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Athens History

Inhabited for at least 5,000 years, Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world. By the 5th century BCE, the developing Athenian state had launched democracy, which saw it become the cultural centre of Western civilisation.

Named after the goddess of wisdom, battle strategies and more, the city-state of Athens came to dominate Greece after defeating Persian invasions in 490 and 479 BCE. Under Pericles from 461 BCE, the construction of the icons of Ancient Greece began, including the Parthenon in Athens and Temple of Poseidon at Sounion. In this Golden Age, drama and the arts also flourished, and Socrates conceived the foundations of Western philosophy.

Despite echoing through the ages, Athens’ relatively brief dominance over Greece was challenged by Sparta and the Peloponnesian War followed for nearly three decades until 404 BCE. In 338 BCE, the Ancient Kingdom of Macedonia seized Athens, ruling it until the Roman conquest in 2nd century BCE. The city maintained its prestige as a centre of learning under the Romans.

More than five centuries of Roman rule were followed by that of the Byzantines, under whom it declined. Later, there was medieval prosperity in the 11th and 12th centuries – until Latin rulers conquered it during the Fourth Crusade in 1204.

Next came the Ottoman conquest in 1458. Although the empire wanted to preserve Athens’ ancient marvels, a litany of accidents and attacks led to the destruction of many.

Greece finally gained independence in 1832, and Athens was named capital. The King employed architects to redesign the city and erect impressive neo-classical buildings, such as the Royal Palace, today the Greek Parliament.

Athens grew rapidly through the 19th century, while Greek refugees from Anatolia flooded the city in 1920s after the Greek-Turkish war. Athens suffered greatly during the World Wars. Years of struggle between left and right in the post-war era led to a 7-year military dictatorship known as the Junta until 1974.

In the late 20th century, Athens developed into a truly modern city and in 2004 it hosted the Olympic Games. Since the eurozone crisis from 2009, it became the centre of widespread protests against the government, leading to civil unrest.

Did you know?
• When Prince Otto of Bavaria became King of Greece in 1832, he adopted Greek clothing and used the local spelling of his name, becoming King Othon.
• Although the Romans respected Athens’ legacy, General Sulla sacked the city in 87 BCE, causing much destruction. He did, however, order that the main monuments were not harmed.
• During WWII and German occupation, the Nazis flew the swastika flag from the Acropolis. Its removal by Greek left wing politician, Manolis Glezos, sparked the Greek revolt.

Featured Hotels

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Hilton Hotel

The refurbished Hilton Hotel is modern, smart and popular with business travellers. It has 517 rooms (guest rooms, accessible rooms, executive rooms and suites) all with wooden floors, minimalist furniture and balconies. A small supplement is payable for rooms with Acropolis views. The impressive facilities include four restaurants, three bars, an outdoor pool, a luxurious spa with an indoor pool, plus a business centre.

Electra Palace

In Plaka, the Electra Palace’s yellow neo-classical facade opens into a spacious marble lobby. The 122 rooms and suites all have wooden floors, Persian rugs, thick curtains and cotton duvets – the best ones offer a glimpse of the Acropolis. Up top, there’s a rooftop pool with wooden deck and sun beds, plus a small spa (pool, sauna, massage and gym) in the basement.

Hotel Hermes

Perfectly located between Syntagma and Plaka, Hermes is noted for its extremely friendly and helpful staff. The 45 rooms all have wooden floors and white marble bathrooms, and some but not all have balconies. A plentiful buffet breakfast is served daily and the lounge does all-day free tea and coffee. Wi-Fi throughout. Syntagma Metro station is a 2 minute walk away.

Hera Hotel

Smack at the foot of the Acropolis and around the corner from the New Acropolis Museum, this classic hotel with a neoclassical façade is perfectly located for sightseeing. The rooms and suites are elegantly furnished, and the rooftop garden and restaurant gives unparalleled Acropolis views.

New Hotel

Fun and a little offbeat, this hotel is the artistic creation of Brazilian designers Humberto and Fernando Campana. The 79 rooms and suites have recycled furniture, bamboo wood floors, and slick bathrooms stocked with Kiehl's products. The all-day bar-restaurant does an excellent breakfast and the New Sense spa offers health and beauty treatments.

Hotel Grande Bretagne

The Hotel Grande Bretagne is the city's oldest and most prestigious hotel, having opened in 1874 and hosted royalty, heads of state, film stars and rock gods. As you’d expect, the sophisticated rooms feature antiques and marble bathrooms, and suites include 24-hour butler service; there are 3 restaurants, one on the rooftop with an Acropolis view, plus a rooftop pool.