Former President Barack Obama on the Acropolis of Athens,
November 16th, 2016
A Brief History of Athens
As it should be anticipated, the road to Democracy was not without obstacles. At one early point it nearly ran aground, for Peisistratos, a powerful, ambitious and bold statesman took possession of power and established tyranny in Athens, though he was a lover of letters and the arts. He was the first to give Homer's epics the form they kept to-date and he also embellished the city of Athens with several monuments. His sons, however, and especially the elder Hippias, were hated tyrants up to 514 when two Athenian aristocrats, Armodios and Aristogeiton, killed the younger Hipparchos and saved the Republic. The Persian wars put Athens at the head of all Greek city-states, and the Athenian navy under Themistocles, a man of genius, did wonders. The naval battle of Salamis at 480 BC constitutes the pedestal of Athenian grandeur. But Themistocles was also a great politician, and he completed his victories with splendid diplomatic success. In protracting the parleys with Sparta he gained the time necessary to complete the city fortification, which, with the construction of the long walls connecting Athens to the port of Piraeus, became impregnable.
Pericles, Kimon's successor, brought Athens to the highest point of her power and glory. An aristocrat with deep respect for democracy, Pericles extended the rights of the Athenians and secured the dominance of Athens throughout the Greek world.. An art-lover himself, he drew close to him all artistic geniuses, and with their collaboration he completed the wonder of Acropolis and erected temples and monuments which still render Athens as one of the most illustrious and marvelous cities of the whole world. Among this immense prosperity and glory, the Peloponnesian War broke out. It lasted from 431 to 403 and was an atrocious destructive war which ruined Athens and several other Greek city-states. Pericles could not resist the hatred of his countrymen towards rival Sparta, so war was declared.
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In the affairs of the Republic, Conon (393), reviving the days of ancient glory, set up again the demolished fortifications, repaired and extended the wall of Piraeus and restored the Long walls. Some time later, the orator archon Lycourgos (338-326) restored the ancient splendor of several monuments which had suffered in the course of time and mostly war. At the same time, on the Athenian tribune, on the hill of the Pnyx, sounded the voice of Demosthenes, the great orator whose name is forever united with the last splendor of Athens. But Athens never ceased being a great city and a center of light, even in the darkest days of her existence.
Later on, and under the Romans, at the time of Herod Atticus, under Hadrian and the Antionines, Athens became the School of Rome, and it is then that these great lovers of art and admirers of Athens' glorious past restored several monuments and built new ones, which gave the city of Pericles her revived majestic new appearance.
At last, after the atrocious Turkish yoke which lasted four centuries, the luminous day of Greek deliverance arose. On March 25th 1821, a day celebrated as the Greek National Independence Day, the Greek people reclaimed their rights and following several years of war, they gained their liberty in 1833. Odysseus Androutsos, one of the chief leaders of the Greek revolution, took possession of Athens and the Acropolis. But in 1826-27, the Acropolis was besieged by Reshid Pasha. Its brave defenders resisted fiercely first by General Gouras with 470 volunteers, then by General Favier, who hastened to aid the Greek cause. During this siege, the monuments of the sacred rock of the Acropolis suffered greatly from the over 500 bombs and innumerable bullets hurdled against it. The citadel surrendered on May 24th. On April 23rd, the hero Karaiskakis was killed while storming the camp of Reshid, and the English Admiral Cochrane along with General Church attempted in vain to raise the blockade of Athens. The Acropolis was not evacuated by the Turks till April 12th 1833, when Colonel Baligand officially took possession of it, in the name of young King Othon.
In 1834, Athens became the capital of the kingdom of Greece, which, following a national referendum in 1974, is now a Republic, and under the Constitution voted for in 1975 has a President, elected every five years and for up to two terms, by the Greek Parliament.
Till that time, and with the dark exception of the few dark years that Greece came under German Nazi occupation during WWII, the Greek flag proudly flies on the Acropolis rock and reminds the world of the values and glory that Greece still represents.