"The glory that was Greece" is perhaps best symbolized by the Parthenon atop the Acropolis. This ancient structure overlooks Athens, a city full of history and mythology, worshiped by gods and by people as the center of learning, democracy, and power. Athens is considered the birthplace of Western civilization as it is the home of many scholars and philosophers of the antiquity. The most important civilization of the ancient world flourished here and its symbols can still be seen in some of the world's most recognizable sights. The crown jewel is the Acropolis, the "Sacred Rock" and its Parthenon. Its centerpiece is the startlingly white and perfectly symmetrical Parthenon, the most admired structure in the Western architecture. It is surrounded by temples and monuments built to honor Athena, the city's patron goddess: Temple of Athena Nike, Erechtheion, Herodes Atticus Theater and Dionysus Theater. The Ancient Agora marks the spot where both Socrates and St. Paul shared their views with Athenians. Hadrian's Gate separates ancient Athens from Roman Athens. The Temple of Hephaestus is the first building erected by Pericles and is teh best preserved Doric temple in Greece. The Temple of Zeus is the largest temple in Greece with its 104 Corinthian columns. The Panathenaic taudium was originally built in the 4th century BCE, and after centuries of disuse was restored for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and used for the archery competition and marathon finish in 2004. Today, Athens is a likable city enlivened by bustling outdoor cafes, pedestrian streets that wind through the city's ancient sites, and a lively urban scene.
Accounts of Athens' early days are inextricably woven with mythology. The early Neolithic settlers were attracted to the area by the two abundant springs on the rocky hilltop of Acropolis. Later, with the rise of city-states, the Acropolis provided an ideal defensive position, and by 1400 BC, it had become a powerful Mycenaean city. In the 8th century BCE, the peaceful Athens became the artistic center of Greece, introducing many social reforms. Subsequently, it witnessed social unrest and tyranny which it didn't shake off until 510 BCE, when the city's power grew following the defeat of the Persian Empire. It established a confederacy on the island of Delos, demanding tributes for protection against the Persians. This was Athens' Golden Age of Pericles, the time of its ultimate rise, when moral values and civilization surpassed its city limits: monuments were built, and drama and literature flourished. Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides; sculptors Pheidias and Myron; and historians Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon all lived at this time. In 404 BC Sparta overtook Athens and the city again slid from its former glory. But that was also the time that its schools of philosophy produced some of the greatest Western orators and philosophers: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.