Athens, the spectacular capital city of Greece, is home to over one third of the Greek population. The capital city since 1834, the total land area of Athens is around 250 square miles (340 square kilometers). Athens is one of the most vibrant and dazzling cities in Europe and its unique blend of old and new has made it a popular destination for both business and leisure. Athens is one of the few places on earth that can boast a history of over 5000 years!
The Acropolis hill, so called the "Sacred Rock" of Athens, is the most important site of the city. During Perikles' Golden Age, ancient Greek civilization was represented in an ideal way on the hill and some of the architectural masterpieces of the period were erected on its ground.
The first habitation remains on the Acropolis date from the Neolithic period. Over the centuries, the rocky hill was continuously used either as a cult place or as a residential area or both. The inscriptions on the numerous and precious offerings to the sanctuary of Athena (marble korai, bronze and clay statuettes and vases) indicate that the cult of the city's patron goddess was established as early as the Archaic period (650-480 B.C.).
During the Classical period (450-330 B.C.) three important temples were erected on the ruins of earlier ones: the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Nike, dedicated to Athena Parthenos, Athena Polias, and Athena-Apteros Nike, respectively. The Propylaea, the monumental entrance to the sacred area was also constructed in the same period.
The monuments on the Acropolis reflect the successive phases of the city's history. Some of them were converted into Christian churches, houses of the Franks and later on, of the Turks. After the liberation of Athens from the Turks, the protection, restoration and conservation of the monuments was one of the first tasks of the newly-founded Greek state. This major effort is continued until today, with the large-scale restoration and supporting of the monuments, which started in the 1970's and is still in progress.
The first excavations on the hill were conducted between 1835 and 1837. More systematic work was carried out in 1885-1890 by Panagiotis Kavvadias.
The South Slope of The Acropolis
The south slope of the Acropolis played a significant role in the artistic, spiritual and religious activity of ancient Athens. Important public buildings were erected in the area: the Odeion of Perikles, the sanctuary and theatre of Dionysos, the choregic monuments, the Asklepieion, the stoa of Eumenes and the Odeion of Herodes Atticus.
Recently, architectural members in the orchestra and the retaining wall of the east parodos of the Dionysos Theatre were restored.
Excavations at the sanctuary of Dionysos started in 1838 by the Greek Archaeological Society and lasted for about a century. They brought to light the theatre and the greater part of the sanctuary which includes the two temples of Dionysos.
The excavations at the Odeion of Perikles were carried out almost sixty years ago and revealed a large building with many columns. The excavations, conducted by Kastriotes (1914-1927) and Orlandos (1928-1931), revealed the north side of the building and five column bases at the NE corner.
The excavations at the Asklepieion were conducted in 1875-76 by the Greek Archaeological Service under the direction of St. Koumanoudis and uncovered the Early Christian basilicas and remains of the most important buildings of the sanctuary.
The Ancient Agora of Athens
The Agora was the heart of ancient Athens, the focus of political, commercial, administrative and social activity, the religious and cultural centre, and the seat of justice.
The site was occupied without interruption in all periods of the city's history. It was used as a residential and burial area as early as the Late Neolithic period (3000 B.C.). Early in the 6th century, in the time of Solon, the Agora became a public area.
After a series of repairs and remodellings, it reached its final rectangular form in the 2nd century B.C. Extensive building activity occured after the serious damage made by the Persians in 480/79 B.C., by the Romans in 89 B.C. and by the Herulae in A.D. 267 while, after the Slavic invasion in A.D. 580, It was gradually abandoned. From the Byzantine period until after 1834, when Athens became the capital of the independent Greek state, the Agora was again developed as a residential area.
The Roman Agora of Athens
Large building measuring 111 x 98 m., comprising a spacious rectangular courtyard surrounded by stoas, shops and storerooms. It has an east, Ionic propylon and a west, Doric propylon, known as the Gate of Athena Archegetis.
It was built between 19 and 11 B.C. with a donation of Julius Caesar and Augustus. During the reign of Hadrian the court was paved with slabs. After the invasion of the Herulae in A.D. 267 the city of Athens was restricted to the area within the Late Roman fortification wall, and the administrative and commercial centre of the city was transferred from the Ancient Agora to the Roman Agora and the Library of Hadrian.
During the Byzantine period and the Turkish occupation the area was covered with houses, workshops and churches along with the Fethiye Mosque. After the necessary purchase and demolition of the private houses and other buildings covering the area, a series of excavations were carried out by the Greek Archaeological Society (in 1837-45, 1890-91, 1920, 1930-31), by the Italians (in 1940-42), by An. Orlandos and P. Lazarides (in 1963-64) and by the 1st Ephorate of Antiquities (in 1955, 1965-66, 1968, 1984-85, 1989, 1991).
In 1915-19 restoration work was carried out by An. Orlandos on the Gate of Athena Archegetis and the Tower of the Winds. In 1942 some of the columns of the east peristyle were restored by the Italians, and in 1963 three columns of the south peristyle with their architraves were also restored by Orlandos. Further restoration work was undertaken in 1975-76 by the 1st Ephorate at the Tower of the Winds and the Gate of Athena Archegetis.
The triumphal arch lies on an ancient street that led from the old city of Athens to the new, Roman section, built by Hadrian. It was constructed by the Athenians in 131AD, in honor of their benefactor emperor. Two inscriptions are carved on the architrave, one on each side: the first, on the side facing the Acropolis reads "This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus"; the second, facing the new city reads "This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus". The central arched opening is supported by pilasters crowned with Corinthian capitals, Similar but taller pilasters flank the outer corners. The arch is crowned by a series of Corinthian columns and pilasters, with an Ionic architrave at the ends. The monument is was built with Pentelic marble.
The Olympion of Athens
According to tradition, the establishment of the sanctuary goes back to the time of mythical Deucalion. The site was inhabited in the prehistoric period and the cult of Zeus is attested in early historic times. In ca. 515 B.C., Peisistratos the Younger, began the construction of a monumental temple which was not finished because of the fall of the tyranny in Athens. Much later, in 174 B.C., Antiochos IV Epiphanes, the king of Syria, attempted to continue the erection of the temple, which was finally completed by the Roman emperor Hadrian, in A.D. 124/125. Inside the temple stood a colossal chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue of Zeus.
Kerameikos was named after the community of the potters (kerameis) who occupied the whole area along the banks of river Eridanos. The walls of Athens, which were constructed in the 5th century B.C. by Themistocles, divided the area into two sections, the "inner" and "outer" Kerameikos. The wall had two gates, Dipylon and the Sacred Gate, placed at the outset of the two most important processional roads of Athens, the Panathenaic Way which led to the Acropolis, and the Sacred Way which led to Eleusis. Outside the city walls, along the sides of both roads lay the official cemetery of the city, which was continuously used from the 9th century B.C. until the late Roman period.
For more details visit the Athens Greece Travel Guide www.greeceathens.com