In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Topography of Athens

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Primary Sources and Antiquarian Studies
  • The City Wall
  • The Long Walls
  • The Kerameikos
  • The Pnyx, the Areopagos, and Other Hills
  • Gymnasia
  • Houses

Classics Topography of Athens
Jeffrey M. Hurwit, Ioannis Mitsios
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 January 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0066


The ancient city-state (or polis) of Athens was contiguous with the region known as Attica, a large, triangular peninsula extending southeastward from the Greek mainland into the Aegean Sea. In the western angle of Attica, on a coastal plain surrounded by four mountains (Hymettos, Pentelikon, Parnes, and Aigaleos), lay the city itself. Although the modern city has thickly spread up the slopes of the mountains as well as to the sea, the study of Athenian topography concentrates on the monuments, buildings, and spaces of the ancient urban core, an area roughly 3 square kilometers surrounding the Acropolis and defended in the Classical period by a wall some 6.5 kilometers in length. Athens is the ancient Greek city that we know best, and it is unquestionably the Greek city whose art, architecture, literature, philosophy, and political history have had the greatest impact on the Western tradition and imagination. As a result, “Athenian” is sometimes considered synonymous with “Greek.” It is not. In many respects, Athens was exceptional among Greek city-states, not typical: it was a very different place from, say, Thebes or Sparta. Still, the study of Athens, its monuments, and its culture needs no defense, and the charge of “Athenocentrism” is a hollow indictment when one stands before the Parthenon or holds a copy of Sophocles’ Antigone. This article will refer to the following periods in the history of Athens and Greece (the dates are conventional): late Bronze, or Mycenaean, Age (1550–1100 BCE); Dark Age (1100–760 BCE); Archaic (760–480 BCE); Classical (480–323 BCE); Hellenistic (323 –31 BCE); and Roman (31 BCE–c. 475 CE).

General Overviews

Travlos 1971 remains essential for its encyclopedic entries, photos, plans, and bibliographies and can be profitably consulted on virtually every site or topic listed in this bibliography. Wycherley 1978, though somewhat out of date, is notable for its breadth, accessibility, and use of ancient sources. The detailed watercolor reconstructions of the city and its monuments in Connolly and Dodge 1998 usefully aid the imagination. Camp 2001 and Goette 2001 are clear and informative guides, incorporating much recent research. Discoveries made throughout the city during the recent construction of the Metro are beautifully presented in Stampolides and Parlama 2001, and Bouras and Korres 2003 impressively treats the history of the city from Antiquity to the present. Recent strong scholarly interest in Roman Athens is reflected in such collections as Vlizos 2008. The website The Ancient City of Athens is a superb resource. The most updated work on the topography of Athens is Greco 2010–2015, covering in detail the whole topography of the city of Athens.

  • The Ancient City of Athens.

    Created by Kevin Glowacki, this website is well organized, informative, and reliable, with extensive image galleries, descriptions, bibliographies, and links to other websites. Especially useful for students at all levels.

  • Bouras, Charalampos, and M. Korres, eds. 2003. Athens: From the Classical period to the present day (5th century B.C.–A.D. 2000). New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll.

    A handsomely produced, multi-authored volume with essays on the architecture, sculpture, history, and philosophy of ancient Athens, but especially valuable for its many chapters on its post-Antique and modern history.

  • Camp, John M. 2001. The archaeology of Athens. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

    Part 1 is a comprehensive historical survey of the major sites and monuments of Athens and Attica from the prehistoric to late Roman periods. Part 2 contains excellent, concise site summaries, with useful bibliographies. Well illustrated.

  • Connolly, Peter, and Hazel Dodge. 1998. The ancient city: Life in Classical Athens and Rome. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Ideal for students, but especially useful to everyone for its rich and often informative watercolor reconstructions. Part 1 (pp. 9–101) treats Athens.

  • Goette, Hans Rupprecht. 2001. Athens, Attica, and the Megarid: An archaeological guide. Rev. ed. London: Routledge.

    Succinct and very useful. The first half focuses on the major sites and monuments of ancient Athens, but with entries on the museums, gardens, and monasteries of the modern city as well. The rest surveys Attica beyond Athens, including entries on Megara, Perachora, and the islands of the Saronic Gulf.

  • Greco, Emanuele. 2010–2015. Topografia di Atene: Sviluppo urbano e monumenti dalle origini al III secolo d. C. 5 vols. Paestum, Italy: Pandemos.

    Monumental work—consisting of five tomes—on the topography of Athens covering in detail the areas of the Acropolis, Areopagos, Pnyx, Ilissos, and Kerameikos.

  • Stampolides, Nikolaos, and Liana Parlama, eds. 2001. Athens: The city beneath the city; Antiquities from the Metropolitan Railway excavations. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

    The well-produced catalogue of an exhibition of finds from excavations undertaken throughout Athens during the construction of the new Metro.

  • Travlos, John. 1971. Pictorial dictionary of ancient Athens. Books That Matter. London: Praeger.

    Still a fundamental text with a wealth of summaries, photographs, drawings, and plans of virtually every major feature and monument of the ancient cityscape. The extensive bibliographies are updated in John Travlos, Bildlexikon zur Topographie des antiken Attika (Tübingen, Germany: Ernst Wasmuth Verlag, 1988), pp. 23–51.

  • Vlizos, S., ed. 2008. E Athena kata te Romaike Epokhe: Prosphates anakalypseis, nees ereunes. Athens, Greece: Benaki Museum.

    Translated as: “From the modern Greek: Athens during the Roman period; Recent discoveries, new evidence.” Scholarly papers (mostly in Greek, a few in German and English) presented at an international symposium held in 2006.

  • Wycherley, Richard E. 1978. The stones of Athens. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    An eminently readable synthesis of the development of ancient Athens, with chapters on general features (e.g., walls, theaters, gymnasia, building stones), major sites, and the principal monuments.

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