The Acropolis of Athens Greece: The Sacred Rock, the Acropolis in Athens, is the symbol of the entire Greece. It is also the most important ancient monuments in Europe. Surrounded by the modern town of Athens, the Parthenon still stands proudly, a reminder of the old aura of the city. One can see the Acropolis and its Parthenon from almost every part of Athens.
History of the Acropolis
The acropolis in Athens was a military fortress during the Neolithic period, due to its position which offers a great view of the land and the sea. During the Mycenaean times, it became a religious centre, dedicated to the worship of the goddess Athena.
It is said that the place was declared a province only to the gods by an oracle, and therefore stopped being inhabited by the people. The three temples of major importance, the Parthenon, the Erechteion and the Temple of Nike, were erected during the classical period (450-330 B.C.) on the remains of earlier temples. All three of them are dedicated to different aspects of the Goddess Athena. The Persians destroyed the Acropolis during the battle of Salamina in 480 B.C.
The founder of the Athenian democracy, Pericles, was the one who rebuilt it under the form it has kept until today. He made it into a city of Temples, and, as everything else created at that period, turned it to the ultimate achievement in terms of classical Greek architecture and sculpting. The Acropolis in Athens has, since then, been through a lot, and its remains reflect each and every period of the city.
The Parthenon was turned into a church dedicated to Agia Sofia by the Christians of Byzantium, while the domination of the Franks in 1205 turned the hill into a fortress and residence for the noble Franks. At that time, the Parthenon was a Catholic Church named Our Lady of Athens. The Ottoman occupation of the 15th century turned the building into a mosque. When Greece finally became independent from the Turkish occupation, the conservation of the monuments became a task of major importance, and it has remained so until today.
This monument is the symbol of the Ancient Greek civilization. It is the most important monument until today. It was dedicated too the patron goddess of the city, Athena, since Parthenon means also the apartment of the virgin. Athena was the goddess of wisdom, war and also a virgin. The Parthenon is located on the top of the Acropolis hill. It was created between 447 and 432 B.C., at the time of Pericles golden age, by the architect Iktinos and with the help of Kallikrates.
The famous Athenian sculptor Phedias was the supervisor of the whole project, which is a fine example of the Doric architectural style. It is made of Pentelic marble, and is made of 8 Doric columns on each of the narrow sides and 17 columns on each of the long side. The most amazing fact about this perfect achievement is that its columns are made in a zigzag as to give the impression that its foundations are straight. Its central part used to have a pool of water and to shelter a 40 feet high statue of Athena, made of gold and ivory.
The combination of Doric metopes and the Ionic frieze on the walls are considered unique masterpieces. On the east side the metopes depict the fight of the Gods against the Giants, and on the east side the Lapith battle against the Centaurs. The south side shows the triumph of the Greeks against the Amazons and the north the victory of the Athenian on the Trojans. The frieze that covers the sides of the temple depicts the most important religious festival in Ancient Greece, the Panathenaea.
The designs include the figure of Gods, animals, and more than 360 humans. The two pediments of the temple show the birth of Athena and the fight between her and Poseidon for the name of the city. The temple suffered many transformations, while its final destruction happened in the 19th century: the British ambassador in Constantinople, Lord Elgin, stole its decorations and sold them to the British Museum where they can still be seen.
This Temple is located on the most sacred part of the whole sacred hill. That side of the Acropolis was indeed the sanctuary were all the cults and ceremonies of Poseidon and Athena were taking place. It took its name after Poseidon killed Erechtonius, a mythical king who had the body of a snake. The temple was a part of Pericles project and is located on the northern side of the Parthenon. It was started late, in 421 BC, due to the Peloponnesian wars and ended in 406 BC.
It is an amazing example of the Ionic architecture, composed by three different dimensions basic parts which are the main temple, the northern and the southern porches. The two parts of the main temple are respectively dedicated to Athena and Poseidon. The northern porch of six columns leads to the Temenos of Pandrossos, the place where the sacred gift of Athena to the city, the olive tree, grew.
The northern porch of the temple is the most famous, since it is the one with the Caryatids, the six women replacing the columns that support the marble roof. The Caryatids were sculpted after some beautiful young models that were women from Karyes, a village of Lakonia.
The Temple of Athena Nike
This little temple was built between 427-424 BC from a design of the architect Kallikrates. It is perched on a platform on the south-west edge of the Acropolis, and is also closed to visitors. It is an almost square building of Ionic architecture with four Ionic columns at each ends. Its frieze is adorned by a wonderful scene depicting the conference of gods and other mythological scenes on the east and south sides, and battles scenes on the other sides. The majority of the frieze has been destroyed, while some parts, like the beautiful representation of Athena Nike (Victory) fastening her sandal, are exposed in the Acropolis museum.
The Temple of Athena Nike was the shelter of an amazing statue of the goddess Athena holding a pomegranate, the symbol of fertility, in her right hand and a helmet, the symbol of war, in her left hand. The temple has been destroyed twice: once after the Turks dismantled it in 1686 and once after 1936, when the platform crumbled. It has been therefore rebuilt two times as well.
The Propylea is on the same line as the Parthenon, and is the monumental gateway to the Acropolis in Athens. Built from a design by Mnesicles, it is composed by a central hall and two lateral wings. The sections of the temple used to be the only possible way to enter the Acropolis. The northern wing was decorated with painted panels and was used as a picture gallery.
The south wing was the antechamber to the Temple of Athena Nike and the ceiling of the Propylea's central hall was painted with gold and colorful decoration. The northern wing was decorated with painted panels and was used as a picture gallery The building was build during 437-432 BC, badly damaged in the 17th century from an explosion. Its restoration started in 1909 and is still going on today.
The Panathenaic Way
The Panathenaic Way was the route taken by the Panathenaic procession during the festival of Panathenaia. This was the most important event of ancient Athens and was dedicated to the goddess Athena, and consisted in dances, athletic, dramatic and musical contests. The route was cutting through the middle of the Acropolis, beginning from the Keramikos and ending at the Erechteion.
The procession was the highlight of the festival, as it took place on its last day. It was composed of men carrying animals for sacrifices to the goddess, of maidens carrying drinking vessels (call rhytons), musicians and girls holding the sacred shawl called peplo. The procession came to an end when the girls placed the peplo on the statue of Athena Polias, inside the Erechteion.
The statue of Athena Promachos
On the Acropolis one can see the remains of some important statues which used to form a path. One of them, 15m from the Propylaea, is where used to stand the gigantic statue of Athena Promachos (champion). This 9m high statue was a symbol of the victory and the strength of the Athenians against the Persians. This symbolism is the reason why its sculptor, the famous Pheidias, represented the goddess holding a shield in her left hand and a spear in her right one. The statue was taken to Constantinople by the Emperor Theodosius in 426 AD. It was destroyed in 1204 by the inhabitants of the city who blamed the statue for a crusader invasion they suffered.
The southwest slope of Athens Acropolis
This area of the Acropolis is the area where all public buildings were built. It was the part of the hill where all the major artistic, spiritual and religious activities of the city took place, hence its importance to the ancient Athens. Here are the most important monuments standing on this area:
The Theatre of Dionysos
The remaining ruins of the 5th-century theatre built in stone and marble by Lycourgos indicates the greatness of the site: the auditorium had 17 000 seats of which only 20 survived. The Greek Archaeological Society started excavations around the sanctuary of Dionysos and brought to light the theatre of Dionysos in 1838. The decorative relief at the rear of the stage is from the 2nd century BC and depicts Dionysos life and myths. Unfortunately most of the figures are headless.
During the golden age of Pericles, when Athens was at its peak, one of the major events of the year was the annual Festival of the Great Dionysia, introduced in the 6th-century AD by the tyrant Pesistratos. It was a very interesting and cultural event. Politicians and rich people would sponsor dramas and comedies by theatrical writers like Aristophanes, Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles. Visitors would come from all around Attica to enjoy the plays and the different festivities. The Romans have also used the Theatre of Dionysos for their state events, some ceremonies and even theatrical performances.
The Temple of Thrasyllos
This temple was erected in 320-319 BC by Thrasyllos. It was standing on the katatome, the great rock that had been artificially evened out vertically for the construction of the Theatre of Dionysos. The only remains of this temple are the two Ionic columns standing above the lovely, tiny Chapel of Panagia Hrysospiliotissa (our Lady of the Golden Cave), which was built into a small cave of a cliff hidden behind the Theatre of Dionysos.
The Stoa of Eumenes
Beneath the Asclepion stands a long colonnade that was built by Eumenes the second, the king of Pergamos (197-159 BC). This colonnade is know as the stoa of Eumenes, and it was built of stone and marble, and was used as a shelter and a promenade way for the theatre's public.
The Asklepieion was built after 420 BC to worship the physician Asklepios, son of Apollo. It is located on the left top of the wooden steps leading to the Theatre of Dionysos. It is composed by some foundations of the Temple of Asklepios, a Doric stoa used as the katagogion, an Ionic stoa dating from the end of the 5th century BC and an altar. The excavation of the Asklepieion was made by the Greek Archaeological Service.
Theatre of Herodes Atticus
This theatre was built by Herodes Atticus, a wealthy Roman. He created this architectural miracle in AD 160, in loving memory of his wife Regilla. This huge construction has a 38m radius, which allows it to offer space for more than 5000 spectators. The seats were made of marble. It was discovered in 1857-58 and restored in 1950-61. The summer Athens Festival which takes place every year nowadays uses the Theatre of Herodes Atticus from musical to dancing performances, or theatrical plays. Famous artists and performers come from all over the world to perform there, and create an amazing atmosphere.