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

  • 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.

  • Piraeus

    Piraeus is the port of Athens from where many ferries to the Greek islands depart, and it also has an Archaeological Museum and the Hellenic Maritime Museum.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Entertainment in Athens

    There's all kinds of entertainment in Athens whether you're interested in theatre, dance, classical music, jazz, Greek music, rock music, disco, opera or movies.

  • Easter in Athens

    Easter in Athens is, like everywhere in Greece, the biggest religious celebration of the year and this page tells you what to expect over the Easter weekend.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • Best Cocktail Bars in Athens

    Two of the best cocktail bars in Athens, MoMix Kerameikos and The Clumsies, are making creative cocktails using that most Greek of Greek spirits, Metaxa.

  • Athens: Travel Information and Advice about Athens, Greece

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

  • Athens Weather and the Best Time to Visit

    The Greece Travel Secrets website looks at the Athens weather, the chance of rain, the climate in summer and winter and the best time to visit Athens.

  • Athens Walking Tours and Other Experiences

    Athens walking tours and other experiences like cookery lessons, ceramics workshops, dining with a family, and street art are available from Alternative Athens

  • Athens to Santorini

    There are lots of flights from Athens to Santorini as well as a ferry service from Piraeus, with flights to Santorini leaving from Athens International Airport.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • Athens Food Tours

    Athens Food Tours are being introduced by new company The Greek Fork, and will include tours of the Central Market, and the best street food.

  • 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.

  • Athens Eaters Guide

    Athens, an Eater's Guide to the City, is published by Culinary Backstreets, who do walking food tours in Athens and the book recommends the best places to eat.

  • Athens Dining Guide

    This Athens dining guide doesn't list restaurants but gives practical advice on types of eating places, tipping, hotel breakfasts and picnics.

  • Athens Culinary Tours

    Athens culinary tours are among the food walking tours offered by an unusual company, Culinary Backstreets.

  • Athens Car Rental

    Athens car rental options include almost all of the major international car hire firms such as Avis, Budget, Hertz, and Europcar.

  • Athens Airport Hotels

    Athens Airport hotels include the luxury Sofitel at the terminals, Holiday Inn near the airport, and others close by like the Hotel Pantheon.

  • Athens Airport Car Rental

    Athens Airport car rentals include Alamo/National Car Rental, Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt, all with offices at the airport.

  • Athens Acropolis

    The Athens Acropolis has the city's most iconic building, the Parthenon, along with other historic buildings and is where the Elgin Marbles were taken from.

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