Athens – A Walk On The Wild Side


 Athens  is known for archeological sites and history. If you want a break from history,  Athens  has much more to offer travelers.


You’ve seen the Acropolis, you’ve hit the museums and you’re trying to figure out if it is time to head to the islands. Wait! You’re missing much of the modern charm of  Athens .

There is a conundrum with many historically significant cities. Guidebooks tend to send you off to every site with any potential historical significance, but leave out any mention of the modern attractions of the city. In the case of  Athens , slavishly following your guidebook is a very bad choice and you’ll be the worse for it.

As with any  city , there are two good ways to see the charms of modern day  Athens . The first is to get out and just start walking. The second is to befriend some local residents and let them show you the city. Either way, you’ll do fine in  Athens .

The charm of  Athens  is found in the hubbub of daily life on the streets. The city and residents exude energy and character. If you get off the tourist tracks, you’ll find little neighborhoods with outdoor cafes and no tourists. This is where the action is in true  Athens . Just plop yourself down at a café and start people watching.

One particularly good spot is in the Plaka neighborhood. A nineteenth century quarter, Plaka has a mix of Turkish and Greek influences. From Plaka, you can head to the shopping bazaars found throughout the city. The bazaars in Athinas and Eolou are a bit touristy, but no excessively. With a mideastern feel, you can sit down and drink tea with local shop owners while they hock their wares.

From there, the city is wide open. If you dare, grab a taxi and tell the driver you just want to see the real city. It will be the ride of your life.


Collecting Ancient Athenian Coins


Coins issued by certain cities or empires took the leading role in dictating which coins were readily acceptable for trade in the Mediterranean lands. One such   city  was  Athens , which established the “Attic standard” that was to be adopted later by Alexander the Great. Silver was used to pay civil servants, soldiers and mercenaries, and it is believed that the latter is the reason that many Greek silver coins were struck in the first place. The non-Greek lands of the Near East issued large quantities of silver coins, most notably the Parthians, Sassanians and Baktrians. These coins vary in style and fabric, the thickness and purity of the planchet on which the coin was struck, and are relatively under valued compared to the more widely collected issues of Greece proper.

In Greek mythology, Athena was the goddess of warfare and wisdom. Later known as Minerva by the Romans, she was the goddess of not only wisdom and battle, but of certain crafts and the protector of all cities and states. At birth, according to one myth, she sprang from the forehead of Zeus, the king of the gods, fully grown and dressed in armor. Athena is usually shown wearing a helmet and a magic shield called the aegis. The goddess Athena was not only wise in war but also in the arts of peace. She supposedly invented the plow and taught men how to yoke oxen. Athena’s chief symbol was the owl and in Greek mythology, the owl is firmly linked with Athena who is usually picture with her owl perched on her shoulder. Some say that is why the owl, in modern times, associated with wisdom.

Athenian coins were used in exchange throughout the Greek world, hoards have been found as far away from  Athens  as Babylon, Afghanistan and Iran. The quantity of Athenian coins minted in last half of the fifth century BC, reflect the changed and powerful position of  Athens  in the eastern Mediterranean, from a small  city-state  defending itself on land against the onslaught of Darius at Marathon,  Athens  grew to be the  center  of an empire whose power was dependent on its control of the sea. From being a partner in and administrative head of the Delian League,  Athens  became its leader and its many  city-state  members paid  Athens  tribute.

Huge sums must have been necessary for the commercial activities of  Athens  port  city , Piraeus, construction atop the Acropolis and in the city, financing of the Athenian fleet, and perennial warfare. The money was derived not only from annual tribute received from the Delian League  city-states , but from rich silver deposits  Athens  owned and mined at Laurium, close to Cape Sunium as well. The mines provide the silver that paid for construction of the fleet that destroyed the Persians at Salamis in 479 BC.

Common to all issues of the coin are the goddess Athena, in profile on the obverse, and the owl, her constant companion, standing on the reverse, a sprig of olive leaves with a berry above its shoulder. Variations in design exist among denominations of the coin.


The Political Polarity That Was Athens and Sparta


Around 800 B.C.E. the Greek populous started to coalesce into communities which were called poleis. The polis was a city state with its own governing body and typically a military. Each polis varied considerably from other poleis. A polis could have anywhere from one thousand to tens of thousands of citizens between its main urban center, and its surrounding towns and agricultural developments. The poleis of Sparta and Athens were two of the largest and most powerful city states in ancient Greece. These two poleis were also among the most competitive, mostly with each other, and influential in the ancient Greek world.

Athens was a largely agriculturally based polis in Attica, off of the Aegean Sea. It was dependent on slaves to do the manual labor of the polis, from working the fields, to working in the homes of Athenian citizens. Athens was a democratic city state whose society revolved around politics, as it was the primary day to day activity of the male citizens. Athens hosted a powerful navy which was influential on more than one occasion for fighting off Persian invasions.

Sparta is in most ways the opposite of Athens. Sparta is also heavily dependent on slaves, or ‘helots’ as they are called. Helots primarily work the land which was conquered by Sparta for agricultural production. Sparta is a highly militaristic polis, having its entire society based around warfare. For more of the antiquity of Greece than any other polis, Sparta maintained the definitive hoplite infantry force in Greece.

The attitude of both of these great poleis was vastly different. Athens was the sophisticated, innovative, and cultured democratic polis. Sparta was completely militaristic. It was traditional, simple, and straight forward. At birth newborns in Sparta were judged as being big and strong enough to become a Spartiate warrior, or a child was judged incapable, and it was left in the mountains to die. At age seven children were taken into state-run educational systems where men were trained for war. Athens young men were largely dedicated to battle, not to the degree of Sparta, but there was a large factor making up for this fact.

Pericles, an Athenian Strategos, had urged the married women of Athens to bear more children. Athens population was much greater than Spartas to begin with, and had a much larger birth rate. Spartiates were to get married between age twenty and thirty, but until age thirty, they were to remain living in the barracks. “Men living in the barracks were only permitted to meet their wives surreptitiously-a fact that may account in part for the notably low birthrate among Spartiate couples.” To compete with Athens, Sparta’s’ militarism was necessary to keep up, but they did even manage to surpass the Athenians land forces.

Both poleis had forms of government to match their respective differing attitudes which further high lights the polarism of these two city states. Spartan government is made up of two kings, of equal power, each with their own royal family and line of succession. Under them is a council of twenty-eight elders, who put issues forward for a strictly ‘yes’, or ‘no’ vote, with no discussion, by an assembly made of all Spartiate warriors over thirty. There was also five ephors, who were elected officials with the task of supervising the educational system, and to protect the traditions of Sparta. The ephors had the power to remove a king from command if necessary. If anything, the Spartan government, and society overall was primarily static, and compared to such a polis as Athens who was a quickly changing and open cosmopolitan city state, Sparta could be called stubborn.

Athens’s form of government changed from time to time, but primarily Athens was ruled by nine Archons who exercised executive power in Athens. They had one year terms, and once their term was over they were lifetime members of the Areopagus Council. The council had a large influence on the judicial matters of Athens. This council was the party responsible for electing the Archons. The political atmosphere in Athens did change considerably, because of its open and democratic nature, and more than one politician caused political reform. Politics and discussion went hand in hand. Athens also hosted some of the most well known philosophers in history, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, which were all very political thinkers.

Athens and Sparta were two fundamentally different city states functioning In the same ‘country’, which at times could have been said to not have been big enough for the two of them. With each polis striving to expand outside of Greece, as well as each trying to control the various smaller and less powerful poleis of Greece they were fierce competitors. This elicited more than one armed conflict, including the twenty-seven year long Peloponnesian war. Though on a few occasions Athens, Sparta, and various other unfriendly poleis banded together to fight invading Persians, the two poleis were both too fundamentally different, competitive, and patriotic to allow any strong unity between them beyond peace and trade treaties. They both existed as communities adapted to survive independently from other city states, and when their interests merged either it was to protect Greece itself from foreign powers, or it meant conflict as they fought over resources and other goals.


Breathtaking Historical Athens


The history of  Athens  dates back over five millennia and one can therefore imagine the rich culture, art and civilization that it must possess. Tourists like to visit  Athens  for its range of absorbing museums, to explore ruined temples and relish the exquisite Greek cuisine.

On an  Athens  tour one must explore the splendid Parthenon, considered perhaps, to be the finest of all Greek temples. The adjoining area too has a collection of temples which can be explored. Another captivating temple is the Temple of Olympian Zeus built by the Romans.

Being an ancient  city ,  Athens  naturally is home to a number of renowned museums. You would require almost a day to view the famous collection of ancient Greek artifacts on a visit to the National Archaeological Museum. The Theatre Museum and the Numismatic Museum are worth a shot for their fascinating displays.

You will be surprised by the rich cultural life that  Athens  is proud of. You must on a visit to  Athens  see productions of ancient plays in their original settings. It is an experience by itself to explore the many shops and classy restaurants of Kolonaki. A taste of Greek coffee on the streets of Plaka will impress you. One historical site which one must not miss is ‘The Acropolis Hill’ or also called the ‘Sacred Rock’. The area is home to three important temples: the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and the temple of Nike in honor of the goddess Athena. These and many other  Athens  sites you can take pleasure in while enjoying the hospitality of  Athens  hotels.