A History of Athens

If there's one thing Athens has in abundance, it's history. This is a brief history of Athens, picking out only some of the key points in the city's story.

There were people living in Athens, on and around the Acropolis, some 5000 years ago. By the 6th century BC it was a flourishing and forward-thinking city, and had introduced a revolutionary form of democratic governing system with decisions made by elected citizens. As yet no women or slaves could vote, but nevertheless the system was as enlightened as any in the world.

Pericles from a History of Athens on Greece Travel SecretsPericles

The Golden Age of Pericles

Democracy worked. Little over a hundred years later an era known as the Golden Age of Pericles began. Pericles was probably the greatest statesman that Athens has ever seen, and it's thanks to his vision that the Parthenon on top of the Acropolis was built, and many other fine buildings. He encouraged the arts and philosophy too, and this was the time when Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides were all working. European drama was being not just born but developing, its boundaries already being pushed by experimentation.

Alexander the Great

After the death of Pericles and a period if unrest, Alexander the Great was born and Greece had the most powerful and extensive Empire it has ever known. But all empires eventually wane, and by 200BC the Romans has arrived and were to rule for 500 years. Their legacy is everywhere, including the Roman Agora, or marketplace, and Hadrian's Arch, still standing today.

After the Romans Athens saw the Franks and the Venetians taking control, and then the most significant of all – the Turks. This detested period lasted from 1453 until the start of the War of Independence in 1821.

The First Modern King of Greece

In 1832 King Otto of Bavaria became the first king of the modern Greek state. Why Bavaria? Because the new country was still considered unstable, especially when its first Prime Minister Ioannis Kapodistrias was assassinated in Nafplion. Russia, Britain and France had all been involved in the birth of modern Greece, and it was through them that a suitable ruler was found and Greece became a monarchy.

The Military Junta

It remained one until 1967, when a military junta seized power and King Constantine fled into exile. The Colonels ruled with military ruthlessness until 1974, when the people of Athens, particularly its young students, said 'enough is enough' and overthrew the dictatorship. There was no triumphant return for the exiled king, however, as a referendum saw a majority vote for a return to a Greek republic. The monarchy was booted out.

Athens in More Recent Times

In 1981 Greece joined the then European Community, now the European Union, and changes started to happen. The city of Athens became much more European in outlook. Its young people travelled more, and brought back with them a desire for some of the style, the fashions, the food and the wine that they had experienced elsewhere. In 1985 Athens was Europe's first ever Cultural Capital – fittingly, as the idea of Cultural Capitals had been hatched by the Greek actress-turned-politician, Melina Mercouri.

In 2004 the Olympics came to Athens and brought with it a new airport, a new Metro system, new hotels, new attractions and many other boosts to the city. Athens has continued to modernize and build ever since, making it one of Europe's most vibrant capital cities.

Where to Stay in Athens


Other Athens pages

  • Athens is a top vacation destination. The Greece Travel Secrets Athens guide has information on hotels, museums, Athens airport and all the best things to do.

    Athens: Travel Information and Advice about Athens, Greece

    Athens is a top vacation destination. The Greece Travel Secrets Athens guide has information on hotels, museums, Athens airport and all the best things to do.

  • Greece Travel Secrets gives its choice of the best hotels in Athens from budget and moderate options through to 5-star luxury choices.

    The Best Hotels in Athens

    Greece Travel Secrets gives its choice of the best hotels in Athens from budget and moderate options through to 5-star luxury choices.

  • This drive around Attica offers visitors high hills, beach resorts, small villages and classical sites like Marathon and the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion.

    A Drive around Attica

    This drive around Attica offers visitors high hills, beach resorts, small villages and classical sites like Marathon and the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion.

  • If you're wondering where to eat in Athens and Piraeus we have a few suggestions including some favorites around the Acropolis, Omonia Square, and Syntagma.

    Where to Eat in Athens and Piraeus

    If you're wondering where to eat in Athens and Piraeus we have a few suggestions including some favorites around the Acropolis, Omonia Square, and Syntagma.

  • Athens in the rain isn’t something you’re likely to experience but here are suggestions for things to do in the rain in Athens including museums and shopping

    Athens in the Rain

    Athens in the rain isn’t something you’re likely to experience but here are suggestions for things to do in the rain in Athens including museums and shopping

  • This walk around the Kolonaki neighbourhood of Athens starts and ends in Syntagma Square and takes you to several museums, Kolonaki Square and Mount Lykabettos.

    A Walk around Kolonáki

    This walk around the Kolonaki neighbourhood of Athens starts and ends in Syntagma Square and takes you to several museums, Kolonaki Square and Mount Lykabettos.

  • In My Athens on Greece Travel Secrets travel writer Mike Gerrard describes what he loves about Athens including the Acropolis and eating!

    My Athens: a Portrait by Travel Writer Mike Gerrard

    In My Athens on Greece Travel Secrets travel writer Mike Gerrard describes what he loves about Athens including the Acropolis and eating!

  • The best things to do in Athens, Greece, include top archaeological sites like the Acropolis and must-see attractions such as the National Archaeological Museum

    The Best Things to Do in Athens

    The best things to do in Athens, Greece, include top archaeological sites like the Acropolis and must-see attractions such as the National Archaeological Museum

  • Amusing children in Athens is easy as there is lots to do including a children’s museum, planetarium, beaches, and easy excursions to the nearest islands.

    Amusing Children in Athens

    Amusing children in Athens is easy as there is lots to do including a children’s museum, planetarium, beaches, and easy excursions to the nearest islands.

  • Syntagma Square or Constitution Square is the main square in Athens and has a metro station, the Greek Parliament building, hotels, cafes, and a post office.

    Syntagma Square

    Syntagma Square or Constitution Square is the main square in Athens and has a metro station, the Greek Parliament building, hotels, cafes, and a post office.

  • The Changing of the Guard in Athens takes place outside the Parliament building at the top of Syntagma Square and is a must-see for visitors.

    Changing of the Guard in Athens

    The Changing of the Guard in Athens takes place outside the Parliament building at the top of Syntagma Square and is a must-see for visitors.

  • The Athens National Historical Museum is in the former Greek Parliament building and houses an archive of historical artefacts and documents.

    Athens National Historical Museum

    The Athens National Historical Museum is in the former Greek Parliament building and houses an archive of historical artefacts and documents.

  • The Athens War Museum is a fascinating look at Greek history through the lens of warfare from ancient battles to the Greek War of Independence and World War II.

    Athens War Museum

    The Athens War Museum is a fascinating look at Greek history through the lens of warfare from ancient battles to the Greek War of Independence and World War II.

  • The best views in Athens include views from the Acropolis and of the Acropolis from the top of some of the city’s several hills and from hotels and restaurants.

    Best Views in Athens

    The best views in Athens include views from the Acropolis and of the Acropolis from the top of some of the city’s several hills and from hotels and restaurants.

  • If visiting Athens it helps to know when major events and public holidays take place, as some shops and attractions may be closed, but to be there at times like Easter can make for a magical trip.

    Athens Events and Public Holidays

    If visiting Athens it helps to know when major events and public holidays take place, as some shops and attractions may be closed, but to be there at times like Easter can make for a magical trip.

  • Ten Fun Things to Do in Athens include eating in the Central Market, watching the sun set over the Acropolis and seeing one of the world's oldest theatres.

    Ten Fun Things to Do in Athens

    Ten Fun Things to Do in Athens include eating in the Central Market, watching the sun set over the Acropolis and seeing one of the world's oldest theatres.

  • Athens International Airport is east of Athens city centre with its own Metro train station, buses to Athens and Piraeus, taxis and car rental offices.

    Athens International Airport

    Athens International Airport is east of Athens city centre with its own Metro train station, buses to Athens and Piraeus, taxis and car rental offices.

  • The Athens Byzantine and Christian Museum is housed in a beautiful villa with an underground wing and lovely gardens too.

    Athens Byzantine and Christian Museum

    The Athens Byzantine and Christian Museum is housed in a beautiful villa with an underground wing and lovely gardens too.

  • Mount Lykabettos is the highest hill in Athens and provides some of the best views of the city, with a funicular cable car the easiest way to get to the top.

    Mount Lykabettos

    Mount Lykabettos is the highest hill in Athens and provides some of the best views of the city, with a funicular cable car the easiest way to get to the top.

  • The beach resorts of Athens are easily reached from the city and also close are Cape Sounion with the Temple of Poseidon, ancient Marathon and Rafina's port.

    Cape Sounion and the East Coast

    The beach resorts of Athens are easily reached from the city and also close are Cape Sounion with the Temple of Poseidon, ancient Marathon and Rafina's port.

  • Greece Travel Secrets visits the Monastiraki Flea Market, followed by Sunday lunch at Sigalas on Monastiraki Square

    Monastiraki Flea Market

    Greece Travel Secrets visits the Monastiraki Flea Market, followed by Sunday lunch at Sigalas on Monastiraki Square

  • The Athens Agora or ancient market is a must-see site and one of the best things to do in Athens with its restored arcade building, the Stoa, and its museum.

    Athens Agora

    The Athens Agora or ancient market is a must-see site and one of the best things to do in Athens with its restored arcade building, the Stoa, and its museum.

  • This beginner's guide to Greek architecture explains how to tell your Ionic from your Doric columns, and what to look for in temples and Byzantine churches.

    Greek Architecture

    This beginner's guide to Greek architecture explains how to tell your Ionic from your Doric columns, and what to look for in temples and Byzantine churches.

  • The Greece Travel Secrets guide to the original Athens Olympic Stadium, built for the 1896 Olympic Games and open to the public for jogging and photography.

    Athens Olympic Stadium

    The Greece Travel Secrets guide to the original Athens Olympic Stadium, built for the 1896 Olympic Games and open to the public for jogging and photography.

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Latest Posts

  1. Florina: A Train Journey to a Most Charming Winter Destination

    Full of life and creativity, the northern Greek city of Florina will surprise you with the number of things it has to offer.

    Read More

  2. Kavala: 5 Cultural Experiences

    Follow roads less tourist-trodden to plenty of unexpected sights and stops in this charming historical city.

    Read More

  3. Thessaloniki Closer to Getting its Holocaust Museum

    The plan for a modern museum, illustrating to visitors the story of the Jews of Thessaloniki, has been in the works for a decade.

    Read More

  4. A Sweet Taste of Autumn at the Chestnut, Wine, and Cheese Festival of Griva

    Every autumn, in a small village on the slopes of Mount Paiko, the local harvest is celebrated in style.

    Read More

  5. Hollywood Returns to Thessaloniki

    Film producers are increasingly choosing Greece as a location, not just for shooting, but for post-production as well.

    Read More

  6. New Archaeological Museum in Sparti Gets Green Light

    The construction of a new archaeological museum in the Peloponnese town of Sparti has received the green light, the Greek Culture Ministry announced recently.

    Read More

  7. Pinterest: Athens, Santorini, Mykonos in Top 50 European Cities With Most Beautiful Homes

    Athens, Santorini and Mykonos are among the top 50 European cities with the most picturesque homes, according to research released recently by the Alan Boswell Group. Experts from the 35-year-old UK i…

    Read More

  8. ‘Thessaloniki: A Thousand Views, ONE CLICK!’ – Photo Contest

    A photo competition aiming to reflect Thessaloniki’s creative and original vibe and promote the city’s European Information Center has been recently announced.

    Read More

  9. Elafonisos Looking to Appeal to Remote Workers

    Elafonisos, a tiny island south of the Peloponnese, is taking steps to attract remote workers through an initiative launched by the Global Hellenic Diaspora network and supported by the island’s munic…

    Read More

  10. Athens is the World’s Leading Cultural Destination for 2022

    The city of Athens was awarded top honors as the World’s Leading Cultural Destination for 2022 at the World Travel Awards (WTA). held recently in Muscat, Oman.

    Read More