Athens was the only Mycenaean settlement that survived the mysterious rapid decline of all other cities of the era. Athens continued its development through the Dark Age (1100-700 BCE), flourished through commercial activity in the Archaic era (700-480 BCE), and grew to become the envy of the known world during the Classical period (480 - 323 BCE). Most of the characteristics we identify with the foundations of western civilization originated or reached their apogee in Athens during this period.
It's light continued to shine bright during the Hellenistic period (323-30 BCE), even as it was eclipsed in importance by other metropolitan centers of the era (Alexandria and Rome). Athens continued to be an important center in the Roman empire, but it slowly declined over the centuries during Byzantine times and the prolonged Ottoman Occupation, only to emerge as the capital of Greece in the middle of the 19th century CE.
At that time, Athens was a small town, but government incentives and policies elevated Athens to an economic engine for Greece after the 1960's. Following the poverty-stricken postwar decades, rampant construction activity transformed Athens to the huge conglomerate of concrete and humanity we see today.
Presently, Athens is the seat of government and the commercial and cultural hub of Greece, but its streets are full of evidence of its passage through history. Ancient, Byzantine and Ottoman ruins, museums, and landmarks are sprinkled throughout the amalgam of shaped concrete that make up the modern city.
Next: The Acropolis of Athens