Athens enjoys a singularly fortunate site. The acropolis with its small nearby hills and convenient access to spring water, is a natural fortress and place of retreat in times of danger. The plain around it, the Lekanopedia, broken only by the range of Anchesmos, of which Mount Lycabettus, to the east of the Acropolis, is the highest point, is often described as arid. Yet it is carpeted with fertile sediment washed down from the surrounding hills, Aigaleos, Parnes, Pendeli and Hymettus, which shelter it on all sides from the worst weather, and which provide a ring of natural fortifications, except on the south-west, where the plain borders on the sheltered waters of the Saronic Gulf.
For all these reasons, it is not surprising that the area of the acropolis and its immediate neighbourhood have been inhabited since the early part of the fifth millennium ¬. C., making Athens possibly the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe. The remains of Neolithic houses and graves have been found on and around the Acropolis. Archaeological evidence supports the view that this area was continuously inhabited from that time through to the Bronze Age, which began circa 3,000 B.C., at which time there were also settlements in eastern Attica, at Marathon, Spata, Vraona, ‘hÔrikÔs and elsewhere, suggesting a high degree of security and prosperity for the entire region.
At the beginning of the second millennium B.C. Greek-speaking people, sometimes called Achaeans, first entered Greece from the north. The Athenians always distinguished themselves from non-Greek-speaking people, whom they usually referred to as Pelasgians. It is not known whether they massacred them, drove them out, or subjugated them. Traces of their non-Hellenic tongue are still to be found in many of the topographical names of Attica. Even the name 'Athens' itself does not appear to be Greek. Topographical names with the forms '-ssos' and '-ttos', such as Kifissos, Ilissos, Ardettos, Lykabettos and Hymettos, are also believed to belong to the pre-Greek language once spoken in Attica. This extensive adoption of existing topographical names by the Greek-speaking incomers, together with later claims by the Athenians to represent the indigenous inhabitants of the area, suggests that in Attica the invaders did not drive out or massacre their predecessors, but cohabited with them.