The city-state of Athens was definitely the place to be from around 500 BC to 322 BC. It was a democracy that gave birth to countless intellectual and artistic achievements, from philosophy to sculpture to science. For this reason, Athens has often been referred to as the Cradle of Western Civilization.
And what did the Cradle look like? Below is a map of ancient Athens, showing the location of prominent landmarks such as the Acropolis and the Agora:
The Acropolis, or “High City”, was the location for many of the city’s religious temples. The ancient Greeks paid lots of attention to their pantheon of gods, especially the goddess Athena, who was believed to be the city’s protector. The Parthenon, the most prominent temple on the Acropolis, is dedicated to her. I visited it in the fall of 2006 while studying for a semester in Athens, and although it was under restoration and I could not get too close to it, the sight of it still filled me with awe.
The Agora, meanwhile, was the marketplace of the city, and its central location reveals much about how the ancient Greeks lived. Everyone went to the marketplace to buy and sell goods, but it was also a marketplace of ideas, where philosophers and politicians alike could make speeches to the public. In an age when most people were on foot, the marketplace had to be centrally located so that all the people of the city could congregate there.
Below is another map showing the larger area of ancient Athens. In the southwest, on the ocean, is the port of Piraeus. Even today, this still serves as the major port of this region of Greece, and it can be reached by metro from Athens. In ancient times, they had to travel by foot or horse, but at least they had Long Walls to protect them from potential invading barbarians.
One more thing to point out is the mountain to the northeast of Athens, called Lycabettus (or Lykavittos). In ancient times, this was located outside the city and was seen as a pleasant retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. Now, however, as Athens has expanded greatly to fill the space around it, the mountain has been swallowed up by the city. The buildings of modern Athens surround it completely, although the mountain itself remains relatively scarce, though there is a chapel and a restaurant at the top. Here is what Mount Lykavittos looks like now:
I guess we can’t expect Athens to stay unchanged for over two thousand years, can we?