The first pre-historic settlements were constructed in 3000 BC around the hill of Acropolis. The legend says that the King of Athens, Theseus unified the ten tribes of early Athens into one kingdom (c. 1230 BC). This process of synoikismos – bringing together in one home – created the largest and wealthiest state on the Greek mainland, but it also created a larger class of people excluded from political life by the nobility. By the 7th century BC, social unrest had become widespread, and the Areopagus appointed Draco to draft a strict new code of law (hence "draconian"). When this failed, they appointed Solon with a mandate to create a new constitution (594 BC). This was the great beginning of a new social revolution, which was the result of the democracy under Clisthenes (508 BC). During the Middle Ages, Athens experienced a decline, but re-emerged under Byzantine rule. Athens was thriving and prosperous during the Crusades, actually benefiting from the Italian trade during this period. However, this fruitful period was shortlived, as Greece suffered badly under the Ottoman Empire, only to recover in the 19th century as the capital of independent Greece.
A Rich History
Athens was just a small provincial village when it was chosen in the 1830s to serve as the national capital of the modern Greek State. Although it had a prestigious past, the city's political, economic, and cultural importance had declined over the centuries, leaving behind only its classical ruins as a reminder of better times. With the decision to move the national capital from Nafplio to Athens, architects and city planners were hired to build a new city next to the classical ruins, with grand neoclassical homes and public buildings, large city squares, green spaces, and wide avenues, making a conscious, decisive turn from the city's Ottoman past. The city regained its importance in Greek civilization, and by 1900 had evolved into a very attractive cosmopolitan city, with abundant neoclassical architecture harking to the nation's past.
The 20th century however, marked the rapid development of Athens. The city suffered minor damage during WWII, and suffered extensive urban planning in the decades that followed, as the nation rapidly industrialized and urbanized. In the 1960s and 1970s, many 19th century neoclassical buildings, often small and private, were demolished to make way for office buildings, often designed by great Greek architects. The city also expanded outward through rash development, particularly towards the west, as its population grew by absorbing job-seekers from the provinces. With the onset of the automobile, public officials reduced the city's public transportation services without foreseeing the traffic gridlock and smog that would menace the city by the 1980s.
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the city's reality led to a rude awakening among local and national officials and, coupled with the country's newfound remarkable prosperity, large scale projects began to slowly regenerate the city and undo some of the damages of recent decades. Over the course of the next 15 years, money was poured into new transportation infrastructure projects, the restoration of surviving neoclassical buildings, the gentrification of the city's historical center and the renovation of many former industrial areas and the city's coastline. The restoration of charming neoclassical buildings in the city's historical center has been accompanied by the construction of attractive post-modern buildings in newer districts; both of which have begun to improve the aesthetic essence of the city.
Athens today is ever evolving, forging a brand new identity for the 21st century. But, there is a piece of famous architecture in Athens, and it is named The Parthenon. The Parthenon sits at the top of the Acropolis, a very important hill in Athens, which now serves as the city center. The Parthenon was built to honour the goddess Athena/ Athene, patron of Athens and goddess of war, wisdom and crafts. She is a maiden goddess.
There are few things the Greeks are more famous for than their food, and Athens is considered one of the best places to find authentic Greek food. Tourists, as they wander from point to point, will want to stop and refresh themselves with some delicious Greek cuisine, but for many, the food itself is one of the main reasons for coming.
One "must-try" Greek menu item, so common it has been called the "Greek hamburger," is a souvlaki. Souvlakia are grilled kebabs of beef, lamb, pork or chicken that are wrapped in pita bread with tomatoes, onions and lettuce. They are dipped in a yogurt flavored with garlic and cucumber called "tzatziki." Many of the best souvlaki shops in Athens are found along Mitropoleos Street.
Street foods of various kinds are also popular. Look for koulouri, a sesame-seed bread ring, galaktoboureko, a custard-filled pastry with icing on top and tyropitta, which are a kind of cheese pie. At a "psarotaverna," you will find all manner of seafood; at a "psistaria," you will encounter mostly grilled meats; "tavernas" give you an informal and inexpensive (but authentic) Greek meal; "estiatorion are the more expensive restaurants that serve full-course meals; and there are plenty of fast food and foreign cuisine places to eat as well. Finally, note that Greek food in general has an abundance of olive oil, fish, lamb and very distinctive spices.
A full-course Greek meal will begin with mezedes (hor d'oeuvres) both hot and cold, such as mashed eggplant, caviar spread, dolmadakia, meat/rice rolled up in grape leaves, and deep-fried squid or zucchini. Seldom is soup served as an appetizer, but some soups are full meals. Main dishes are usually casseroles, grilled fish, grilled meats or meat stews. Salads of vegetables or boiled dandelions will be served with the main dish, and vegetables will be cooked into the casseroles. Cheeses are served with bread, both regional cheeses and the more common feta, kasseri, graviera and manouri. For desert, look for baklava, a rich pastry with nuts and honey/syrup between the layers, kataifi, a delicate pastry with sweet syrup poured over it, or fresh fruits in the summertime. Also be sure to try Greek coffee and to specify you want bitter, sweet or semi-sweet when ordering.
Larger than Life Ruins
The Acropolis, a Unesco World Heritage Site, was the ancient fortified town of Athens, dating back to the Late Bronze Age, and the site of the best buildings of the Greek Classical age: the Parthenon, the Erectheion, the Temple of Athena Nike. Acropolis dominates the Athenian sky and symbolizes the foundation of modern culture and civilization. As the most famous landmark of entire Greece, Acropolis is the eternal symbol of democracy, education and inspiration. If you attend a university in the European Union, bring your ID and you can enter for free. The normal entrance price to the Acropolis and its slopes, including the Parthenon and the Theatre of Dionysus, is 20 euros, or 10 reduced (including non-EU students, as of May 2016--seems to be a recent price hike as much tourist literature provided in local hotels still has the old, much lower prices listed). A 30 euro ticket (15 reduced) also gives you entry to the Kerameikos, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Roman Agora, Ancient Agora, and Hadrian's Library, as well as Aristotle's Lyceum which is a little further away next to the Byzantine and Christian Museum. Also be aware that although the Acropolis is open until 20:00 in the summer, the other sites have earlier closing times; the 30 euro ticket is good for 5 days, but does not allow reentry to a previously visited site since the stub for each site is torn off of the large ticket when you enter; not all of the other sites offer the combined ticket, so if you plan to go to all of them, you should go to the Acropolis first. If possible, get to the Acropolis early to avoid heavy crowds, and summer heat when relevant. There are two entrances, the lesser-used one starting near the new Acropolis Museum and allowing you to climb up through the Theatre of Dionysus, but this is a little bit more physically taxing as the climb can get steep.
Writing by WikiTravel | Photos by Amy Cherry