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A Brief History of Athens

5 November 2015

Europe's oldest city, the famous acropolis of Athens dates back to the 5th century BC, with its construction overseen by the ancient statesman, Pericles. Topped by the Parthenon, designed as a testament to Athena, for whom the city is named, the Athenian acropolis is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, owing to the masterful skills used in its creation and its influence on ancient architecture.

Athenian myth

Legend has it that Athena and Poseidon battled over the naming rights of Greece's capital city, each attempting to woo their worshippers to their side with heavenly gifts. Poseidon created a spring, to always keep the people sated with water; but being the god of the sea, the water he produced was salty, and was not looked upon favourably. Athena planted a seed, which sprouted into a beautiful olive tree, thereby providing the people with food, firewood and oil. With this much better gift, Athena won over the city, and became the official patron of Athens. Early Athenian money bore the image of Athena and an owl, her sacred bird, in honour of the goddess, and the contest is remembered in the sculptures of the Parthenon's west pediment.

The modern city

Today, the sprawling metropolis of modern Athens is overshadowed by its glorious Parthenon, in a heady blend of antiquated architecture and thriving urban life. Whilst business is booming in this increasingly sociable capital - with many trendy bars, restaurants, shops and cafes opening in the more contemporary streets, despite the recent economic downturn - the acropolis itself has been carefully preserved, with renovations in 2004 completely pedestrianizing the ancient city centre. Delightfully traffic-free, the great archaeological monuments of the city are linked by a tree-lined boulevard, which runs for 2.5 miles, and allows for easy access to intriguing Greek history to Athens' many visitors.

To explore the ancient beauty of Athens for yourself, why not consider taking our Grand Mediterranean Cruise? In addition to this incredible capital, we also discover the wonderful cities of Ephesus and Izmir, before visiting Istanbul, cruising to Italy, and exploring Barcelona.