Site 7: The hill of Acropolis

The Acropolis of Athens and its monuments are universal symbols of the classical spirit and civilization, are included on European Cultural Heritage list of monuments and forms the greatest architectural and artistic complex bequeathed by Greek Antiquity to the world.

What you will see

The history of Acropolis

In the second half of the 5fth century BC, Athens, following the victory against the Persians and the establishment of democracy, took a leading position amongst the other city-states of the ancient world.

In the age that followed, as thought and art flourished, an exceptional group of artists put into effect the ambitious plans of Athenian statesman Pericles and, under the inspired guidance of the sculptor Pheidias, transformed the rocky hill into a unique monument of thought and the arts.

The most important monuments were built during that time:

  • the Parthenon, built by Ictinus,
  • the Erechtheon,
  • the Propylaea, and
  • the small Temple of Athena Niki. 

The most celebrated myths of ancient Athens, its greatest religious festivals, earliest cults and several decisive events in the city's history are all connected to this sacred precinct. The monuments of the Acropolis stand in harmony with their natural setting.

These unique masterpieces of ancient architecture combine different orders and styles of Classical art in a most innovative manner and have influenced art and culture for many centuries. The Acropolis of the fifth century BC is the most accurate reflection of the splendour, power and wealth of Athens at its greatest peak, the golden age of Perikles. 

Fort

The naturally fortified site of the Acropolis is accessible only from the west. Both the Mycenaean fortress and ancient sanctuary were accessed from here, just like the modern archaeological site is today.

The hill was first fortified in the Mycenaean period and traces of this early wall are still visible, particularly to the southeast of the Propylaia. The walls visible to this day were erected after the Persian Wars in the first half of the tth century BC, under Themistokles (north wall) and Kimon (south wall). Alterations were made under Perikles and again in later times, when the Acropolis became the stronghold of the city.

Sightseeing

Propylaia

The visitor then approaches the Propylaia, the monumental entrance to the sanctuary, built in Classical times by architect Mnesikles. The temple of Athena Nike, built c. 420 BC by Kallikrates, dominates the bastion to the south of the Propylaia. Near the temple was the shrine of Aphrodite Pandemos, of which only part of the epistyle is preserved.

Pedestal of Agrippas

Opposite the north wing of the Propylaia is a tall rectangular pedestal known as the Pedestal of Agrippas, because it once supported an offering by the city of Athens to Marcus Agrippas, son-in-law of Augustus.

The Parthenon

Through the Propylaia one enters the sanctuary proper with its great masterpieces of ancient Greek architecture built primarily in the fifth century under Perikles.

The Parthenon, the hallmark of ancient Greek civilization, is indeed the most imposing of all. Dedicated to Athena Parthenos, it was erected under Perikles replacing two earlier temples dedicated to the same goddess.

Erechtheion

On the north side of the hill is the Erechtheion, the Ionic temple of Athena and Poseidon-Erechtheus with its famous porch of the Karyatides. Along the south wall of the Erechtheion are the foundations of the ?Old Temple?, the sixth century Doric temple of Athena Polias, destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC, repaired and finally burnt down in 406 BC.

In subsequent centuries the monuments of the Acropolis suffered from both natural causes and human intervention. After the establishment of Christianity and especially in the sixth century AD the temples were converted to Christian churches.

Subsequent history

The Parthenon was dedicated to Parthenos Maria (the Virgin Mary), was later re-named Panagia Athiniotissa (Virgin of Athens) and served as the city's cathedral in the eleventh century. The Erechtheion was dedicated to the Sotiras (Saviour) or the Panagia, the temple of Athena Nike became a chapel and the Propylaia an episcopal residence.

The Acropolis also became the fortress of the medieval city. Under Frankish occupation (1204-1456) the Propylaia were converted into a residence for the Frankish ruler and in the Ottoman period (1456-1833) into the Turkish garrison headquarters.

The Venetians besieged the Acropolis in 1687 and destroyed the Parthenon, which then served as a munitions store.

Lord Elgin caused further serious damage in 1801-1802 by looting the sculptural decoration of the Parthenon, the temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion. The Acropolis was handed over to the Greeks in 1822, during the Greek War of Independence, and Odysseas Androutsos became its first Greek garrison commander.

After the liberation of Greece, the monuments of the Acropolis came under the care of the newly founded Greek state. Limited investigation took place in 1835 and 1837, while in The site was systematically excavated under P. Kavvadias in 1885-1890, and in the early twentieth century N. Balanos headed the first large-scale restoration project.

A Committee for the Conservation of the Monuments on the Acropolis was created in 1975 with the aim to plan and undertake large-scale conservation and restoration on the Acropolis. The project, conducted by the Service of Restoration of the Monuments of the Acropolis in collaboration with the First Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, is still in progress.

Odeon of Herodes

Below the hill of Acropolis, beside the Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, is located the amazing ancient Odeon of Herodes Atticus built by the Romans in 161 AD and  still used today for classical concerts, ballet, performances of high cultural value.

The ancient Theatre of Dionysious

Further on is the Theater of Dionysious, the first stone theater that was rebuilt around 342 BC by Lykourgos and home to Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes, and then enlarged by the Romans to be used for gladiator fights.

The New Museum of Acropolis

In the end of the same street is located the New Acropolis Museum. It was built in 2009, and exhibits more than 4.000 artifacts.

The Acropolis with the Parthenon and its surrounding area, may be the only area in ancient Athens that is condensed with monuments and structures of historical significance and quality of civilization. A ride with Athens Happy Train will overwhelm you!

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