the original columns. The north side was also sacrificed for the needs of the electric railway. For this reason, the visitor who reaches the fence at the tracks and wants to continue walking on the archaeological site, must turn around and go back toward the statue of Hadrian.

When Pausanias came to the Agora, he reported having seen a statue of the emperor Hadrian in front of the Portico of Zeus. This statue, which was discovered by excavations to be lying on top of a drainage duct, where it had been placed as a covering slab during the Byzantine period, was reerected on a new base near where it was found, even though it is headless and rather battered.

Poplius Aelius Hadrian, emperor of the Roman world from 117 to 138 AD, became ruler of the vast empire when it extended from the Caspian Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. He was a clear-sighted military man who fortified the outposts of the empire to protect its citizens from enemies; he was also highly educated, and as such was a patron of the arts and letters. Poet and mystic, he was the preeminent philHellene. This is why he is always presented with a short beard like the Greek philosophers. He respected local customs and laws everywhere, particularly in Greece where he was initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries and in fact built a bridge on the road to Eleusis so that the faithful would have easier access to the sanctuary of Demeter.

Athens was Hadrian’s favourite city, which is why he gave the order that a great library be built near the Agora, and that an aquaduct be constructed, the reservoir for which was high up on Lycabettus Hill and is still used today. He also erected a triumphal gate near the temple of Olympian Zeus, which was completed only after being in a semi-finished state for centuries. But the love of this great Roman for Athens was shown most clearly by his founding of the Attic Panhellenio. This was a congress to join all Greeks together, both from mainland Hellas and from the diaspora. The condition for participation was the proven authenticity of the delegates’ descent. Hadrian’s initiative was intended to help Hellenes with alien customs to regain their cultural identity by recognising the forgotten values of their forefathers. Standing humbly before the breadth of Attic knowledge, Hadrian wanted to be portrayed in official statues dressed in an imperial cuirass upon which was always the same scene: two winged Victories flanking the goddess Athena, with her sacred animals the snake and the owl right and left, while she herself was standing on the back of the Roman she-wolf which suckled Romulus and Remus, the founders of ancient Rome. This scene portrayed most eloquently the definition of “the victor who was vanquished by the defeated”, i.e. this special relation created between Rome and Hellenism.

Behind the statue of Hadrian is a large base for an altar dedicated to Zeus Agoraios. The quality of the masonry and the fine decoration indicate that this work was done during the classical age in Athens, although there are marks of stone fittings characteristic of the Roman period. These masons’ marks placed to assist the correct positioning of architectural members, might possibly be evidence that the altar was initially located at some other spot and was brought to its present site to adorn the Agora during Roman times.

In front of the altar of Zeus Agoraios facing the Bouleuterion, the visitor can see what remains of a very significant structure in ancient Athens. It is the base of a monument entitled Eponymous Heroes, mentioned by Pausanias, and about which Aristotle has given us a fair amount of information. This was the place where the announcements made by the City to the citizens were posted, a site very likely chosen for its proximity to the Metroon and the Boule.
The monument of the Eponymous Heroes had a long narrow pedestal on top of which stood ten bronze statues of honoured heroes who were especially associated with local myths. At each end of this base there were believed to have been bronze cauldrons, an indication of worship because each hero represented the tribe which had taken its name from him. Around the pedestal was a stone fence consisting of vertical stakes with a hole at the top to support horizontal wooden boards. Under each statue, officials would hang wooden slates with the announcements of concern to the members of the corresponding tribe. Thus the Athenian citizen could stand in front of the statue of his tribe’s hero . and read the information which interested him. Here was recorded: the names of citizens who had to present themselves for some service, the names of young people whose turn had come for military service and announcements of court rulings. Also posted there were the drafts of laws, so that the citizens would learn about them in good time and be able to vote dispassionately at the meetings of the Assembly of the Deme. Even though the administrators obliged the citizens to participate in public affairs, it was the latter who had the responsibility of informing the interested parties. Aristotle tells us that on this monument were also written the names of citizens who had distinguished themselves for the public benefit either in battle or in the performance of their duties; they were models to be emulated.
Right behind the statue of Hadrian and all along the length of the buildings on the west side of the Agora, passed the drainage duct, an important and highly functional work. This arrangement for rainwater runoff proved to be vital in Attica, with its seasons of sudden rain, which in no time fills the dry river beds. Just how important it was became clear after the gradual abandonment of the area in the post Byzantine years. When the city became smaller and its Agora declined, nobody looked after clearing the drainage ducts which gradually filled with soil and mud, spilling out over the site and covering the abandoned buildings and sanctuaries. The slope of the ground shows that, as early as prehistoric times, there was a natural ditch between the Acropolis and the Pnyx which gathered the rainwater and channeled it into the Eridanos stream north of the site on which the Agora was subsequently built. In the early 6th century BC stones were laid on the floor of this water-carved ditch.

But it wasn’t until a century later, i.e. early in the 5th century, that the Agora acquired an effective drainage system. The old duct on the south side met up with another which descended from the inhabited area, the hill on which the observatory is now located, and together the waters flowed into the central channel running in a straight line along all the western side until it joined up with the Eridanos. The duct was built on three sides, and was covered on top with large slabs; it was also used for the wastes from the public buildings. The careful construction with the polygonal rocks explains how it was kept in such excellent condition. Its functionality has been proved over time as the central duct in the Agora is still used to drain the area on rainy days.

The place at which the three central drainage ducts meet, still covered at quite a few spots by large slabs, is near the Tholos, at the point where the western and southern sides of the site come together. The careful visitor can see one of the official boundaries of the Agora in a nearby ditch lower than the present ground height. It is a square rock with a rough surface and smooth edges with an inscription telling us of its use, according to the custom of the times. In the angular script of 500 BC, this boundary stone informs the passer-by: “I am the limit of the agora”.

How simple was this declaration and how significant! For this was not just the demarcation line of an area, but at the same time it was a barrier to entry by those who did not meet the conditions for access to a sacred place. We know that entrance to the Agora was prohibited to any citizens who had been convicted or who owed fines and, of course, to those who had been ostracised. The fact that the base of a water basin was found very close to this boundary point, may indicate that people entering this venerable area of the city went through some sort of simulated cleansing.

Right in front of this stone boundary, at the ground level of the Roman years, there is a small grouping of three rooms identified by the archaeologists as civic offices. The officials in these offices supervised the unhindered move t ment of goods in the market, as confirmed by the sculptured examples of the ceramic tiles which were found there. Any citizen who doubted the quality and size of a tile he had bought, could compare his with the official samples showing the correct dimensions. This was the city’s market control service.

Access to the civic offices was from the north side of the largest room where there were steps and the bases of columns, testifying to the existence of a gate. The room at the entrance was connected by an interior door to the adjoining room, which in turn opened onto the third one. The latter, although it was the smallest of all, had a minimal toilet with underground drainage linked to the central drain. The strange layout of these rooms, which decreased in size from east to west, was interpreted as the need to leave more free space at the entrance to the Agora. Moreover, the civic offices were added in the second century AD when the Agora was full of buildings, thus giving it its final form.

This may have been the last time the city’s architects observed the original order in positioning buildings according to their use. Observing the diagram of the entire site, we note that the west side was dedicated to religion with its various sanctuaries, the south to justice with the courthouse of Heliaia and at the point of access to these significant functions, the administrative buildings were constructed.

Ancient History – Athens

Archaeologists have found evidence that Athens has been inhabited from at least the fifth millennium BC. The site would have been attractive to early settlers for a number of reasons: its location in the midst of productive agricultural terrain; its closeness to the coast and the natural safe harbour of Piraeus; the existence of defensible high ground, the Acropolis (from akron and polis, or ‘city on the high ground’); and the proximity of a natural source of water on the north-west side of the Acropolis.

Traces of Mycenaean fortifications from the thirteenth century AC can still be seen on the Acropolis, including some foundations belonging to what must have been a palatial structure. The fortifications, known as the ‘Pelasgian’ walls (after the indigenous people believed to have built them before the arrival of the Greeks around 2000 BC), remained in use until the Persian Wars of 490-480 BC. One stretch behind the temple of Athena Nike appears to have been deliberately preserved in the Classical period.

There was a decline of Mycenaean society across the Greek world around the end of the twelfth century BC. Whether this was directly connected with the Trojan War (around 1184 BC), or the so-called Dorian Invasion thought to have taken place soon after this conflict, Athens does not appear to have succumbed to an attack. The Mycenaean royal family of Pylos is said to have taken refuge in Athens after their city’s fall to the Dorians. One of its members, Codros, became king of his adoptive city.

The collapse of Mycenaean civilization left Greece in political, economic and social decline, accompanied by loss of artistic skills, literacy and trade networks. The Mycenaean form of writing, known as Linear B, was completely forgotten, and the Greek alphabet did not emerge until the late eighth century BC as the new form of writing. At this time city states began to emerge throughout the Greek world, governed by oligarchies, or aristocratic councils. Thirteen kings ruled in Athens after Codros, until in 753 BC they were replaced by officials with a ten-year term, known as decennial archons, and in 683 BC by annually appointed eponymous archons.

Conflict between the oligarchs and the lower classes, many of whom had been reduced to slavery, led to a series of reforms that paved the way for the emergence of the world’s first true democracy. Around 620 BC the lawmaker Dracon set up wooden tablets on the Acropolis known as axones. These were inscribed with civil laws and punishments so harsh that the death penalty was prescribed even for minor crimes, giving rise to the term `draconian’ which is still used today. Dracon’s intervention did little to ensure order, prompting representatives of the nobles and lower classes in 594 BC to appoint the statesman and poet Solon as archon.

Solon terminated aristocratic rule, setting up a representational government where participation was determined not by lineage or bloodline, but wealth. He eliminated slavery based on debt, and restituted freedom and land to those who had been enslaved. Solon created a `Council of Four Hundred’ from equal numbers of representatives of the Ionian tribes to which the Athenians claimed to belong, and instituted four classes of citizenry.

Peisistratos, Solon’s younger cousin, became tyrant (tyrannos) of Athens in 545 BC. He ensured the Solonian constitution was respected and governed benevolently. After Peisistratos’ death, however, things took a negative turn and anti-Peisistratid sentiment grew. By 510 BC King Cleomenes of Sparta was asked to assist in deposing Peisistratos’ son Hippias. Hippias sought refuge in Persia at the court of King Darius.

Soon after, the aristocrat Cleisthenes promised to institute further reforms giving a more direct role to citizens in government. His reforms were passed in 508 BC, and democracy was established in Athens. A new `Council of Five Hundred’ (the Boule) replaced the ‘Council of Four Hundred’, with equal representation from the various tribes. Cleisthenes is also credited with instituting the system of ostracism, which ‘voted’ an individual considered dangerous to democracy into exile for ten years.

It is uncertain when the former Mycenaean citadel was transformed into a sacred precinct but by the late eighth century BC a modest temple (or perhaps more than one) stood on the plateau. The oldest and holiest cult image on the Acropolis was the statue of Athena Polias (Protectress of the City), a crude olive-wood figure, so old that Athenians of the Classical period believed it had either fallen from heaven or been made by Cecrops or Erichthonios. This sacred image of Athena was ritually ‘dressed’ every year in a peplos, a sacred robe, as part of the Panathenaic festival.

A temple is thought to have been built around 700 BC to the south of the later, Classical Erechtheion, to house the statue of Athena Polias. The first major building of which there are significant remains on the Acropolis was the so-called ‘Bluebeard Temple’, built in the Archaic period around 560 BC. The ‘Bluebeard Temple’ is thought by some to have stood to the south of the later Erechtheion. Ancient texts mention a mysterious building or precinct contemporary to the ‘Bluebeard Temple’, called the Hecatompedon, or ‘Hundred-footer’. Whatever this structure or place was, it gave its name to the principal room of the Classical Parthenon, perhaps because the later building occupies the same site.

With the expulsion of Hippias a new temple was built on the Acropolis, its foundations still visible to the south of the later Erechtheion. This building, the Archaios Naos, or ‘ancient temple’, is likely to have been deliberately commissioned around 506 BC as a replacement for the ‘Bluebeard Temple’.
The first Persian invasion of 490 BC saw the victory of the Athenians at the battle of Marathon against the forces of King Darius of Persia. The following year the elated Athenians leveled an area on the south side of the Acropolis and began construction of the Old Parthenon. A new gateway to the Acropolis was also commenced, known as the Old Propylaia.

This post-Marathonian building program on the Acropolis came to a violent end in 480 BC when Xerxes, son of King Darius, led a second Persian invasion of Greece. Athens had to be evacuated and Xerxes razed the city and buildings on the Acropolis. Under the command of Themistocles, the Athenians destroyed the Persian fleet in the battle of Salamis. Victory over the Persians was ensured after the battle of Plataea (479 BC), to the northwest of Athens, when a combined Greek army annihilated the Persians.

In the aftermath of the battle of Plataea, a vow was made by the victors never to rebuild the shrines that were destroyed in the war, preserving them instead as memorials for later generations.

Pericles, who was a general and statesman, came to power in Athens around 461 BC. He considered the oath of Plataea to have been fulfilled, as thirty years had elapsed from the Persian invasion, and proceeded to reconstruct the temples on the Acropolis. He gathered together the best architects and artists in the city and plans were drawn up to erect new buildings that would outshine those torn down by the Persians. The Periclean building programme enhanced the lower city with new monuments, such as the Temple of Hephaestus, also known as the Theseion, and the Painted Stoa or Poikile situated near the Agora (marketplace).

Athens – Ancient Athens

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.

Museum Of The City Of Athens

From the museum we turn left onto Odos Stadiou for Plateia Klafthmonos, one of the principal squares projected on the town-plan that Schaubert and Cleanthes had prepared after the liberation. In 1834, when the seat of government was transferred to Athens, a suitable accommodation had urgently to be provided for king Othon. The two-storey building with a sloping roof, situated at 7 Odos Paparrighopoulou (on the left hand side of Plateia Klafthmonos), was at that time the most modern house in Athens, and was used as the provisional palace of the first King and Queen of Greece.

This building, which belonged to a wealthy merchant from Chios, Stamatios Dekozis Vouros, is the sole survivor of a row of three houses which were leased from their owners and joined into a single residence which was then converted into a temporary palace. King Othon and Queen Amalia made this attractive miniature palace their home until 1842, in which year the Royal Palace on Plateia Syntagmatos was completed.

The building was converted in 1973 into a museum and the royal premises were magnificently restored and redecorated with the original material: One can visit the studies of Othon and Amalia, the royal reception hall and read the first constitution of 1843, written by hand, which the King was consulting for the government of his country. On display is also the original furniture of the King and Queen and a fascinating collection of sculpture and paintings, mostly with philhellenic subjects, executed by eminent European artists of the 19th century.

The museum also displays an interesting collection of items related to the Frankish occupation of Athens (1215th cent. AD) such as the emblems of the house of de la Roche, the Florentine house of Acciajuoli, old engravings, maps, books and other relative material.

Athens – Greece

Few cities in the world can compare to the historical significance of Athens. This city is not only the site of the first democracy in history; it has also been populated for over seven thousand years! When Ancient Greece started to rise in the fifth century B.C., it was Athens that sprang up as its capital and epicenter for the government. Athens is still the capital of Greece to this day but much has changed in the many thousands of years since it became the precursor to all of western civilization.

Despite its age, Athens still manages to be a very important and culturally relevant city in the 21st Century. It ranks among the top forty richest cities in the world and is also in the top thirty most expensive cities to live in. This owes much to the fact that Athens is and always has had a central role not only in the economic and political sphere of Greece but of the whole of Europe. Back when it was called “Classical Athens” and was considered one of many “city-states”, it was the educational capital of the world. The fathers of philosophy and modern thinking called Athens their home and the city fostered the growth of the mind, a concept relatively untouched by other countries at the time. Athens was the site of Socrates’ famous dialogues while Plato and Aristotle both used Athens as their headquarters for furthering the Socratic Method with the former’s Academy and the latter’s Lyceum still standing to this day within the city limits.

These days, Athens still boasts a remarkable beauty thanks to the combination of the ancient Greco-Roman architecture mixed with the Neo-Classical and Modern styles that stand side by side and, in some cases like Omonoia Square, are mixed together to create strikingly beautiful buildings. Though the city has withstood attacks from Persians, Romans, Germans, and many more in its thousands of years of existence, the beautiful art and architecture of Athens was nearly decimated by a very unlikely foe in the 1970s: Pollution. The vast amount of air pollution around Greece was taking its toll on the statues and sculptures until the Minister of Culture stepped in and completely revamped Athens’ energy policy. Thanks to his efforts visitors today can stroll around the Acropolis and the Parthenon without breathing in smog and the gorgeous caryatids and sculptures now seem poised to withstand yet another millennium.

Tourists still flock to Athens on a large scale each year and it isn’t hard to see why. Whether it is the history buff reveling in the leftovers of the first democracy or the partygoers who worship Athens’ beautiful beaches and nightlife, there is truly something for everybody in this remarkable city. Few ancient towns possess the immediacy of modern day Athens and it is a testament to the city’s unerring dedication to furthering the mind with intellectual pursuits rather than warmongering that this gorgeous area still stands proudly as a shining beacon to the brilliance of Ancient Greece.

The Political Polarity That Was Athens and Sparta

Around 800 B.C.E. the Greek populous started to coalesce into communities which were called poleis. The polis was a city state with its own governing body and typically a military. Each polis varied considerably from other poleis. A polis could have anywhere from one thousand to tens of thousands of citizens between its main urban center, and its surrounding towns and agricultural developments. The poleis of Sparta and Athens were two of the largest and most powerful city states in ancient Greece. These two poleis were also among the most competitive, mostly with each other, and influential in the ancient Greek world.

Athens was a largely agriculturally based polis in Attica, off of the Aegean Sea. It was dependent on slaves to do the manual labor of the polis, from working the fields, to working in the homes of Athenian citizens. Athens was a democratic city state whose society revolved around politics, as it was the primary day to day activity of the male citizens. Athens hosted a powerful navy which was influential on more than one occasion for fighting off Persian invasions.

Sparta is in most ways the opposite of Athens. Sparta is also heavily dependent on slaves, or ‘helots’ as they are called. Helots primarily work the land which was conquered by Sparta for agricultural production. Sparta is a highly militaristic polis, having its entire society based around warfare. For more of the antiquity of Greece than any other polis, Sparta maintained the definitive hoplite infantry force in Greece.

The attitude of both of these great poleis was vastly different. Athens was the sophisticated, innovative, and cultured democratic polis. Sparta was completely militaristic. It was traditional, simple, and straight forward. At birth newborns in Sparta were judged as being big and strong enough to become a Spartiate warrior, or a child was judged incapable, and it was left in the mountains to die. At age seven children were taken into state-run educational systems where men were trained for war. Athens young men were largely dedicated to battle, not to the degree of Sparta, but there was a large factor making up for this fact.

Pericles, an Athenian Strategos, had urged the married women of Athens to bear more children. Athens population was much greater than Spartas to begin with, and had a much larger birth rate. Spartiates were to get married between age twenty and thirty, but until age thirty, they were to remain living in the barracks. “Men living in the barracks were only permitted to meet their wives surreptitiously-a fact that may account in part for the notably low birthrate among Spartiate couples.” To compete with Athens, Sparta’s’ militarism was necessary to keep up, but they did even manage to surpass the Athenians land forces.

Both poleis had forms of government to match their respective differing attitudes which further high lights the polarism of these two city states. Spartan government is made up of two kings, of equal power, each with their own royal family and line of succession. Under them is a council of twenty-eight elders, who put issues forward for a strictly ‘yes’, or ‘no’ vote, with no discussion, by an assembly made of all Spartiate warriors over thirty. There was also five ephors, who were elected officials with the task of supervising the educational system, and to protect the traditions of Sparta. The ephors had the power to remove a king from command if necessary. If anything, the Spartan government, and society overall was primarily static, and compared to such a polis as Athens who was a quickly changing and open cosmopolitan city state, Sparta could be called stubborn.

Athens’s form of government changed from time to time, but primarily Athens was ruled by nine Archons who exercised executive power in Athens. They had one year terms, and once their term was over they were lifetime members of the Areopagus Council. The council had a large influence on the judicial matters of Athens. This council was the party responsible for electing the Archons. The political atmosphere in Athens did change considerably, because of its open and democratic nature, and more than one politician caused political reform. Politics and discussion went hand in hand. Athens also hosted some of the most well known philosophers in history, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, which were all very political thinkers.

Athens and Sparta were two fundamentally different city states functioning In the same ‘country’, which at times could have been said to not have been big enough for the two of them. With each polis striving to expand outside of Greece, as well as each trying to control the various smaller and less powerful poleis of Greece they were fierce competitors. This elicited more than one armed conflict, including the twenty-seven year long Peloponnesian war. Though on a few occasions Athens, Sparta, and various other unfriendly poleis banded together to fight invading Persians, the two poleis were both too fundamentally different, competitive, and patriotic to allow any strong unity between them beyond peace and trade treaties. They both existed as communities adapted to survive independently from other city states, and when their interests merged either it was to protect Greece itself from foreign powers, or it meant conflict as they fought over resources and other goals.

The Perfect Start With Car Hire at the Athens Airport

Athens Airport is a sophisticated and a contemporary transportation hub. The airport is a civilian port for all the passengers entering and exiting the city of Athens. The airport serves as a significant seat of Olympic Air. It successfully acts as the terminal for around 16 million passengers each year. The airport has been named after the eminent Greek Statesman Eleftherios Venizelos.

The airport serves as a significant passage to Asia and the Middle East countries. You will be amazed to know that this contemporary and cosmopolitan airport has been certified by the European Aviation Safety Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration. If you are arriving in Greece, you can conveniently pick up a car hire Athens Airport to get a perfect start to your holiday.

The present airport is in the same place as the previous one. It was outdated and really needed to be updated. The towns of Markopoulo, Koropoi, Spata and Loutsa are well connected by the airport. And it is now known as one of the busiest airports in Europe. In 2006 the airport was felicitated with a Skytrax award as it was recognized as one of the best airports in Southern Europe.

One of the uncomplicated and economical ways of travelling the city is car hire Athens Airport. The city of Athens still has the ruins and the monuments of the Roman and the Byzantine monarchs that had ruled the city. The tourists are allured by the rich and the expansive cultural heritage of the city. Car hire Athens Airport is the best way to navigate the city. The nearby tourist attractions can be easily reached and viewed by car hire Athens Airport.

Athens is known as a contemporary and an idyllic destination for vacations with plethora of tourist spots and attractions. The colorful history of the city is still clearly visible by the historical and cultural imprints in the city. The mesmerizing monuments, enchanting churches and scenic location allures tourists all over the world to the city.

The tourists should view the neoclassical architectural brilliance dominating the historic city of Athens. The ancient yet sturdy building of the Athens Academy is a masterpiece and the beautifully constructed National library that has successfully housed timeless books, journals and other literary classics.

The tourist will have a great time shopping as Athens has many reputed stores, and wonderful beaches that result in entertaining tourists. The most beautiful and sun-kissed beaches include Vouliagmeni, Varkiza, Kavouri and so on. The scenic beauty, the lush green patches in the city and the impeccable architectural beauties make the city one of the most sought after tourist destinations in the world.