The Acropolis of Athens has been inhabited since Neolithic times. Athens dominates the economic, cultural, and political life of Greece.
The Greek war of independence (1821-33) liberated the city from the Turks and made it the capital of modern Greece.
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Athens was largely rebuilt during the reign (1832-62) of King Otto by German architects, notably Eduard Schaubert.
Before its emergence as a major European commercial and industrial center in the 20th century, it was important mainly as a tourist center celebrated for its ancient monuments.
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The city now suffers from modern problems, such as urban sprawl and chemical air pollution. Population (1991, greater city) 3,096,775.
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In 480 BC Athens was sacked and nearly destroyed by the Persians. The Athenian leader Themistocles, having defeated the Persian invaders at Salamís, began the restoration of the city, building circuit walls around both Athens and Piraeus. He also began construction of walls connecting Athens with the port. His work was continued by Pericles in the 450s BC. Pericles, more than any other democratic leader, made Athens a great city. Public funds were used to build the Parthenon, the temple of Niké, the Erechtheum, and other great monuments. He developed the agora, which began to display imports from around the world. As head of the Delian League of Greek city-states, Athens was now an imperial power; its courts tried cases from all over the Aegean. The culture of the city was magnificent. Great tragedies and comedies were produced in the theater of Dionysus, below the Acropolis, and Pericles' circle included leading intellectuals. The city, with its democratic constitution and brilliant way of life, became the "school of Hellas." At its height, the population was perhaps 200,000 people, of whom 50,000 were full male citizens; the rest—women, foreigners, and slaves—were not citizens.
After its defeat by Sparta in the destructive Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), the city began to decline. Socrates was forced to take his own life when he questioned traditional ideas, and an attitude of pessimism prevailed. Nevertheless, philosophy continued to flourish. In the 4th century BC Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum were founded as philosophical schools, and Demosthenes, Isocrates, and others made rhetoric a fine art.
It fell to Rome in 146 BC but maintained good relations with the Romans until they sacked it in 86 BC, destroying many of Athens' monuments. Nonetheless, Athens remained a center of learning for prominent Greeks and Romans from the 1st century BC until late antiquity. In the 3rd century AD it was damaged by invading Goths, who were repelled with some difficulty. In AD 529 the Christian emperor Justinian closed the pagan philosophical schools, virtually ending the city's classical tradition.
During the Byzantine period Athens became a cultural backwater.
Many of the city's artworks were moved to Constantinople
(present-day Istanbul), and the temples became Christian churches.
Byzantine emperors occasionally visited Athens, but the city was
largely ignored and impoverished. After the Latin Crusaders
conquered Constantinople in 1204, Athens became a French feudal
duchy. The Catalans took over the city in 1311, but they were
expelled when a Florentine dynasty successfully installed itself
in the late 14th century.
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