Athens is one of the great names of antiquity, the city of Plato and Socrates, a cradle of Western civilisation and birthplace of democracy. Greek mythology tells us that the city was named after Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, who presented the city with its first olive tree. In spite of the destruction it suffered over the centuries, the majestic complex of the Acropolis, high over the city, still refelects the age of Pericles, when the city was the spiritual, artistic and political centre of the country.
From the entrance gate, you take the pathway and can look down on the Theatre of Herodes Atticus built in 161 AD by a wealthy Roman. Approaching the Propylaia gateway, you will see the Beule Gate on the left and the Propylaia towering ahead of you. Up the Propylaia steps, the Panathenaic Way leads you to the glorious 2,500 years old Parthenon (Temple of Athena Virgin) built under the direction of Phidias. Before reaching the Parthenon, you will see the Temple of Athena Nike and on the northern side, the Erechtheum with the famous Gate of the Caryatides. At the end of the Parthenon is the Acropolis Museum with exhibits from the site. On the southern side of the Parthenon, you can look down on the enormous Theatre of Dionysos, above which is the Asclepion and Stoa of Eumenes.
Below the Acropolis you can see the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest in Greece, that had 104 corinthian columns of which 15 remain. In the heart of the city you will find the Arch of Hadrian (132 AD), the National Archaeological Museum with its outstanding collection of Greek antiquities and the Roman Stadium, first built in 120 AD, restored in 1895 for the first modern Olympic Games and now being restored again for the 2004 Olympics. Also in the centre is the Parliament building, Syntagma Square and the ancient Plaka district's honeycomb of streets, little shops - and tavernas that come alive at night.
The city was founded by the Phoenicians at least 2000 years BC and in 1400 BC was a powerful Mycanaean city. After period of aristocratic, democratic and dictatorial rule in the 600s BC, the Golden Age of Athens arrived around 500 BC when they repulsed the Persian Empire with the help of Sparta and dominated the Eastern Mediterranean. The wars with Sparta took them to 400 BC and in 338 BC the days of glory ended when Athens was conquered by Philip II of Macedonia. His son Alexander the Great favoured Athens and the city became a major seat of learning in Roman times. Between 400 BC and 1400 AD Athens had been raided, sacked and burnt at least 30 times. In 1456 it was captured by the Ottoman Turks and the city declined to a few thousand people until 1834 when it became the Greek capital after the War of Independence with Turkey.
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