History (1)

When visiting Athens, you will realise that it just one huge archaeological site. You can barely step onto a street without finding ancient remains that date back to the time when Greece was the cradle of our civilization, the capital and the mother of our culture.

It was here that the key moments in the history of humanity were forged, where man became man, and where art, philosophy, mathematics and music grew to such an extent that they marked the course of our evolution.

A large part of our imagination, of our legends and of the universal story lines of our fiction is still drawn from Greek mythology, gods and myths that explain the history of the earth, but there is also a true written history that can be seen from its archaeological remains and from its literature. History was what turned Greece into what it was, and has made it what it is today. Four points should therefore be known before visiting it.

To discover the origin of everything, we must go back as far as 3000 BC, the date of the first settlements around the Acropolis. During this period, the Bronze Age, several civilizations flourished throughout Greece: first the Cycladic, then the Minoan in Crete and later the Mycenaean from the mainland.

The splendour of Mycenae began in around 1600 BC and was characterized by a centralized religion and bureaucracy, which started to decline after 1200 BC. This then led to what is considered the Archaic period, marked especially after 800 BC by the appearance of the different city-states in the mainland area. Along these lines, the city of Athens was consolidated, along with others such as Sparta, Corinth and Thebes, which sometimes joined forces in different leagues and bands and fought against each other.

This period also saw a cultural rebirth, with the first Olympic Games being held (in 776 BC) and in which new artistic and political styles were also introduced.

Although the end of the Archaic period led to the era of Classical Greece, certainly the richest and most splendid of its history, this golden age was not precisely a beginning marked by peace.

The Persians had their eyes on Greek territory and attempted the siege that involved several famous battles, such as Thermopylae. In 490 BC, the Athenians defeated the Persians in Marathon. However, they were to destroy the city ten years later and, once again, the Persians were later wiped out by one of the confederations of Greek city-states. For Athens, the enemy had no foreign identity. However, after the Persians, they formed a league with other cities to face the Spartan League. Athenian hegemony remained in force throughout the 5th century BC and stood out in every way in its classical period.

For almost 150 years, Athens boasted supremacy with names like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle or Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles.

These times saw the birth of modern democracy, the concept of citizenship and great works such as the Parthenon.

The Peloponnesian wars over the last 30 years of the 5th century BC led to the end Athenian domain in favour of Sparta. The city was later defeated by Thebes, which remained dominant for nearly a decade. Without a doubt, many years of fighting among the cities took its toll, which was certainly taken advantage of by outside forces. In 338 BC, the Greeks were defeated by King Philip II of Macedonia.

His son, Alexander the Great, was one of the big names to Greece. He conquered the Persians and created a huge empire that spread as far as India and Egypt. The era of domination of the Macedonians is known as Hellenistic Greece and its conquered lands adapted the Greek language, religion and tongue.

It was not until 168 BC that the Roman siege, which had been gaining force during the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC, finally succeeded. Greece was already a Roman province by the mid-2nd century BC. What Rome found was not a politically united land and it therefore gave different cities different treatment. Greece remained the cultural centre of the empire for centuries, the place where the nobles educated their children, for example. However, in 323 AD, Emperor Constantine made Constantinople the new capital of the Empire, and in 395 the Empire was formally divided between the Greek side, East, and the Latin side, West.

For centuries, the successor to the Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, suffered attempted invasions by the Slavs, Bulgarians and Normans. Byzantine Greece and the Greece of the crusades can still be seen in some monasteries or in the famous Benaki Museum in Athens.

When Constantinople fell into the hands of the Turks in 1453 it was followed by most of the Greek territory, which became part of the famous Ottoman Empire. For around four centuries, the harshness of the Turks crushed any attempt by the Venetians to conquer the Greek lands. They did, however, dominate some areas of the islands for some periods and left a rich artistic legacy.

It was not until the 19th century that Greece fought for independence and ended the rule of the Ottoman Empire. In 1829, Greece finally became an independent country with a king at the forefront, first Otto and then George I.

In the 20th century, Greece remained neutral during the First World War, was invaded by Italy and occupied by the Germans, witnessed a bloody civil war between 1946 and 1949, and suffered the military dictatorship of Metaxas.

Since 1974, Greece has been a stable democracy, and Athens, an ancient city that burdens the significant weight of its past yet has an increasingly important presence in Europe. The Olympic Games held in the Greek capital in 2004 showed the world just how capable Athens is of standing among the world's major capitals.

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