How did Athens cope with the Ottoman occupation and the War of Independence?

Athens, the ancient capital of Greece, has a long and turbulent history that spans millennia. From the glory days of the classical era, when it was the center of culture, philosophy and democracy, to the dark ages of foreign domination and oppression, Athens has witnessed the rise and fall of empires, civilizations and ideologies. One of the most significant periods in its history was the Ottoman occupation, which lasted from 1458 to 1821, and the subsequent War of Independence, which resulted in the liberation of Greece from the Turkish yoke.

In this blog post, we will explore how Athens coped with the Ottoman occupation and the War of Independence, focusing on the political, social, economic and cultural aspects of life under Turkish rule and during the revolution. We will also examine the role of Athens in the national awakening of the Greeks and the formation of the modern Greek state.

The Ottoman occupation of Athens

The Ottoman Empire was one of the most powerful and expansive states in the world during the 15th and 16th centuries. It conquered vast territories in Asia, Africa and Europe, including most of the Balkans and Greece. The Ottomans were Muslims who ruled over a diverse population of Christians, Jews and other minorities. They imposed their religion, law and administration on their subjects, but also allowed a degree of autonomy and tolerance for different faiths and cultures.

Athens was captured by the Ottomans in 1458, five years after they had taken Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. The city had already suffered from decades of civil wars, invasions and plagues, and had lost much of its population and prosperity. The Ottomans turned Athens into a provincial town, governed by a Turkish governor (bey) and a local council (mejlis) composed of Muslim and Christian notables. The Ottomans also converted many churches into mosques, including the Parthenon, which became a mosque dedicated to Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia). The Acropolis was fortified with cannons and towers to serve as a military stronghold.

Life under Ottoman rule was harsh and oppressive for most Athenians. They had to pay heavy taxes to the Turkish authorities, such as the haraç (a poll tax on non-Muslims), the ispençe (a land tax) and the devşirme (a levy of young boys for military service). They also faced discrimination, humiliation and violence from the Muslim population, especially the janissaries (elite soldiers who were recruited from Christian children). Many Athenians were forced to convert to Islam or flee to other parts of Greece or abroad. Those who remained faithful to their Christian faith had to practice it discreetly and under constant threat.

However, not all aspects of Ottoman rule were negative for Athens. The city benefited from some economic development and trade opportunities, especially with Venice, which controlled some islands in the Aegean Sea. The Ottomans also patronized some cultural activities and institutions in Athens, such as schools, libraries and baths. Some Athenians managed to achieve prominent positions in the Ottoman administration or society, such as Phanariotes (Greek aristocrats who served as diplomats or governors in Constantinople) or dragomans (interpreters who mediated between Turks and Greeks). Some Athenians also participated in rebellions against Ottoman rule throughout the centuries, such as those led by Dionysius the Philosopher in 1611 or by Lambros Katsonis in 1789.

The War of Independence in Athens

The War of Independence was a successful revolution by Greek nationalists against Ottoman rule that lasted from 1821 to 1829. It was inspired by the ideals of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and Romanticism, as well as by the historical memory of ancient Greece. It was also supported by some European powers, such as Russia, France and Britain, who saw an opportunity to weaken their rival Turkey.

The war began on March 25th 1821 (now celebrated as Greek Independence Day), when Bishop Germanos raised
the flag of revolt at Patras in Peloponnese. Soon after, other regions joined the uprising,
including Central Greece (Roumeli), Epirus,
the Aegean islands.
The revolutionaries formed local governments,
the First Hellenic Republic
in 1822.

Athens played a crucial role in the War of Independence, both as a symbol of the Greek nation and as a strategic location. The city was liberated by the revolutionaries in June 1821, after a siege that lasted two months. The Acropolis became the headquarters of the Greek forces in Central Greece, led by generals such as Theodoros Kolokotronis, Odysseas Androutsos and Georgios Karaiskakis. The city also hosted the Third National Assembly in 1827, which elected Ioannis Kapodistrias as the first governor of Greece.

However, Athens also suffered greatly from the war, as it was repeatedly attacked and besieged by the Ottoman army and its allies, such as the Egyptians and the Albanians. The city was devastated by famine, disease and bombardment, and many of its monuments and buildings were damaged or destroyed. The most tragic episode was the second siege of the Acropolis in 1826-1827, when the Greek defenders, led by Gouras and Makriyannis, resisted for eight months against overwhelming odds, until they were forced to surrender due to starvation and lack of ammunition. Many of them died or were enslaved by the Turks.

The War of Independence ended in 1829, after the intervention of the European powers, who defeated the Ottoman navy at the Battle of Navarino in 1827 and forced Turkey to accept the autonomy of Greece at the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829. The final borders of the new Greek state were determined by the London Protocol in 1830, which granted Greece most of Peloponnese, Central Greece and some islands. Athens was chosen as the capital of Greece in 1834, and underwent a major reconstruction and modernization under King Otto, who hired architects such as Stamatis Kleanthis and Eduard Schaubert to design a new urban plan for the city.


Athens is a city that has endured many hardships and challenges throughout its history, but also one that has contributed significantly to the culture and identity of Greece. The Ottoman occupation and the War of Independence were two pivotal periods that shaped the fate of Athens and its people. They were times of oppression and resistance, of destruction and rebirth, of despair and hope. They were also times that revealed the courage, resilience and creativity of Athenians, who fought for their freedom and dignity against all odds. They were times that made Athens what it is today: a proud and vibrant city that honors its past and looks forward to its future.