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A glance at ancient Athens and the civilization of the time

By Seif Kamel

Athens is the largest city in Greece and the capital of the country. The name "Athens" is derived from Greek gods of wisdom and the city was the house for many thinkers and philosophers throughout history and today it transformed to be one of most popular destinations in any tour to Greece.

The population of Athens, according to the statistics carried out in 2005, is around 700 thousand people. If we add the neighborhoods and districts located near and around the city, the number would reach more than four millions inhabitants. This is besides thousands of travelers who come to spend their vacations in Greece

Athens is located in the Southern section of Greece on the Attica Valley between two rivers.  There are three mountains surrounding the city from three directions; the Himitus Mountain, the Pendelikon, and the Barnes Mountain. From the Southern direction, Athens overlooks the Saronic Gulf that is linked to the Mediterranean Sea.

The history of Athens goes back to more than 5000 years in the past and the city is considered to be one of the oldest human settlements in Europe. Athens was declared in 1985 as the first Cultural capital of Europe and in 1987 the ancient acropolis of the city was added to the UNESCO human heritage list. Athens today serves numerous guests coming to spend their holidays in Greece

The first modern Olympics was held in Athens in 1896 and then again after around a century and exactly in 2004 the summer Olympic games were held in the city that hosted many sports fans who came to watch the games and explore the monuments of  the city as part of their Greece tours..  

The history of Athens

The history of Athens is quite ancient as it was one of the first cities to be inhabited in Europe and the whole world. Athens was the capital of the united State of Attica later than 700 BC. The city was mainly occupied by the Ionians, a group of people who used to control a large section of Europe including Asia Minor, Cyprus, and Greece. Many travelers, until today, who come in group tours to Greece, may visit Cyprus as well.  

At its establishment more than 2500 in the past, most of the structures and houses of Athens were made out of mud bricks and straws and the streets were narrow and unpaved. Athens at the time was smaller than many other cities founded in other ancient civilizations at the time. The city was similar to a tiny primitive village. However, it was an independent state which witnessed the most ancient form of democracy.

The most ancient assembly of the people

Athens had the first Peoples Council or assembly and it was called the "Xlicia" where the people used to ballot to choose the members of the council. Political and social decisions were discussed in the council and the members used to vote concerning important matters of the state in the first known form of democracy known in human history.

Democracy was actually introduced to Athens by Cleisthenes, a noble man who has inserted the democratic system of governing in the ancient Greek constitution around the year 508 BC as an attempt to decrease the power of the royals and nobles.

This was the most ancient democratic council known to the human history. This council was established during the reign of Socrates and Plato. All decisions were taken through the voting of the members of the council who represent the inhabitants of the city.
 
The cultural significance of Athens

Athens was the cultural center of the ancient world as well. The inhabitants of the city were fond of all sorts of arts and cultural activities. The city had an open air theatre where the first comedies and tragedies known to people were performed. Many people love to travel to Greece for the cultural significance of the country that affected the civilization of many kingdoms and empires throughout time.

Most of the creative writers, authors, and thinkers used to live in Athens, the city with the largest and greatest contributions to theatre, poetry, philosophy and all types of literature and arts. Athens was the location where great Greek writers like Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus who were considered to be the fathers of the Greek Tragedies.       

Sophocles was born 496 AD and he is considered to be one of the most influential Greek tragedy writers of his time. This great Greek author has written around 120 plays that were all performed during the Festival of Dionysius, where the Greek tragedies all started. 

Sophocles has been awarded with the first prize for the best play in the Festival of Dionysius more than 20 times. Electra, Oedipus the king, and Antigone are among his most popular plays that are still performed until today. Sophocles passed away around the year 405 in Athens.    

Euripides, who was born around 480 BC, was a more realistic writer and although he wrote the traditional Greek historic plays, the main characters of his plays were normal people with no heroic abilities like other writers of the time.

 Euripides used to write his dramas in a much simpler language than other Greek authors and he criticized many political, social, and ideological concepts of Athens and the whole Greek Empire. These facts made him the most popular writer among his peers and until today.  Euripides wrote more than 90 plays and around 18 stories. Euripides died in 406 leaving behind a collection of literatures that the intellectuals still value until our modern times. 

Aeschylus who was born in 525 BC is regarded by many scholars as the founder of the true Greek tragedies from the artistic aspect.He started writing plays when he was 25 years old and he was an intimate friend of Socrates  Aeschylus has written more than 70 plays, but unfortunately  only seven of them survived until today. The most important works of Aeschylus include Agamemnon, The Oresteia, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides. Athens was also the avenue for comic plays to flourish with the writings of Aristophanes who was born in 446 BC and considered to be the pioneer comedian writer of his times. The works of Aristophanes were full of jokes, exaggerations, and strong political criticism. Aristophanes was among the nobles of Athens and he expressed the discontent of his social class concerning the deterioration that Athens has witnessed at the time because of the many wars and military struggles. Aristophanes had more than forty plays but only eleven of them survived until today as a unique example of the comedies of the Greeks in Athens in the 5th century.

The inhabitants of Athens were well known for their strong religious beliefs. The Acropolis, one of the ancient religious structures at the time, was built on top of a hill facing the ancient city. Many affordable tours to Greece can be organized for guests who are fond of its history.

Acropolis in the ancient Greek language means the high grounded city. The Greeks used to construct an Acropolis for each major city and the Acropolis of Athens was the most important among all the ancient cities at the time. The Acropolis used to play a vital role in the lives of the Athenians for religious reasons and military causes as well as the inhabitants of the city used to take as a fortified base in case of any outer invasion. Many custom tours to Greece include a visit to Athens and its Acropolises.

The Persian Wars

Athens has witnessed a harsh Persian attack in 490 as part of the long period of the Greco Persian wars when the Greeks had to defend their cities and houses against the invasions of the strong Persian armies at the time.  The Greeks faced the Persian army in the battle of Marathon, only a few miles away from Athens.

The Athenians were able to stop the Persian forces, who were led by King Darius I from entering Athens and the remaining of the Greek Kingdom.

This victory of the Athenians, especially without the participation of the forces coming from Sparta,  made the whole Greek Empire regard the Athenians as heroes who were able to defeat an the most powerful army in the world at the time all by themselves and made the Persians reconsider all their military plans. 

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