in Hom. Od. 7.80
: Eth. Ἀθηναῖος
, Eth. Atheniensis
), the capital of Attica.
Athens is situated between four and five miles from the sea-coast, in the central plain of Attica, which is enclosed by mountains on every side except the south, where it is open to the sea.
This plain is bounded on the NW. by Mt. Parnes, on the NE. by Mt. Pentelicus, on the SE. by Mt. Hymettus, and on the W. by Mt. Aegaleos.
In the southern part of the plain there rise several eminences. Of these the most prominent is a lofty insulated mountain, with a conical peaked summit, now called the Hill of St. George,
which used to be identified by topographers with the ancient Anchesmus, but which is now admitted to be the more celebrated Lycabettus.
This mountain, which was not included within the ancient walls, lies to the north-east of Athens, and forms the most striking feature in the environs of the city.
It is to Athens, as a modern writer has aptly remarked, what Vesuvius is to Naples or Arthur's Seat to Edinburgh. South-west of Lycabettus there are four hills of moderate height, all of which formed part of the city. Of these the nearest to Lycabettus, and at the distance of a mile from the latter, was the ACROPOLIS, or citadel of Athens, a square craggy rock rising abruptly about 150 feet, with a flat summit of about 1000 feet long from east to west, by 500 feet broad from north to south. Immediately west of the Acropolis is a second hill of irregular form, the AREIOPAGUS. To the south-west there rises a third hill, the PNYX, on which the assemblies of the citizens were held; and to the south of the latter is a fourth hill, known as the MUSEIUM. On the eastern and western sides of the city there run two small streams, both of which are nearly exhausted by the heats of summer and by the channels for artificial irrigation before they reach the sea.
The stream on the east, called the ILISSUS
was joined by the Eridanus close to the Lyceium outside the walls, and then flowed in a southwesterly direction through the southern quarter of the city.
The stream on the west, named the CEPHISSUS
runs due south, at the distance of about a mile and a half from the walls. South of the city was seen the Saronic Gulf, with the harbours of Athens.
The Athenian soil and climate exercised an important influence upon the buildings of the city. They are characterized by Milton in his noble lines:--
Where on the Aegean shore a city stands Built nobly, pure the air, and light the soil.
The plain of Athens is barren and destitute of vegetation, with the exception of the long stream of olives which stretch from Mt. Parnes by the side of the Cephissus to the sea. “The buildings of the city possessed a property produced immediately by the Athenian soil. Athens stands on a bed of hard limestone rock, in most places thinly covered by a meagre surface of soil. From this surface the rock itself frequently projects, and almost always is visible. Athenian ingenuity suggested, and Athenian dexterity has realized, the adaptation of such a soil to architectural purposes. Of this there remains the fullest evidence.
In the rocky soil itself walls have been hewn, pavements levelled, steps and seats chiselled, cisterns excavated and niches scooped; almost every object that in a simple state of society would be necessary either for public or private fabrics, was thus, as it were, quarried in the soil of the city itself.” (Wordsworth, Athens and Attica,
The surpassing beauty and clearness of the Athenian atmosphere naturally allowed the inhabitants to pass much of their time in the open air. Hence, as the same writer remarks, “we may in part account for the practical defects of their domestic architecture, the badness of their streets, and the proverbial meanness of the houses of the noblest individuals among them. Hence certainly it was that in the best days of Athens, the Athenians worshipped, they legislated, they saw dramatic representations, under the open sky.” The transparent clearness of the atmosphere is noticed by Euripides (Eur. Med. 829
), who describes the Athenians as ἀεί διὰ λαμπροτάτον Βαίνοντες ἁβρῶς αἰθέρος´.
Modern travellers have not failed to notice the same peculiarity. Mr. Stanley speaks “of the transparent clearness, the brilliant colouring of an Athenian sky; of the flood of fire with which the marble columns, the mountains and the sea, are all bathed and penetrated by an illumination of an Athenian sunset.” The epithet, which Ovid (Art. Am. 3.389
) applies to Hymettus--“purpureos
colles Hymetti,” is strictly correct; and the writer, whom we have just quoted, mentions “the violet
hue which Hymettus assumes in the evening sky, in contrast to the glowing furnace of the rock of Lycabettus, and the rosy pyramid of Pentelicus.” (Stanley, in Classical Museum,
vol, i. pp. 60, 61.)
We draw upon another intelligent traveller for a description of the scenery of Athens. “The great national amphitheatre of which Athens is the centre, possesses, in addition to its beauty, certain features of peculiarity, which render it the more difficult to form any adequate idea of its scenery, but from personal view.
The chief of these is a certain degree of regularity, or rather of symmetry, in the arrangement of the principal parts of the landscape, which enables the eye the better to apprehend its whole extent and variety at a single glance, and thus to enjoy the full effect of its collective excellence more perfectly [p. 1.256]
|ENVIRONS OF ATHENS.
- A. The Asty.
- B. Peiraeeus.
- C. Munychia.
- D. Phalerum.
- EE, FF. The Long Walls; EE the northern wall, and FF the southern wall.
- GG. The Phaleric Wall.
- H. Harbour of Peiraeeus.
- I. Phaleric Bay.
- 1. The Cephissus.
- 2. The Ilissus.
- 3. The Eridanus.
- 4. Mount Hymettus.
- 5. Mount Lycabettus.
- 6. Mount Anchesmus.
- 7. Mount Corydallos.
- 8. Mount Poecilum. (This mountain and 7 are parts of the range of Aegaleos.)
The outer Cerameicus.
- 10. Academia.
- 11. Oeum Cerameicum?
- 12. Colonus.
- 13. Acharnae.
- 14. Cropeia.
- 15. Paeonidae.
- 16. Eupyridae.
- 17. Alopece.
- 18. Larissa.
- 19. Halimus.
- 20. Prospalta.
- 21. Ceiriadae?
- 22. Aexone.
- 23. Thymoetia.
- 24. Corydallus.
- 25. Xypete? (Troja.)
- 26. Hermus.
- 27. Oia.
- 28. Upper Agryle.
- 29. Lower Agryle.
than where the attention is distracted by a less orderly accumulation even of beautiful objects. Its more prominent characteristics are: first, the wide extent of open plain in the centre; secondly, the three separate ranges of mountain,--Hymettus, Pentelicus, and Parnes,--to the eye of nearly the same height, and bounding the plain at unequal distances on three sides, to the south-east, north-east, and north-west; thirdly, the sea on the remaining side, with its islands, and the distant mainland of Peloponnesus: fourthly, the cluster of rocky protuberances in the centre of the plain, the most striking of which either form part of the site of the city, or are grouped around it; and fifthly, the line of dark dense olive groves, winding like a large green river through the heart of the vale. Any formality, which might be expected to result from so symmetrical an arrangement of these leading elements of the composition, is further interrupted by the low graceful ridge of Turcovouni, extending behind the city up the centre of the plain; and by a few more marked undulations of its surface about the Peiraeeus and the neighbouring coast.
The present barren and deserted state of this fair, but not fertile region, is perhaps rather favourable than otherwise to its full picturesque effect, as tending less to interfere with the outlines of the landscape, in which its beauty so greatly consists, than a dense population and high state of culture.” (Mure, Tour in Greece,
vol. ii. p. 37.)
It is proposed to give here only a brief account of the history of the rise, progress, and fall of the City,
as a necessary introduction to a more detailed examination of its topography.
The political history of Athens forms a prominent part of Grecian history, and could not be narrated in this place at sufficient length to be of any value to the student.
The city of Athens, like many other Grecian cities, was originally confined to its Acropolis, and was afterwards extended over the plain and the adjacent hills.
The original city on the Acropolis was said to have been built by Cecrops, and was hence called CECROPIA
) even in later times. (Strab. ix. p.397
; Eur. Supp. 658
1289.) Among his successors, the name of Erechtheus I., also called Erichthonius, was likewise preserved by the buildings of Athens.
This king is said to have dedicated to Athena a temple on the Acropolis, and to have set up in it the image of the goddess, made of olive wood,--known in later times as the statue of Athena Polias, the most sacred object in all Athens. Erechtheus is further said to have been buried in this temple of Athena, which was henceforth called the ERECHTHEIUM. In his reign the inhabitants of the city, who were originally Pelasgians and called Cranai, and who were afterwards named Cecropidae from Cecrops, now received the name of Athenians, in consequence of the prominence which was given by him to the worship of Athena. (Hdt. 8.44
.) Theseus, the national hero of Attica, is still more celebrated in connection with the early history of the city.
He is said to have united into one political body the twelve independent states into which Cecrops had divided Attica, and to have made Athens the capital of the new state.
This important revolution was followed by an increase of the population of the city, for whose accommodation Theseus enlarged Athens, by building on the ground to the south of the Cecropia or Acropolis. (Comp. Thuc. 2.15
The beautiful temple--the THESEIUM--erected at a later time in honour of this hero, remains in existence down to the present day. Homer mentions the city of Athens, and speaks of the temple of Athena in connection with Erechtheus. (Hom. Il. 2.546
It was during the mythical age that the Pelasgians are said to have fortified the Acropolis. Their name continued to be given to the northern wall of the Acropolis, and to a space of ground below this wall in the plain. (Paus. 1.28.3
In the historical age the first attempt to embellish Athens appears to have been made by Peisistratus and his sons (B.C. 560--514). Like several of the other Grecian despots, they erected many temples and other public buildings. Thus we are told that they founded the temple of Apollo Pythius (Thuc. 6.54
), and commenced the gigantic temple of the Olympian Zeus, which remained unfinished for centuries. (Aristot. Pol. 5.11
.) In B.C. 500, the Dionysiac theatre was commenced on the south-eastern slope of the Acropolis, in consequence of the falling of the wooden construction in which the early dramas had been performed; but the new theatre was not completely finished till B.C. 340, although it must have been used for the representation of plays long before that time. (Paus. 1.29.16
; Plut. Vit. X. Orat.
pp. 841, 852.)
A new era in the history of the city commences with its capture by Xerxes, who reduced it almost to a heap of ashes, B.C. 480.
This event was followed by the rapid development of the maritime power of Athens, and the establishment of her empire over the islands of the Aegean. Her own increasing wealth, and the tribute paid her by the subject states, afforded her ample means for the embellishment of the city; and during the half century which elapsed between the battle of Salamis and the commencement of the Peloponnesian war, the Athenians erected those masterpieces of architecture which have been the wonder and admiration of all succeeding ages. Most of the public buildings of Athens were erected under the administration of Themistocles, Cimon, and Pericles.
The first of these celebrated men could do little towards the ornament of Athens; but Cimon and Pericles made it the most splendid city of Greece.
The first object of Themistocles was to provide for the security of Athens by surrounding it with fortified walls.
The new walls, of which we shall speak below, were 60 stadia in circumference, and embraced a much greater space than the previous walls; but the whole of this space was probably never entirely filled with buildings.
The walls were erected in great haste, in consequence of the attempts of the Spartans to interrupt their progress; but though built with great irregularity, they were firm and solid. (Thuc. 1.93
After providing for the security of the city, the next object of Themistocles was to extend her maritime power. Seeing that the open roadstead of Phalerum, which had been previously used by the Athenians, was insecure for ships, he now resolved to fortify the more spacious harbours in the peninsula of Peiraeeus.
He surrounded it with a wall, probably not less than 14 or 15 feet thick; but the town was first regularly laid out by Hippodamus, of Miletus, in the time of Pericles.
Under the administration of Cimon the Theseium was built, and the Stoa Poecilé adorned with paintings by Micon, Polygnotus, and Pantaenus. Cimon [p. 1.258]
planted and adorned the Academy and the Agora; and he also built the southern wall of the Acropolis, which continued to be called by his name.
It was to Pericles, however, that Athens was chiefly indebted for her architectural splendour. On the Acropolis, he built those wonderful works of art, the Parthenon, the Erechtheium, and the Propylaea; in the city he erected a new Odeium; and outside the walls he improved and enlarged the Lyceium.
The completion of the Erechtheium appears to have been prevented by the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war ; but the Parthenon, the Propylaea, and the Odeium, were finished in the short space of 15 years.
He also connected Athens with Peiraeeus by the two long walls, and with Phalerum by a third wall, known by the na-ne of the Phaleric wall.
The Peloponnesian war put a stop to any further public buildings at Athens. On the capture of the city in B.C. 404, the long walls and the fortifications of the Peiraeeus were destroyed by the Lacedaemonians; but they were again restored by Conon in B.C. 393, after gaining his great naval victory over the Lacedaemonians off Cnidus. (Xen. Hell. 4.8. 10
; Diod. 14.85
.). The Athenians now began to turn their thoughts again to the improvement of their city; and towards the close of the reign of Philip, the orator Lycurgus, who was entrusted with the management of the finances, raised the revenue to 1200 talents, and thus obtained means for defraying the expenses of public buildings.
It was at this time that the Dionysiac theatre and the Stadium were completed, and that further improvements were made in the Lyceium. Lycurgus also provided for the security of the city by forming a magazine of arms in the Acropolis, and by building dock-yards in the Peiraeeus. (Plut. Vit. X. Orat. p. 841
After the battle of Chaeroneia (B.C. 338) Athens became a dependency of Macedonia,--though she continued to retain her nominal independence down to the time of the Roman dominion in Greece.
It was only on two occasions that she suffered materially from the wars, of which Greece was so long the theatre. Having sided with the Romans in their war with the last Philip of Macedonia, this monarch invaded the territory of Athens; and though the walls of the city defied his attacks, he destroyed all the beautiful temples in the Attic plain, and all the suburbs of the city, B.C. 200. (Liv. 31.26
.) Athens experienced a still greater calamity upon its capture by Sulla in B.C. 86.
It had espoused the cause of Mithridates, and was taken by assault by Sulla after a siege of several months. The Roman general destroyed the long walls, and the fortifications of the city and of Peiraeeus; and from this time the commerce of Athens was annihilated, and the maritime city gradually dwindled into an insignificant place.
Under the Romans Athens continued to enjoy great prosperity.
She was still the centre of Grecian philosophy, literature and art, and was frequented by the Romans as a school of learning and refinement. Wherever the Grecian language was spoken, and the Grecian literature studied, Athens was held in respect and honour; and, as Leake has remarked, we cannot have a more striking proof of this fact than that the most remarkable buildings erected at Athens, after the decline of her power, were executed at the expense of foreign potentates.
The first example of this generosity occurred in B.C. 275, when Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt, built a gymnasium near the temple of Theseus (Paus. 1.17.2
). About B.C. 240 Attalus, king of Pergamus, ornamented the south-east wall of the Acropolis with four compositions in statuary. (Paus 1.25.2.)
In honour of these two benefactors, the Athenians gave the names of Ptolemais and Attalis to the two tribes, which had been formed by Demetrius Poliorcetes on the liberation of Athens from Cassander, and which had been named Demetrias and Antigonis in honour of Demetrius and his father Antigonus. (Paus. 1.5.5
About B.C. 174 Antiochus Epiphanes commenced the completion of the temple of Zeus Olympius, which had been left unfinished by the Peisistratidae, but the work was interrupted by the death of this monarch. Soon after the capture of Athens by Sulla, Ariobarzanes II., king of Macedonia, repaired the Odeium of Pericles, which had been partially destroyed in the siege. Julius Caesar and Augustus contributed to the erection of the portico of Athena Archegetis, which still exists.
But Hadrian (A.D. 117--138) was the greatest benefactor of Athens.
He not only completed the temple of Zeus Olympius, which had remained unfinished for 700 years, but adorned the city with numerous other public buildings,--two temples, a gymnasium, a library and a stoa,--and gave the name of Hadrianopolis to a new quarter of the city, which he supplied with water by an aqueduct. (Comp. Paus. 1.18
.) Shortly afterwards a private individual emulated the imperial munificence. Herodes Atticus, a native of Marathon, who lived in the reigns of Antoninus and M. Aurelius, built a magnificent theatre on the south-western side of the Acropolis, which bore the name of his wife Regilla, and also covered with Pentelic marble the seats in the Stadium of Lycurgus.
Athens was never more splendid than in the time of the Antonines.
The great works of the age of Pericles still possessed their original freshness and perfection (Plut. Per. 13
); the colossal Olympieium--the largest temple in all Greece,--had at length been completed; and the city had yet lost few of its unrivalled works of art.
It was at this epoch that Athens was visited by Pausanias, to whose account we are chiefly indebted for our knowledge of its topography. From the time of the Antonines Athens received no further embellishments, but her public buildings appear to have existed in undiminished glory till the third or even the fourth century of the Christian era. Their gradual decay may be attributed partly to the declining prosperity of the city, which could not afford to keep them in repair, and partly to the fall of paganism and the progress of the new faith.
The walls of Athens, which bad been in ruins since the time of their destruction by Sulla, were repaired by Valerian in A.D. 258 (Zosim. 1.29); and the fortifications of the city protected it from the attacks of the Goths and the other barbarians.
In the reign of Gallienus, A.D. 267, the Goths forced their way into the city, but were driven out by Dexippus, an Athenian. In A.D. 396 Alaric appeared before Athens, but not having the means of taking it by force, he accepted its hospitality, and entered it as a friend.
Notwithstanding the many edicts issued against paganism by Theodosius, Arcadius, Honorius, and Theodosius the younger in the fourth and fifth centuries, the pagan religion continued to flourish at [p. 1.259]
Athens till the abolition of its schools of philosophy by Justinian in the sixth century.
It was probably at this time that many of its temples were converted into churches. Thus the Parthenon, or temple of the Virgin-goddess, became a church consecrated to the Virgin-Mother; and the temple of Theseus was dedicated to the warrior St. George of Cappadocia.
The walls of Athens were repaired by Justinian. (Procop.