The early years
According to mythology, the name Athens springs from an ancient rivalry between the gods Poseidon and Athena for the guardianship of the city.
The mythical king of the city, Cecrops, decided to look for a patron deity for what was later to become the grand city-state of Athens. Two Olympian gods appeared particularly interested in assuming the patronage: Poseidon, the god of the Seas and Athena, the goddess of Wisdom and Skill. In a judgment competition, they were asked to offer a unique gift that would be truly valuable for the city.
Poseidon was first in line and used his trident to create a well. However the water turned out salty and was thus deemed not very useful by the locals. Athena came next and she chose to plant an olive tree, as a symbol of peace and prosperity on earth. The olive tree which to this day symbolizes peace, kindness and friendship has become an intimate feature of the city and its philosophy, establishing the primacy of the goddess within the city that would take her name. From Athens’ foundation myth to dozens of other tales, Ancient Greece was immersed in myths and captivating stories. This is very much reflected in the contemporary Athenian scene, which is tied to fresh produce and flowing olive oil, as well as the long coastline and sea adventure.The first permanent settlements in Athens were established on the north slope of the Acropolis. The high ground of this natural citadel was the ideal location for the first inhabitants to settle because it offered them protection as well as access to water from rivers that passed nearby and a small spring in the Acropolis itself.
The early settlements were gradually transformed, during the Bronze Age, into a Mycenaean city with dwellings on the Acropolis, the Hill of the Muses (Philopappou Hill), around the Olympion and the Agora site. The rise of a city brought the first in a series of fortifications in Athens’s winding history. Parts of the Pelasgian wall, erected on the Acropolis in the 13th century BC, the first in a series of defensive structures that were built (and sacked) over the city’s long history and can still be seen today in several parts of the city.
From the 11th century BC onwards, the Acropolis assumed its enduring role as sanctuary while the city began to take shape: a number of public buildings specifically designed for administrative, political and commercial activities, were raised. The majority of the population still lived in crowded neighbourhoods that stretched between the Hill of the Nymphs and Pnyx Hill.The idea of the Agora as a dynamic centre of commerce, government, and free speech slowly became the focal point of public life.