Medieval Athens

The medieval city

After the Heruli sacked Athens in 267 CE, Athens started to decline. A new, very small wall was built covering only a small part of the city (the area of the Roman Agora and the library of Hadrian). Outside the wall laid the ruins of the Agora. Surprisingly enough, the temple of Hephaestus (Thesseum) stayed undamaged. The Acropolis was also left undisturbed. It was fortified anew with a gate constructed by the ruins of the choragic monument of Nikias, today known as the Beulé gate (after the French archaeologist who found it).  Later, in 396, the city suffered damage from the Alaric’s Goths invasion.

Although the extend of the disasters was huge, the life in the city continued. The great philosophic schools were still working, and numbers of people were coming to be educated.

Around 400, the city grew again. The outer wall was repaired, and in the Agora, the remains of the Agrippa’s Odeum were converted into a huge gymnasium (or palace). Many private philosophical schools were also built nearby.

In the beginning of the 5th century, emperor Theodosius demanded the closing of all philosophical schools. That was the most unfortunate hit to the city which, from there and on, fell into oblivion. At the same time, Christianity demanded the “purification” of the pagan temples. Thus, all the ancient temples were converted to churches with all the essential modifications in the interior and often with the destruction  of the decorative sculptures  (Parthenon, Erechtheum, Hephaesteion). Dozens of new churches were built throughout the medieval period.

From the 6th century and on, Athens suffered from continuous raids of various tribes, mainly the Slavs (580). Around 1000 a new wall was built around the Acropolis, the Rizokastro which existed up to the years of the Ottoman domination. Despite these fortifications, the city succumbed to raids, and especially the one led by the Saracen Pirates around 1200. These raids destroyed the walls and filled the city with ruins. Thus, the Frankish crusaders occupied the city in 1204, without battle.

For the next 252 years, Athens passed through the hands of Catalans, Florentines and Venetians who plundered the monuments. These western conquerors focused their attention in the fort of the Acropolis. The western side of the hill, where the Propylaea are, was fortified with a most powerful wall with bastions. The Propylaea disappearred between the new buildings and were converted into a palace for the Frankish governor. The Erechtheion became the guard’s headquarters and the Parthenon a catholic church dedicated to Notre Dame. Finally, two towers were built, the biggest of them was demolished in 1875.

In 1456 the Ottoman Turks reached Athens and occupied the city peacefully with the capitulation of  Duke Acciaiuoli in 1458.

  For the monuments of Medieval Athens click below: