Holiday Break in Athens : History/ Recommended Reading

Being the cradle of civilisation it comes as no surprise that Athens has enjoyed a particularly complicated, violent and lengthy history. They got off to an early start establishing the first 'city-states' and were soon pondering the meaning of life.

In 507-508BC the reforming King Cleisthenon created democracy and utopia beckoned. Typically war followed and the defeat of the Athenians by the Spartans in 323BC proved that brawn can be mightier than brains. Alexander the Great's early death in the same year bought an end to Athens' heyday, leaving the Romans to pick up the pieces.

This was the beginning of Greece's history as an occupied country. The Goths bought their own brand of disorder, and after Byzantine rule the Crusaders stopped en-route to bashing the Moslems for a spot of recreational plundering. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 paved the way for Athens' absorption into the Ottoman Empire. Eventually the Greeks decided enough was enough and rebelled. The war of independence that began in 1821, drew poets (admittedly of dubious military value) such as Shelley and Byron to its cause. By the mid-19th century Greece was independent again, but chaotic.

WWI Saw Greece allied with Britain and France, once again trying to hold back the Turks - something they continued after the armistice. Nazi occupation followed and on their withdrawal Greece became an unlikely Cold War hot spot. Instability resulted in an army coup in 1967. Now that Greece is a member of the European community such activities have been curtailed (save the odd spot of 'island-jacking' with the Turks) and democracy has returned, in a roundabout way, to its birthplace.

Getting around Athens :

Above ground Athens' streets are in a near perpetual state of gridlock, which makes the best way of getting around to head underground. Athens' Metro puts many other European capital's public transport systems to shame. Taxis in Athens are affordable, but make sure that the meter is running and that it's on the correct tariff. Yellow cabs often stop to collect other passengers en route, so don't be shocked. Otherwise you should have no difficulty getting to most of the sights on foot.

Handy numbers:

Greek National Tourist Organization: 2 Amerikis Street : Tel: 210 3223111
Airport enquiries: Tel: 210 3530000
Rail enquiries: Tel: 210 8237741 (Athens ' Railway Station)
Emergencies: Police: Tel: 100, Tourist Police: Tel: 171, Ambulance: Tel: 178

Take five:

Courtesans & Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens by James Davidson: intriguing anatomy of ancient Athens ' sexual psyche

The Rise and Fall of Athens: Nine Greek Lives by Plutarch: vice virtue and the human condition

Aristophanes and Athens: An Introduction to the Plays by Douglas M MacDowell: classical comedies, proving the old jokes are still the best

A Traveller's History of Athens by Richard Stoneman: a one-stop-shop for brushing up on Athenian history

The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller: reflective 'sex free' Greek travelogue


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