The New Student's Reference Work/Athens

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Ath’ens, the capital of Attica and the center of ancient Greek culture. The city is beautifully situated. In its center is the rocky height called the Acropolis, rising about 500 feet abode the Attic plains; and grouped around it are the Areopagus or Hill of Mars, the Museum or Hill of the Muses, the Hill of the Pnyx and the Hill of the Nymphs. The river Ilissus can be seen to the north and east, and the Cephissus to the south and west, while the Attic plain is itself girdled by hills.

In legend Athens dates back to the hero Cecrops, from whom the city was called Cecropia, as well as the far more famous name, Athens, in honor of its patron goddess, Athena. The mythic King Theseus also plays an honored part in the forming of the early city; while under the hands of Solon and the tyrants Pisistratus and Clisthenes was formed the democratic government which made the city so famous in history, and beginnings were made in the erection of imposing buildings. The ruins of the colossal temple of Zeus, called the Olympium, date back to this period.

During the Persian wars the city was abandoned and burned, but after the victories of Salamis and Platæa, it was splendidly rebuilt and the Athenians entered upon the most brilliant epoch of their career. The energy of Themistocles secured the building of the walls around the Acropolis, and the city walls, about five miles in circumference, with their ninety-seven towers and ten gates. Just outside one of these gates was the Ceramicus or burying-ground, where are still to be seen beautiful tomb bas-reliefs. The fortification of the harbor, called Peiræus, and the building of the famous “long walls,” 500 feet apart, some years later, completed the defenses of the city.

The age of Pericles was the most glorious in the history of Athens. Then flourished Monesicles and Ictinus in architecture, Phidias and Myron in sculpture, Æschylus and Sophocles in tragedy, Socrates and Plato in philosophy, Herodotus and Thucydides as historians and Pindar and Simonides as poets. In this period many of the finest buildings of Athens were built – the Parthenon, considered the most beautiful ruin in the world, the Erechtheum, the Temple of Wingless Victory, the Theseum and many other temples and monuments. At the time the city had more than 10,000 dwellings and 100,000 free in: habitants, with at least twice as many slaves.

The close of the Peloponnesian War marked the fall of Athens. Her splendid walls were destroyed and her civic spirit was broken; but a few men such as Demosthenes still kept her the defender of Greek freedom, while Lycurgus laid out the Stadium for the grounds of the so-called Panathenaic festival, having seats for 45,000 persons. After Athens with the remainder of Greece had fallen under the power of Macedonia, it became the seat of schools of philosophy and rhetoric, and later, when it became a Roman province (146 B. C.), it for a long time taught its conqueror. During this period the Emperor Hadrian gave the city a new prosperity; but from this time onward Athens became the spoil, first of the Romans, then of the Goths, afterward of the Christians and lastly of the Turks. In 1833 Greece was freed from the Turks, and since that time Athens, as the capital of the kingdom, has grown rapidly. It has a gymnasium after the German model, a school for the education of girls, polytechnic school which provides instruction in painting, sculpture and mechanics, and a university, which numbers over fifty professors and nearly 3,000 students. Within recent years there has grown up in Athens a great interest in the study of the remains of antiquity; and the three museums are stored with the fruit of such work. Besides the native societies for this object, called archeological societies, America England, Germany and France have established similar schools. The American school was founded in 1882, and is maintained by twelve leading colleges in the United States. The population of Athens is now 167,479.