The Acropolis of Athens Greece
The word "Acropolis" means city by the edge, and there are many acropolises all over Greece. They were always situated on a high spot, and were often used as a place for shelter and defence against various enemies. The one in Athens is the best known of them all, and is therefore often referred to as "The Acropolis". Towering over the capital, its is a very impressive sight, and walking around on its grounds, it gives the visitor a feeling of awe and a true sense of the greatness of the ancient Greeks.
The founder of Athens and Greek civilizations was king Cecrops,
according to mythology. He had been born out of the earth and was half man half
snake. He taught the people many crafts, as well as the burial customs, and
decided which god would protect the city.
There were two candidates: the goddess Athena and the god Poseidon. In order to prove their worth, and perhaps bribe the people, they each presented the city with a gift. Poseidon struck his trident into the rock of the Acropolis, and out sprang a well. The people ran to the well to drink its water, but had to spit it out since the water was salt, Poseidon being a sea god. Then Athena touched the ground, and an olive tree grew out. This proved to be a much more useful present, so Cecrops decided that Athena would be the patron of the city - thus giving it her name as well. The wooden statue of Athena which originally stood on the Acro-polis was believed to have fallen out of the sky.
History of the Acropolis
The Acropolis is believed to have been inhabited since at least the 7th Millennium BC. During
the Mycenaean civilization walls were built around it and there is evidence
that there was a Mycenaean palace here as well. The tomb of
also lie here, and the Athenians might have kept a snake here - symbolizing
their first king. There were also other tombs and temples here, all connected
to kings, heroes and gods that had to do with Athens.
In the 6th century BC the Acropolis had changed quite significantly. It was no longer a place for palaces, but had turned more into a sanctuary that anything else. Every year a huge procession to the Acropolis took place, and the wooden statue of Athena was dressed and sacrificed to. The Panathenean games were also very important. The games included both athletic and musical competitions and the winner would receive an amphora filled with olive oil - the olive tree being the sacred tree of Athena. During the Persian wars in the 5th century the Athenians started building the Parthenon, but the Persians burnt the Acropolis and all focus was put on the battles. It was during Pericles era, the so called Golden Age, when the Acropolis got the structure we see today. Starting in the middle of the 5th century, the Parthenon, the Propylaea and a huge bronze statue of Athena was made. It is said that Pericles used unemployed Athenians for workers, and that it was thanks to this initiative, every Athenian had food on his table. The Parthenon was made by the architects Ictinus and Callicrates, and the statue by Phidias.Towards the end of the 5th century the Erechteion was built, as well as the temple of Athena Nike.
When the Romans conquered Greece in the 2nd century BC, many of the sanctuaries
were looted. Statues and other works of art were taken back to Rome from
and Delphi for example,
but the Acropolis was pretty much left alone. Some of the emperors did make
a few additions, though. In the 2nd century AD
Atticus had his great theatre built, and to this day, Athenians
are enjoying concerts and ballets here.
During the Middle Ages several of the temples on the Acropolis were converted into Christian churches. Quite characteristic is the fact that the Parthenon, which had been a temple to the virgin goddess Athena, now became a church to the virgin saint Mary.
When the Turks came towards the end of the 16th century, they turned the Parthenon
into a mosque. Until the 17th century the temple was relatively unharmed,
but in 1687 the Venetians bombarded the Acropolis, and a projectile hit the
Parthenon, which the Turks used as a storage room for gunpowder. The temple
exploded and this is why the temple does not have a roof today.
In the beginning of the 19th century the Englishman lord Elgin was allowed by the sultan to take with him various objects from the Acropolis. It was now he took the famous Parthenon marbles, which until today is a matter of controversy since they are housed in the British Museum despite the Greeks plea to get them back.
Despite all that the Acropolis has been through, it is really the pollution in modern Athens that is its worst enemy. The problem has been known for many decades now, but still no real solution has been found.
The main building of this
period was the Parthenon, which we know, from its building records, to have
been under construction between 448 and 433 B.C. The colossal gold and ivory
statue within the temple was dedicated in 438 B.C. It follows that the
structure of temple must have been fairly complete by that date, the
subsequent five years being given to the finish of the surface and the
completion of the sculptural decoration. The architects were Ictinus and
Callicrates. The temple had a somewhat unusual plan, which it inherited from
the early temple of Athena. In addition to a main cells, opening to the
east, and containing the colossal statue of Athena, it had a square chamber
opening to the west, and shut off from the cells by a solid wall of marble.
This chamber was specifically called the Parthenon.
When the temple was changed into a Christian church three doors, of which traces may still be seen, were made through the wall. The western chamber was used as a narthex, and an apse, of which also the traces may be seen on the pavement, was built out at the east end. At the same time the inner colonnade of the cells was removed, and smaller columns carrying a gallery were substituted. In order to realize the original arrangement of the cells we must ignore these later traces.
There is a slightly raised stylobate on which the earlier columns were placed along the north, south, and west sides. In the midst is a patch of rough limestone. Over this was placed the pedestal on which stood the statue of Athena; and in the middle of it is a rectangular hole in which was fixed the wooden mast on which the framework of the colossal statue was supported.
The cella walls have to a great extent disappeared, but it is still possible to appreciate the exquisite delicacy and finish of the architectural design in the outer colonnade. It is possible, in looking along the steps, to recognize the slight convex curve of the whole stylobate—probably an optical correction, since a long, horizontal line with vertical columns resting above it would otherwise give the illusion of sagging downward in the middle. The refinements in the building lines of the Parthenon, first accurately described by Dr Penrose, concern mainly the external appearance of the temple. The curvature of the stylobate is perceptible only on that part of it outside the cells. The interior floor of the cells is perfectly flat and without any curvature. This can be verified by any visitor to the building. The way in which the curvature of the stylobate along the peristyle and steps was achieved is a matter of speculation. Probably the stylobate was first built without curvature, and the curvature effected by simple cutting down of the surface area to the required level at each end. The temple was thus treated as sculpture. How carefully this curve was designed and how it affected the form of the columns may be realized by measuring the height of the lowest drums. This will be found to be in every case greater on the outside than on the inside in a calculated gradation, the difference being less as the middle of the side and front is approached. It follows that no two drums on the same side are identical in measurement, and that any attempt to replace fallen drums in position must necessarily be preceded by an exact study of their dimensions. This has been done in the recent reconstruction of the north colonnade, which is therefore much more satisfactory in effect than the unsightly restoration made in the middle of last century and recently demolished. Again, if one looks along the colonnade on either side of the temple the open space framed between the two extreme columns of the front and back shows clearly the delicately curved entasis of those columns. It has been said that there is not a straight line in the building and this is true except of the interior surface of the stylobate.
The Parthenon appears to have remained practically intact until about the
fifth century A.D. The alterations made when it was changed into a Christian
church have already been noted. To the same time belong the frescoes of
Christian saints which may still be traced on the inner walls of the cella.
A further change into a mosque, during the Turkish domination, seems not to
have led to any considerable modifications in the structure of the building,
except that a minaret was constructed in the south-west corner, its basis
filling part of the opisthodomos, and its tapering point rising high above
At this time the sculpture on the temple appears to have been almost complete, except the central group of the eastern pediment, which was probably destroyed when the Parthenon was changed into a church. This was the state of the temple in 1674, when Carrey made his drawings of the sculptures. The disaster mainly instrumental in reducing it to its present appearance occurred during the attack of the Venetians against the Turks in 1687. The Venetian artillery bombarding the Turks in the Acropolis exploded a powder magazine placed in the cella. Yet further destruction was caused by an unsuccessful attempt to remove the chariot and horses of Athena from the western pediment. Athens was soon after recaptured by the Turks, and a small mosque was built within the ruined walls of the Parthenon. In this state it remained for about two centuries, during which many travellers visited and described Athens.
Meanwhile the buildings in Athens were continually liable to damage, from neglect or from weather, or from wilful destruction. The Greeks had as yet no power, even if they had the desire, to protect them. Hence arose the plan of removing at least some of the sculpture to a place where it would be both safe and accessible. It was above all the French, represented by the Comte de Choiseul-Gouffier and Fauvel, and Lord Elgin, the British Ambassador to the Porte, who made this attempt.
The subsequent history of the Elgin Marbles does not here concern us. But it is to be noted that even if they were now returned to Athens, as some have suggested, they could not be replaced upon the building without its cοmplete reconstruction, but would in all probability be placed in a museum where they would be less accessible than they are at present.
When the independence of Greece was attained in 1830 the Acropolis was cleared as far as possible of the remains of post-classical times, but no attempt at reconstruction was made for some time. About the middle of the nineteenth century some of the columns of the northern peristyle were re-erected from fallen drums; but these, as may be seen by studying old photographs of the Parthenon taken before 1930, were set up without sufficient study of the problem, and were very unsightly, being patched with brick and other materials. The first thing to be done in the modern reconstruction was to pull down these columns, and to make an exact study of the measurements of the external drums on this side, no two of which are identical, owing to their positions on the slightly convex stylobate. The drums were then replaced in their proper positions, and patched, so far as was necessary, by stucco tinted so as not to make a glaring contrast with the original marble.
All the northern columns, with the architrave resting upon them, have now been reconstructed, but the process may probably go no further, at least for the present. To restore the whole temple to the condition it was in at the time of Pericles is obviously impracticable, even if it were desirable. The only sculptures left upon the building are two figures, Cecrops and his daughter, on the western pediment some remains of horses heads from the chariots of the Sun and Moon; the much-defaced metopes of the eastern and western ends, and two or three on the north and south sides adjoining the western end; and the frieze at the west end and the adjoining part of the north side. These metopes and the frieze are particularly instructive, since it is possible to see them in their original position and setting. Some other portions of the sculpture of the Parthenon are to be seen in the Acropolis Museum. The metope at the south-west corner is happily well preserved, and therefore, remaining in its architectural frame, gives a good notion of the original effect. Being sheltered by the projecting cornice, it was left in position when the other metopes were removed.
The latest building of the time of Pericles was the great Propylaia, or gate-house, at the entrance to the Acropolis. It consisted of a wall pierced by five doors; this had on a front facing the Acropolis a portico of six Doric columns. Outside it was a court with a roadway through it bordered by two rows of Ionic columns, and outside this another Doric portico of six columns facing outward. On either side this last portico was flanked by a wing which projected beyond the main structure. The plan is not quite symmetrical, because the south wing, where it adjoined the little precinct of the temple of Victory, is curtailed, and there are also indications that the original plan of the Prορylaia included two porticoes on the side facing the Acropolis, and flanking the great inner portico. These indications have been studied by Professor Dorpfeld, who has inferred from them the original design of the architect Mnesicles. Why this plan was never carried out is a matter for conjecture. It may have been partly due to the beginning of the Peloponnesian War but it is also to be noted that the original plan, if carried out, would have involved cutting away a great part of the rock surface of the early sacred precinct of Artemis Brauronia. It is therefore probable that religious conservatism is, at least in part, the cause of the curtailment, and may also account for the abridged form in which the south wing had to be left. In any case, the building was never completely finished, as may be seen from the rough bosses left on many of the stones and the absence of the final dressing of the surface in many places. The original blocks, which had fallen from the building, have now been replaced, especially on the inner portico, and the whole has regained much of its original effect, as seen from the Acropolis.
The other conspicuous building on the Acropolis, which may have been
included in the plans of Pericles and Phidias, was not built until after
their time. The Erechtheum was probably begun about 420 B.C., when there
was an interval of peace in the Peloponnesian War but it remained
unfinished until 409 B.C., when a commission was appointed to make a
survey of the building and to supervise its completion. The temple was
of a peculiar plan, owing probably to the fact that it took the place of
earlier shrines on the same site, and had to include certain sacred
The eastern portion formed a small temple of the usual type, dedicated to Athena Pallas. The western end had projecting porches both to the north and to the south, and was at a lower level than the eastern portion. In architectural form and decoration the Erechtheum is a perfect gem of the richest Ionic style. The columns have capitals deeply cut and delicately profiled in the volutes, and bases either reeded or ornamented with a fine plait pattern; and both the columns and the walls are surmounted by a band of beautifully carved honeysuckle pattern.
The northern porch, standing in front of a richly ornamented door, probably covered the place on which the marks of the trident of Poseidon were made when he struck the rock in his contest with Athena for the land of Attica. These so-called `trident marks' were no doubt identified as such in later antiquity. But in all probability they mark a place on the rock where a lightning stroke had struck. This is suggested by the way in which the rock so struck was left uncovered and a corresponding opening in the superimposed roof of the porch left open to the sky.
If the marks were originally considered as trident marks these provisions to maintain them open to the sky would not have been taken in the fifth century. Athena at the same time produced the sacred olive-tree, which was preserved in the Pandroseum, just outside the west end of the Erechtheum. The southern porch is famous for the six maidens—commonly called Caryatides—who serve in the place of columns to support the roof; one of these was removed by Lord Elgin's workmen, and is now in the British Museum, its place being taken by a cement cast. This procedure of Lord Elgin has perhaps been more severely criticized than any other of his actions. But it is to be noted that the building suffered very considerable damage both during the War of Independence and later, and there was some risk of its total destruction. The Erechtheum has now, however, been reconstructed as far as possible out of the original materials, and gives a much better notion of its appearance when perfect than would be gathered from pictures made before the last few years.
The new Acropolis museum is situated under the south slope of the
Acropolis in Dionyssiou Areopagitou street .The museum was given
to the public in 2008 .
Here, you will see various artworks from the temples and the other buildings
it has as well the statues of the Caryatides and parts of the
It should be noted that photography is not allowed and you are
also not allowed to pose with the various objects. The Acropolis
Museum has been specially built to hold all the sculptures found
in the excavations upon the Acropolis.
The museum contain the early architectural sculptures in Piraic limestone (poros) which once adorned the ancient temple of Athena and other early buildings. They were for the most part found buried in the earth south of the great basis on which the Parthenon now stands, and must probably, from the remarkable preservation of their colouring, have been buried soon after their erection. Some of them represent the exploits of Heracles.
One of the earliest, in low relief, represents the hero in combat with the Hydra, whose snaky coils fill one end of the pediment, the other end being occupied by the chariot of Heracles and a gigantic crab. The most conspicuous of the pedimental groups represents Heracles wrestling with Triton, the "Old Man of the Sea", the other half of it is occupied by a strange three-bodied monster and the three intertwined tails of this balance the fishlike tail of Triton as a filling for the narrowing space of the gable. This group probably ornamented one end of the early temple of Athena.
Another fine architectural pediment group is that representing the introduction of Heracles to the assembly of the gods on Olympus. It shows Hera and Zeus seated and Heracles in the corner. A further pedimental sculpture is that which shows the scene of the slaughter of Troilus by Achilles. A fountain-house fills the centre, with a maiden outside it. Parts of Troilus and a tree are visible at the side. Another great group shows two lions tearing a bull. All these sculptures show the remains of rich colouring, and their effect when placed on the buildings to which they belonged must have been very impressive.
The colossal figures in Parian marble which were placed in the pediment over the colonnade added to the early temple of Athena in the time of Pisistratus. In the centre was a figure of Athena striking with her spear a giant prostrate at her feet. Portions of two more giants are to be seen; the whole composition must have contained other gods and giants, and must have been a fine example of the bold and severe style of archaic Attic work.
The series of female statues which constitutes the chief treasure of the Acropolis excavations, most of them were found carefully buried in the space just to the north of the Erechtheum. They must have been thrown down by the Persians when they sacked Athens, and buried by the Athenians when they returned to the ruins of their city; and therefore they offer us characteristic examples of the art of sculpture as it was practised at Athens in the years preceding 480 B.C. We do not know whom these statues were intended to represent: their official name seems to have been "Maidens" (Korai), and it appears to have been customary to dedicate such statues to Athena, perhaps as a memorial of some service.
At first sight they seem much alike, as repetitions of the same type, but on closer study we find a great degree of individuality, and also rapid artistic progress from the earlier to the later. Some of the simplest and severest are like the Athena from the great marble pediment, and show us Attic art in its independent period. But a strong influence from the islands—probably from the Cyclades introduced a delicacy and grace which in some cases amounts to affectation, and is enhanced by the full and rich Ionian draperies of which the sculptor had evidently made a careful study. Then, again, in the later examples we find a stronger and simpler style. This may be due partly to an Athenian reaction against the island work, partly to the influence of the Doric schools of the Peloponnese.
These marble sculptures, like the earlier ones in porous stone, have their original colouring to a great extent preserved. But while the poros statues were mostly covered with an opaque coat of paint, the marble statues show its use with much greater discretion. The beautiful texture and surface of the white marble was preserved for the nude parts of female figures, and also for the broader stretches of drapery, and the colour was only used to render details such as hair, eyes, and lips, and to ornament the bottom and someώhat scattered patterns on the drapery. Used in this way, the colour by no means conceals the texture and effect of the marble, but enhances them by contrast with the coloured details. The richness of effect thus gained must be seen to be appreciated.
In addition to these early works the Acropolis Museum also contains such portions of the sculpture of the Parthenon as were neither carried off by Lord Elgin nor left in situ upon the temple. Among them the finest are some slabs of the frieze, especially one with Athenian youths leading cows for sacrifice, and another, in remarkable preservation, containing three figures from the group of gods in the east frieze. Also, in the east room, on the right of the door, there are the remains of the sculpture of the balustrade of the temple of the Wingless Victory. They consist of figures of winged Victories erecting trophies or otherwise employed in the service of Athena, among them the famous Victory tying her sandal, and two Victories mastering a restive cow. These are perhaps the most perfect examples known of clinging and floating draperies revealing and contrasting with an extraordinarily beautiful type of figure. The date of them is probably about the close of the fifth century B.C.
They have been frequently imitated both in later Greek work and in Greco-Roman, whence their influence passed on to the sculptors of the Renaissance.
Getting to Acropolis
The Acropolis is pretty much situated in the middle of the city and is hard to miss. The best way perhaps is to walk there either from Syntagma, Plaka or Monastiraki, from Monastiraki, at the end of Adrianou street, you can walk up to the Acropolis through the Agora or going up the steps from Dioskouron street. The easiest way is to take the Metro of Athens and get off to the Acropolis station, at the exit towards Dionysiou Areopagitou located the entrance of the new Acropolis museum and and after 3 minutes walk next to the Odeion of Herodes Atticus is the entrance to the Acropolis. There are also organised tours, where a visit to the Acropolis is the main attraction
Map of the Acropolis