Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
The province of Attica, which has been settled at least since 3,000 B.C., was where the classic Greek Attic dialect originated. Attica includes the capital, Athens (Athinai), which is surrounded by the largest metropolitan area in Greece, and Piraeus, Greece's chief port. Greater Athens includes forty-one municipalities and fifteen communes (see Local Government, ch. 4). It is the hub of Greece's import and export activity and the center of the largest industrial complex in the country, featuring a wide variety of light and heavy manufacturing enterprises. Average personal income for Athenians is higher than the national average.
The earliest known buildings in Athens were constructed about 1,200 B.C. Classical Athens, the city that existed from the fifth century until the third century B.C., is recognized as the cradle of Western civilization. It was home to the great generation of Greek playwrights that included Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, and Sophocles, to the philosophers Aristotle, Epicurus, Plato, Socrates, and Zeno, and to the sculptors Myron, Phidias, and Praxiteles. Under the rule of the great statesman Pericles, Athens reached the pinnacle of its golden age in the middle of the fifth century B.C.
In 86 B.C., Athens was conquered by the Romans, under whom it continued to flourish as a center of learning and fine architecture and sculpture. Although the Germanic Heruli tribe destroyed most of the city in A.D. 267, Athens continued as an important center of Greek scholarship until the Roman emperor Justinian closed its renowned schools of philosophy in A.D. 529. From that point, Athens assumed minor status, and Constantinople became the focus of Greek culture.
The seventh through the tenth centuries were the darkest period for the city. Some activity then revived in the centuries that followed, before Athens was captured by the Crusaders in 1204. The Ottoman Turks captured the city in the fifteenth century, turning the Parthenon, the main temple built for the goddess Athena in the fifth century B.C., into a mosque. That conversion meant that the building had served three religions within three centuries after having been an Eastern Orthodox church under the Byzantine Empire and a Roman Catholic church after 1204. Athens was fully liberated from Turkish rule only when it was chosen as the new capital of the kingdom of Greece in 1833.
When Greece gained its independence, Athens was a market town with a population of a few thousand, built on and around the Acropolis, the 150 meter hill that was the center of the ancient city. In the decades that followed, Athens gradually returned to the central cultural, economic, and political role that it had enjoyed in classical times. By 1900 the population was about 180,000 and Athens was linked with the thriving port of Piraeus, on the Gulf of Saronikos to its southwest. The city's rapid population growth in the twentieth century has been largely because of immigration--from Turkey in the population exchanges of the 1920s and from Greek rural areas throughout the century.
The Nazi occupation of 1941-44 and the Civil War that followed in 1946-49 destroyed much of the city's infrastructure and most of the central city. Athens experienced a second phase of disorganized growth as it rebuilt after the Civil War. Rapid industrialization and population shifts, accompanied by widespread housing and highway construction, occurred without any plan for land utilization or transportation structure. In the mid-1990s, Athens remained a complex, overcrowded central city. (This problem was not new, however--travelers in the third century B.C. were already complaining about the complexity of the street pattern.)
Data as of December 1994
NOTE: The information regarding Greece on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Greece Athens information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Greece Athens should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.