The history of Athens is one of the longest of any city in Europe and in the world. Named after Athena, goddess of wisdom and knowledge, Athens has been continuously inhabited since the Bronze Age and is generally considered to be the cradle of Western civilization. It became the leading city of Ancient Greece in the first millennium BC and the strongest Greek city-state around 500 BC, entering its Golden Age after emerging victorious from the Persian Wars (500 – 449 BC). During the time of Pericles (443 – 429), Athens reached the height of its cultural and imperial achievement. Socrates and the dramatists Aeshcylus, Sophocles and Euripides lived at that time.
It was then when the incomparable Parthenon was built, when sculpture and painting flourished making Athens a center of intellectual life. The city enjoyed a cultural explosion that ended with the Peloponnesian War (431 – 401 BC), but Athenian achievements in philosophy, drama and art continued even after the city’s glory faded, creating a legacy that conquered the world as Hellenistic culture. During the Middle Ages, Athens experienced decline and then a recovery under the Byzantine Empire, becoming a provincial capital of the empire and a center of religious learning and devotion.
Athens was relatively prosperous during the Crusades, benefiting from Italian trade. However, the fall of the Acropolis to the Ottoman Turks in 1458 marked the beginning of nearly four centuries of Ottoman rule and once again decline. Athens re-emerged in the 19th century as the capital of the independent Greek State. Modern Athens was constructed after 1834, when it became the capital of a newly independent Greece.
The cultural legacy of ancient Athens to the world is incalculable and to a great extent the references to the Greek heritage that abound in the culture of Western Europe are to Athenian civilization. Today, cultural events including dance and theatre, recitals, concerts international trade shows, conferences and symposia, public lectures, gallery exhibits, sports events and marathons, an integral part of life in this bustling cosmopolitan capital.
Built in 161 BC, the Odeon of Herod Atticus at the foot of the Acropolis provides one of the most important open-air venues for staging the annual Athens Festival, featuring music concerts and dance troupes from around the world. Superb performances of ancient and modern drama are staged at the Herod Atticus Theatre.
The National Theatre of Greece stages drama performances in modern Greek with English translations provided. Undoubtedly the pride and joy of the city’s cultural life, the Athens Concert Hall comprises a modern theatre, concert and conference hall with spacious reception areas, exhibition space and a 500-seat recital hall. The Megaron Hall is a 2,000-seat auditorium hosting operatic, dance and drama performances almost daily. Perched high on its namesake hill in the centre of the city, the 4,000-seat open-air Lycabettus amphitheatre hosts a variety of concerts by contemporary jazz and pop artists, as well as chamber orchestras, mainly during the summer.