25+ centuries of history in one sweep of the eye

Where can you find all the history of a city in a 180o panorama? Where can you see buildings spanning more than 25 centuries all within view of each other? Where can you find all that in the middle of a bustling modern city?

There is only one answer I know: Monastiraki Square, Athens (and if you know of another, please let me know).



Sight: The Acropolis itself.

The slopes of the rocky hill are full of caves and small shrines, shrouded in myth and legend; during the Bronze Age, the top of the rock was crowned with walls and the palace of its kings.


Sight: The wall of the Acropolis with spolia from the temples destroyed by the Persians, during their brief invasion; the temples within those walls.

The Greeks’ success in repelling the invasion marked a turning point in their history; then followed the “Golden Age” of Athens, which, among other things produced the artwork of the Acropolis temples. All of that happened in the 5th century BCE.

Roman conquest

Sight: The Library of Hadrian, whose columns can be seen in the middle of the frame (in front of the pink house).

Part of the Roman Empire since the 2nd century BCE, Athens remained a centre of culture and learning. The library was built in 132 CE, by Emperor Hadrian.

Middle Ages

Sight: The Byzantine-style church on the left.

While the western part of the Roman Empire collapsed, its eastern part survived for another thousand years or so. Gradually it adopted Christianity, while the predominant language was Greek. We call this period “Byzantine.”

Ottoman conquest

Sight: The Tzistarakis mosque in the middle of the picture, built in 1759.

Athens was occupied by the Ottoman Turks in 1458 and freed only in 1834, when their last garrison left the Acropolis.

Modern Greek state

Sights: 19th century houses and a subway station.

After a devastating War of Independence, Athens became capital of the modern Greek state with only a handful of buildings still standing. No wonder all of the houses seen in the background date after the 1830s.

The yellow building on the right (1895) is the Monastiraki subway station, now also serving the new Metro (2000).

20th century

Sights: Modern buildings around the square.

With its economy slowly picking up after the war, Greece was eager to embrace “progress” in the form of concrete buildings in the Bauhaus style. Lots of 19th century houses were demolished to make way for bold “modern” ones.

21st century

Sight: the square and its people.

Its last renovation, shortly before the 2004 Olympics, gave the square colorful tiles and an oddly shaped Metro vent. The people bustling about come from all corners of the world. The “Crisis” has produced a number of homeless seeking shelter at various spots near it while, lately, refugees from the Middle East have been added to the mix.

One comment on “25+ centuries of history in one sweep of the eye

  1. Pingback: Merry Christmas | Aristotle, Greek tourist guide

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