The port of
Themistocles founded the port of Piraeus in the 5th century BC when Phaliron,
As Piraeus was crucial to
The port of
Themistocles founded the port of Piraeus in the 5th century BC when Phaliron,
As Piraeus was crucial to
Let us try and bring to mind a picture 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
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
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 c
akes. 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
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
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
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
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
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
It was in this way that Greek archeology, the new science of antiquities, was born.
Named after Athena, the goddess of wisdom,
Agorá (Market):In its heyday, Agora was the centre of city life – today it hosts ruins from different periods. It was here that ordinary people, stall holders, and merchants mingled with public figures, officials, philosophers and politicians. The main attraction here is Hephaisteion (Temple of Haephaistos), one of the best-preserved ancient temples in Greece, and dating to the fifth century BC. Also visit the Museo tis Agoras (Museum of Agorá) that houses an amazing range of everyday artefacts found in the area. It is housed in the Stoa of Attalos.
Acropolis: This UNESCO World Heritage Site dominates the city and the skyline. Acropolis refers to the rocky outcrop that formed the original settlement in
Delphi:According to Greek mythology, Delphi is located at the point where the two eagles released to the East and West by God Zeus met, thereby marking the centre of the world. Delphi is the sanctuary of Apollo and the seat of his oracle. The ancient site is in ruins but still attracts thousands of visitors who throng here to see its remains. The site also houses the impressive Delphi Museum which exhibits various statues and offerings from the sanctuary of Delphi. The UNESCO World Heritage Site houses the Temple of Apollo, the Sacred Way, an amphitheatre, and a stadium.
National Archaeological Museum: The museum is housed in a late 19th century building and houses one of the finest collections of ancient Greek artefact including the fascinating Mycenaen Collection comprising beautifully crafted gold work dating from between the 16th and 11th centuries BC, and the Bronze Collection.
Tourism is one of the main industries in Greece and continues to flourish even in the uncertain economic times. Every year,
Pay homage to Athen’s most impressive legacy- the Acropolis, haggled with
the merchants in the old Turkish bazaar around Monastiraki Square and Explored the 19th-century quarter of Plaka…all before noon. Now you are ready to drink like Dionysus.
Where to crash
Styled by trendy designer Karim Rashid, the hotel has such features as a glowing-pink cube in the entrance, a rotating collection of contemporary art in the rooms, and digitally
programmed door signs.
What’s a Flagrant without checking out the nightlife?
Bars are the staple of Greek nightlife, with new establishments opening every week. In summer, many of the most popular spots, especially dance clubs, move to temporary venues along the coast (check with your hotel concierge on seasonal whereabouts of clubs).
Frequented by the under-30 crowd, these clubs are usually huge, lively, and packed.
Getting to them can be a nightmare, especially on weekends, when the coastal road, Poseidonos, becomes a kilometers-long traffic jam.
Most bars stay open at least until 3 AM. Drinks are rather steep (around EUR6) but generous, and often there is a surcharge on weekend nights at the most popular clubs. Foreigners usually get in automatically; large groups of single men may have some trouble on a busy night. Most clubs and bars do not take credit cards for drinks.
From September to May, Athen’s beautiful people make an appearance at Central to see and be seen in the cool, creamy interior while enjoying cocktails and sushi.
From May to September, Central is closed in town; it reopens on the coast as Island, which is dreamily decked out in gauzy linens and directly overlooks the Aegean.
with notes from Fodors and USA Today
For more than 3500 years
You are sure to fall in love with the jumbled and elegant skyline of neoclassical facades, whitewashed sugar-cube houses, the Plaka quarter – a colorful mixture of flea markets and antique shops, markets that have stalls piled with huge tubs of olive, fresh fish and well stocked tables laid out of the pavement tavernas.
The acropolis is one of the places visited most by tourists. It provides the best of classical architecture that you can find anywhere else in the world. You find the slender ionic columns of the Temple of Athena and the six female caryatids of the Erechtheion included in the satellite buildings. Theater had a great role in ancient Greece. The Roman theater of Herodes Atticus still stages summer shows for theater enthusiasts. After having a cultural feast at the Acropolis, you can visit the Benaki Museum where you can kindle your curiosities, and the National Archaeological Museum will keep you occupied for days. If you are looking to take a break from the hustle of the Athenian life, a peaceful walk along the 40 acres of the National Gardens is the best.
It is believed that modern
Apart from the celebrated classical sites, the city
also boasts of Byzanthine, the medieval and ninth century monuments and some of the famous museums in the world. You will also appreciate some of the areas that are immersed in surprisingly natural beauty. Though there is heavy traffic, the village like qualities are very evident in their cafes, markets, tavernas, and in the maze streets surrounding Plaka.
The heart of present day Athens is fashionable Plateia Syntagmatos which lies below the imposing mass of the Old Royal Palace. Plateia Syntagmatos, which translated means Constitution Square, commemorates the constitution granted by Othon I in a proclamation from the balcony of the Palace on the night of 3rd September 1843.
The OLD ROYAL PALACE, which since 1935 has housed the Parliament, was designed as the residence of King Othon, at his own and his father’s expense, by the Bavarian architect Friedrich Garther and built between 1834 and 1842.
At the foot of the west facade of the Old Palace is a large square bounded on three sides by walls on which, in evocation of the ancient custom of hanging the victor’s shield in the temple, are set bronze shields flanked by the names of the many victories won by Hellenic arms since National Independence. Built into the center of the retaining wall is the TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER, a relief impressive in its simplicity, which depicts a dying hoplite. This work is by the sculptors Constantinos Demetriades (1881-1943) and Phokion Rok (1886-1942), and was unveiled on 25th March (National Independence Day) 1932.
South of Plateia Syntagmatos lies Leophoros Amalias, which is so called after King Othon’s consort, who, with the horticulturist Friedrich Schmiedt, created the delectable retreat adjoining the Old Royal Palace that we know today as the NATIONAL GARDEN. The National Garden is open daily from sunrise to sunset and the shade of its multitudinous trees provides a cool and peaceful oasis in the heart of the city.
On the east side of the Garden are the busts of Capodistrias and Jean-Gabriel Eynard, a great Swiss philhellene who donated large sums of money to the cause of Greek Independence. Both these busts are the work of the famous Pelopennesian loannis Kossos. Other busts in the National Garden are those of three leading Greek poets of the 19th century: Dionysius Solomos of Zante, who is considered the national poet; Aristotle Valaoritis, also a native of the Ionian Islands, and Jean Moreas, which was the nom-de-plume of loannis Papadiamantopoulos, an Athenian who lived the greater part of his life in Paris.
Contiguous to the National Garden is a large public park called ZAPPEION after the brothers Evangelos and Constantinos Zappas of Epirus, who donated it with its splendid exhibition hall to the Nation. On either side of the entrance to the exhibition hall stand statues of the donors, that of Evangelos by loannis Kossos; that of Constantinos by Georgios Vroutos. Among the many pieces of statuary by famous sculptors is the bust of loannis Varvakis by the master Leonidas Drossis. Varvakis is best known as the founder of the renowned boys’ school, the Lykeion Varvakeion, for the endowment of which he bequeathed his huge fortune. Other busts include those of Constantinos Paparrighopoulos, the greatest historian of Modern Greece, of Stephan Dragoumis, the most prominent political personality during the Macedonian struggle (1903-1909), and of George Souris, the leading satirical poet of his times.
A short distance from Plateia Syntagmatos, on the right of Odhos Panepistimiou, we come to a Renaissance edifice of Italian inspiration. This is the NUMISMATIC MUSEUM, which contains a rich collection of Greek, Roman and Byzantine coins, cameos and seal-stones. Built by the noted architect Erst Ziller in 1878, it was the private residence of the illustrious archaeologist Henry Schliemann.
Still keeping on the right-hand side we come to a five-storeyed building situated at the corner of this street and Odhos Omirou. Here are the premises of the ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY, built entirely in marble. The classical motif of the magnificent bronze door with its richly painted and gilded surround and the ceiling coffered in a delicate blue and gold deserve the greatest admiration. Besides creating the first National Archaeological Museum the Society, which was founded in 1837, has excavated sites all over the country.
Immediately after the Archaeological Society’s premises stands the ROMAN CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL. As the Latin inscription shows, the cathedral was begun in 1853, completed in 1887, and dedicated to St. Dionysius Areopagite. It is a three-naved basilica designed by Leo von Klenze (1784-1864), Bavarian Court architect and master-plan ner of modern Athens, and built under the direction of Lysander Kaftanzoglou (1811-1885), the outstanding Greek architect of the period.
Adjoining this edifice is the OPHTHALMIC HOSPITAL, a Byzantine-style construction designed by Theophil Hansen (1813-1891, the younger of two Danish brothers, both distinguished architects), in 1847, and completed by Lysander Kaftanzoglou four years later.
Just beyond the Ophthalmic Hospital is an ensemble of neo-Classical buildings: on the right the Academy, in the middle the University, and on the left the National Library. All three were gifts to the Nation from wealthy patriots; they are the most sumptuous monuments of Modern Greece.
The HELLENIC ACADEMY OF ARTS AND SCIENCES, a meticulously accurate reproduction of an edifice of the Classical period erected in the graceful Ionic order by Theophil Hansen at the expense of Baron Georgios Sinas, was begun in 1859 and completed in 1875.
The nine sculptured pediments and all the statues before the Academy are the work of the Athenian master Leonidas Drossis. The relief in the central pediment, which portrays The Birth of Athena, and the two gigantic statues of Apollo (right) and Athena (left) standing on tall columns, one on either side of the principal facade, are particularly impressive. The seated figures flanking the short flight of steps leading to the portico represent the philosophers Socrates (right) and Plato (left).
The portico consists of a double row of columns. The coffered ceiling is painted in bright blue and gold and the door opening into the vestibule has a surround of classical inspiration executed in brilliant color and gilding. A statue of the donor Baron Sinas stands on the right of the vestibule, while the interior of the Academy Hall is decorated with eight superb panels by the Oldenburg painter Christian Griepenkerl (1839-1916), depicting scenes from the Myth of Prometheus.
Visitors to the University will be surprised to see a statue of William Ewart Gladstone, standing on the right of the lawn surrounding the forecourt. The dedication on the plinth of this statue immortalizes the prominent part played by the great British statesman in the deliverance of Epirus and Thessaly from Turkish oppression, and their return to the Motherland in 1881.
The statues at the top of the steps leading to the entrance commemorate the great philologist Korais (1748-1833), ardent patriot and “father” of the Modern Greek literary language (right), and Capodistrias (1776-1831), first Head of State (1827-1831) and one of the major architects of modern Greece.
The UNIVERSITY OF ATHENS was founded in 1836, and was initially established in a large house which Schaubert and Cleanthes had built in Plaka (the old quarter of Athens) when they first came to Athens in 1831. This building, at the corner of Odhos Prytaneiou and Odhos Tholou, is still standing and is converted into a museum devoted to the earlier history of the University. The present University buildings were designed by Christian Hansen and the foundation stone laid by King Othon in 1839. The central building was ready for use in 1842, but owing to lack of funds, the buildings as a whole were not completed until 1850.
A colonnade with a handsome portico in Pentelic marble fronted by two Ionic columns with gilded capitals, and a coffered ceiling in blue and gold in harmony with the classical motif of a painted and gilded door surround, gives access to the interior of the main building.
On the upper part of the wall a fresco by the celebrated Austrian painter Karl Rahl (1812-1865) shows the resurgence of arts and sciences under King Othon. Statues of two national heroes, Patriarch Grigorios and the martyred poet Rhigas Pheraios, stand respectively at the right and left angles of the facade.
The NATIONAL LIBRARY, which is built of Pentelic marble on a foundation of poros, consists of a central building in the form of a Doric temple, with two wings. It was planned by Theophil Hansen in 1887 and the work executed under the supervision of Ernst Ziller, at the expense of the Valianos brothers of Cephalonia in 1901. A statue of one of these munificent benefactors, Panayis, stands outside the central building, and those of his two brothers Andreas and Maris inside the entrance hall. All three statues are the work of Georgios Bonanos.
The eminent philologist Andreas Moustoxidis on the island of Aegina formed the nucleus of the Library in 1827. The books were brought to Athens in 1833 and stored in the beautiful church of St. Eleutherius (the “Little Cathedral”). In 1842 they were removed to the first floor of the central building of the University – which had just been completed – where they remained until the National Library was inaugurated in 1903.
In recent years many fine nineteenth century buildings have been demolished and unimaginative concrete structures built on the sites, so that with the exception of the Ionian Bank of Greece on one corner of Odhos Pezmazoglou and the former buildings of the Arsakeion College for Girls (founded in 1836) on the other corner over the Doric portico, built at the expense of Apostolos Arsakis of Epirus in 1848, nothing remains of the splendid buildings that once lined both sides of this street of central Athens.
Continuing along Odhos Panepistimiou for a short distance, we turn right into Odhos Patission. A few hundred meters further down, on our right, stands a construction in the finest Pentelic marble, in which two educational institutions of University status are established: The POLYTECHNIC SCHOOL (Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, Naval, Chemical and Mining Engineering, Architecture, and Topography) and the SUPERIOR SCHOOL OF FINE ARTS (Drawing, Painting, Sculpture, Engraving, etc.). Two wings in the Doric order serve as propylaea to the central building of two storeys, the lower erected in the Doric order, the upper in Ionic. This edifice is the work of Lysander Kaftanzoglou, who built it between 1862 and 1880, and owes its name -METSOVION POLYTECHNEION- to the fact that the principal donors Nicholaos Stournaras, Michalis Tositsas and his widow Helen, were natives of Metsovo in Epirus.