Athens History Facts and Timeline

(Athens, Attica, Greece)

The history of Athens is as impressive as they come, at one time boasting genius thinkers and unrivalled prowess in the arts.

The home of democracy and origins of Western civilization is still a major draw despite years of decline and neglect, and the city has managed to retain some of the world's most magnificent ancient architecture.

The Makings of Greatness

In Greek mythology, it is said that Theseus - a king of Athens, unified various tribes to create one kingdom. The area was first settled around 3000 BC, while the Mycenaeans built a fortress at the Acropolis in 1400 BC or thereabouts. Athens soon became the largest and wealthiest of all the Greek states, with social unrest by those snubbed by nobility. Tough lawmaker Draco was drafted in the 7th century BC to quell the unrest, with death for most offences.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus and other noted structures originated from this highly developed era, despite the troubled times. Though it was begun in the 6th century BC, this great temple wasn't finished until centuries later by Emperor Hadrian. It is visible from the Acropolis and still retains some of its original columns. Of interest, the Athens War Museum also displays early items from this time, as well as from the Stone and Bronze Ages.

The Golden Age and Decline

Unrest continued well into the 6th century BC despite the harsh penalties and, therefore, the constitution was changed in 508 BC, resulting in the birth of democracy. The Golden Age of Athens started in 500 BC and was a time of unparalleled development, with the emergence of class artists and thinkers. It continued for some 200 years, during which time in Athenian history the city became the world's main intellectual, cultural and commercial centre.

The Acropolis itself was developed into a city due to its natural, lofty setting, and Pericles commissioned its famous Parthenon. This is now one of the main draws to the Greek capital, becoming an iconic landmark. Other noted highlights from this time include the nearby Erechtheion Temple, the courts and marketplace of the Agora, the Kerameikos potter's quarter and the enormous Theatre of Dionysus. Many fascinating relics can be found on display at the National Archaeological Museum.

Athens history declined under the Romans, and during the emerging Byzantine Empire it was a mere town. However, it recovered by the time of the Crusades, although once again declined under the Ottoman Empire, with the Turks arriving on the scene in the late 1450s. They did, however, make a concerted effort to preserve the ancient monuments, including the Daphni Monastery, with its fine mosaics.

War, Independence and Modern Athens

Athens had a revival following the Greek War of Independence, becoming the capital of a unified Greece. It remained sparsely populated for a time, but grew fast and drew people in by the thousands for the modern Olympic Games of 1896. The Germans occupied the city during WWII, causing another relapse, although it burgeoned from the 1950s through to the 1960s.

Today, Athens is vibrant and takes great pride in its ancient monuments, museums and cosmopolitan air. It hosted the Olympic Games again in 2004, which saw the beautification and improvement of many areas, including facelifts for ancient sites. The Acropolis itself was placed on the European Cultural Heritage list of important monuments in the year of 2007.

Unfortunately, Greece, and the history of Athens today, is beset by ongoing protests from austerity measures brought about by corrupt officials and economic depression. The city, nevertheless, continues to draw a sizeable tourist trade due to its glorious history.