The rise of Christianity
In the 4th century, Athens lived through the last flourishing of the classical spirit, as an academic and philosophical hub, before the establishment of the christian religion.
Following Emperor Theodosius’ decision to ban all pagan rituals, the first Christian churches were built in the 5th century while the Decree of the Emperor Justinian (529) prohibiting the operation of the philosophical schools, effectively sealed the fate of Athens as a scholarly centre. From the 6th century onward, Athens suffered from continuous raids, which left the city in ruins.
However, Athens was never deserted and during the first Byzantine period the new religion established firm roots in the city. Athens became ‘Episcopal See’ in 733 and most of its temples were converted to churches, including the Parthenon which became a well-known pilgrimage, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, called Panagia Athiniotissa.
The grandest Byzantine churches and monuments in and around Athens were built during the 11th and 12th century, reflecting another period of development this time as a provincial city of the Empire. In 1204, the Fourth Crusade conquered Athens and set up the Duchy of Athens, which for the next two and a half centuries, would be passed through the hands of Catalans, Florentines and Venetians who plundered the monuments. The western side of the Acropolis, where the Propylaea are, was fortified with bastions and was converted into a palace for the governor. The Erechtheion became the guard’s headquarters and the Parthenon a catholic church dedicated to Notre Dame.