Athens is the capital city, as well as the largest city in Greece. The history of Athens goes back at least 3,000 years. Athens was host to the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. Athens has many sights to offer including the Parthenon on the Acropolis, which serves as a landmark of western civilization. There are also a number of Roman and Byzantine monuments standing in Athens.
Athens offers sunshine nearly every day, and access to beautiful beaches and scenic islands. Modern Athens is a metropolis of activity for visitors. From shopping to dining, there are many ways to enjoy the traditional Greek heritage in Athens. Due to its large number of four and five star hotels, Athens is currently the sixth most visited capital city in all the world. Planning a visit to Athens is planning a trip back in time to an era when gods and mystical creatures traveled the world, and the first Olympic Games were held in the 700s B.C.
The decay of a great civilisation causes in the reflective the reconsideration of many problems of human life. We who live in Great Britain, in security and prosperity, and boast of the power of our empire, should feel somewhat humbled by the contemplation of the ruins of Athens. The story of the rise and fall of ancient Greece abounds with lessons and warnings for those who ponder seriously upon the destiny of great nations. That little country jutting into the sea, and broken up by gulfs and inlets, at the southern extremity of Europe–with an area not so large as that of Portugal–once dominated wide territories in Persia and Egypt, tracts of Turkey and Asia Minor, parts of Italy, and the shores of the Black Sea.
Attica and its capital covered a district that could be crossed to-day in its widest part, by a railway train in less than one hour. The capital of this small but powerful region was a city with a population less than that of Sheffield. Yet Athens stood for the whole of the civilised world as a token of might, wealth, and culture, united in a city of limited dimensions, situated in the midst of natural surroundings not wholly kindly for the development of tillage. The Athenians, descendants of tribes of the North, and of the old race of Pelasgians, were a vigorous, adventurous, and highly intelligent race when western Europe was inhabited by rude primitive tribes. Long before the introduction of Christianity in the East, Athens was a beacon-light of religious and ethical culture. Three hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Greeks had made Alexandria the chief seat of learning and refinement in the world, and “the birthplace of modern science.” And while other states of Europe were ruled by autocrats and tyrants, the Athenians adopted an advanced republican form of government.
The light of Athens shone dazzlingly for centuries. Its many splendid buildings, and the glorious Parthenon, were erected in the days of its proudest prosperity; in the days of gifted architects and sculptors, such as the world had never known, and in the days long before the apostles of Christianity had set foot on Attic soil. The light, and not too generous, soil of this limestone tract had been wrested from nature, irrigated, and tilled to perfection. Around Athens was a land of gardens and vineyards, with groves and pastures by pleasant streams. The Piraeus, on the Saronic Gulf, was connected with Athens by walls and roads, and used as a port for vessels of war and commerce. In the city were superb temples, theatres, halls of learning, and academies; while the open spaces were adorned with statues carved by Praxiteles and Phidias.
During this period of magnificence, Socrates discoursed in the city, and the plays of Sophocles were performed in the vast theatre. We tread to-day on venerable ground as we wander amid the shattered pillars upon which Demosthenes and Aristotle gazed, and stand where Plato stood in contemplation. Athens is haunted in every corner with the spirits of mighty philosophers, poets, artists, and statesmen of eternal fame.
The passionate admirer of Grecian civilisation sometimes fails to detect any imperfection in the Athenians of the immemorial epoch. But there were grave faults in the populace of Athens even in the days of its rarest enlightenment. The democracy showed at times the same irrationality hen as to-day. The statesmen fell into our errors, and were often as prejudiced as our modern politicians. Miltiades was thrown into prison; Aristides was ostracised; and Thucydides and Herodotus were banished. Themistocles became unpopular, and had to fly from his country to Persia. Socrates was made to drink the bitter cup. Even in this era of culture and science, the reformer and the innovator of moral and social customs ran the risk of persecution. And then, as in our own time, the flippant scoffer, such as Aristophanes, was admired and applauded, while the serious thinker was exposed to the ingratitude and cruelty of the less earnest and educated.
Although the cultured of Athens were rationalists in the main, the masses were prone to monstrous and hurtful superstitions. There were in Athens, as in modern cities to-day, a number of persons who lived upon the credulity of their neighbours. Seers, soothsayers, and charlatans preyed on the foolish, in spite of the ridicule of the philosophers. No wonder that Socrates was misunderstood by the mob!
In their treatment of women, the Athenians were not entirely just and sensible. Aristotle held that women were “inferior beings,” though he justly demanded the same measure of chastity for men as for their wives. Plato was one of the most “feminist” of the philosophers, as we may gather from his “Republic”; but Plutarch went further, and stated that women should be educated equally with men, a teaching directly opposed to that of Xenophon, who declared that young girls should know “as little as possible.” We learn, however, that at one period the women of Greece were, in civic matters, on a level with their husbands, and could act without their consent in political affairs. The finest and most educated women were the courtesans.
The Athenians bought and sold slaves, without the least consciousness of injustice. No doubt the serfs were treated fairly well, on the whole. But no Athenian appears to have recognised the moral evil of the system of slavery.
Yet, despite these blemishes, what a resplendent state was that of
Attica, and how wise and sane in many important respects were the laws,
the home life, and the recreations of the people of Athens. Perhaps one
cannot convey in a better manner an idea of the life of the city in its
days of noblest fame than by giving a page or two out of the lives of a
few of the heroes of war, the lawgivers, and the artists of the capital
who were the makers of its glory.