Explore Athens: Classical Capital of Modern Day Greece
by Steve Smith
Athens was a powerful city state and capital of a major Empire in ancient times. It is now a city that sprawls over a series of hills down to the sea and the port of Piraeus. Settlement dates back to 3000 BC though the city was not unified until 1230BC. It is easy to forget that in olden days everything was on a much smaller scale so the classical highlights of Athens are fairly close together and easy to access as a result.
Greece gained independence from the Ottomans in the Treaty of Constantinople in 1832 with Athens selected as its capital; it was still fairly small with the Greek population spread thinly over the country and its islands.
Today the greater urban area contains 25% of the national population of approaching 11 million. The numbers are boosted by tourists who come to see the classical features that survive today.
In Syntagma Square tourists gather to see the changing of the guards in front of the old Royal Palace. There is a city tour bus starting and finishing here, a great way to introduce the City and its highlights.
The Acropolis held a dominant position in the Bronze Age, looking down on the fortified city and this UNESCO World Heritage site still does so today. It was begun in 447BC and took 15 years to build, honoring the Goddess Athena. It has a varied history; treasury, Christian Church, mosque under the Ottomans then largely ignored after being damaged by an explosion in the 17th Century.
Lord Elgin bought some of the remaining sculptures in the 19th Century which are now housed in the British Museum but such is the Parthenon’s prominence on the Athens skyline it remains the most important architectural site in the city.
The Temple of Zeus
This temple dates back to a similar time but it is largely ruins today. The Statue of Zeus was here, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World but in the 6th Century it was destroyed by an earthquake, the fate of many of the other ‘’Wonders.’’
There have been excavations over the last couple of centuries and several things found on the site are in Le Louvre in Paris.
Similarly there is still some excavation going on in this green and open site close to the Acropolis.
There is the Temple of Hephaestus, a good preserved ancient temple while the Attalos Stoa is a reconstructed museum. Visitors can see a virtual reconstruction of the site and all its buildings as it once was.
New Acropolis MuseumArtifacts from the Acropolis from the Bronze Age as well as Byzantine Greece are displayed in a museum that opened in 1874. While it was extended in the 50s it has never been large enough to hold everything that has been found. This new museum is just a few years old and houses over 4,000 exhibits. It has room for Lord Elgin’s purchases if they are ever returned.
History in the Streets
The narrow streets of the ancient city hold many things of interest:
- Monastiraki has the Flea Market as well as being today’s main shopping district.
- Plaka with its restored neo-classical architecture. This is a pedestrian district with shops and restaurants as well as a number of museums.
Steve Smith graduated in Politics from Liverpool University; he has worked abroad and in the UK and travelled for most of his life, mostly for holidays. After visiting Istanbul and the Turquoise Coast in South West Turkey he has made the country his home.
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