Acropolis of Athens
The greatest and finest sanctuary of ancient Athens, dedicated primarily to its patron, the goddess Athena, dominates the centre of the modern city from the rocky crag known as the Acropolis. 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.
Pottery sherds of the Neolithic period (4000/3500-3000 BC) and, from near the Erechtheion, of the Early and Middle Bronze Age, show that the hill was inhabited from a very early period. A fortification wall was built around it in the thirteenth century BC and the citadel became the centre of a Mycenaean kingdom. This early fortification is partially preserved among the later monuments and its history can be traced fairly accurately. The Acropolis became a sacred precinct in the eighth century BC with the establishment of the cult of Athena Polias, whose temple stood at the northeast side of the hill. The sanctuary flourished under Peisistratos in the mid-sixth century BC, when the Panathinaia, the city's greatest religious festival, was established and the first monumental buildings of the Acropolis erected, among them the so-called “Old temple” and the Hekatompedos, the predecessor of the Parthenon, both dedicated to Athena. The shrine of Artemis Brauronia and the first monumental propylon also date to this period. Numerous opulent votive offerings, such as marble korai and horsemen, bronze and terracotta statuettes, were dedicated to the sanctuary. Several of these bear inscriptions that show the great importance of Athena's cult in the Archaic period. After the Athenians defeated the Persians at Marathon, in 490 BC, they began building a very large temple, the so-called Pre-Parthenon. This temple was still unfinished when the Persians invaded Attica in 480 BC, pillaged the Acropolis and set fire to its monuments. The Athenians buried the surviving sculptures and votive offerings inside natural cavities of the sacred rock, thus forming artificial terraces, and fortified the Acropolis with two new walls, the wall of Themistokles along the northern side and that of Kimon on the south. Several architectural elements of the ruined temples were incorporated in the northern wall and are still visible today.
In the mid-fifth century BC, when the Acropolis became the seat of the Athenian League and Athens was the greatest cultural centre of its time, Perikles initiated an ambitious building project which lasted the entire second half of the fifth century BC. Athenians and foreigners alike worked on this project, receiving a salary of one drachma a day. The most important buildings visible on the Acropolis today - that is, the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the temple of Athena Nike, were erected during this period under the supervision of the greatest architects, sculptors and artists of their time. The temples on the north side of the Acropolis housed primarily the earlier Athenian cults and those of the Olympian gods, while the southern part of the Acropolis was dedicated to the cult of Athena in her many qualities: as Polias (patron of the city), Parthenos, Pallas, Promachos (goddess of war), Ergane (goddess of manual labour) and Nike (Victory). After the end of the Peloponnesian war in 404 BC and until the first century BC no other important buildings were erected on the Acropolis. In 27 BC a small temple dedicated to Augustus and Rome was built east of the Parthenon. In Roman times, although other Greek sanctuaries were pillaged and damaged, the Acropolis retained its prestige and continued to attract the opulent votive offerings of the faithful. After the invasion of the Herulians in the third century AD, a new fortification wall was built, with two gates on the west side. One of these, the so-called Beule Gate, named after the nineteenth century French archaeologist who investigated it, is preserved to this day.
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 into Christian churches. 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 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 under F. Morozini besieged the Acropolis in 1687 and on September 26th bombarded 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 1885-1890 the site was systematically excavated under P. Kavvadias. 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.
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 fifth 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.
The sacred rock is approached from the West through the Beule gate, one of the two gates built after the third century AD Herulian invasion, or through a small door under the temple of Athena Nike. 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. 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.
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. Between the Parthenon and the Propylaia, along the south wall, carved on bedrock, are the traces of two buildings of the fifth century BC, the Brauronion, a shrine dedicated to Artemis Brauronia, and the Chalkotheke, a building that once contained votive offerings of bronze. East of the Parthenon is a small circular temple of 27 BC, dedicated to Augustus and Rome. At the highest point, on the east side of the hill, carved on bedrock, are the traces of the shrine of Zeus Polieus, while the current museum occupies the site of a shrine dedicated to the local hero Pandion. 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. Northwest of the Erechtheion, along the north wall of the Acropolis, is the Arrhephorion, a small square building where the Arrhephoroi lived. These young women weaved the peplos of the goddess for the Panathenaic festival and took part in initiation rituals.
The sacred rock was dedicated to the goddess Athena but its slopes were taken over by various other cults. A number of caves on the precipitous northern slope were used as shrines and were approached by a peripatos, or path, one kilometre long, which surrounded the rocky crag all the way to the southern slope with its many shrines and other important monuments.
1. The Parthenon
The Parthenon is a double peripteral Doric temple with several unique and innovative architectural features. The temple proper is divided into pronaos, cella and opisthodomos, with a separate room at the west end, and is surrounded by a pteron with eight columns on each of the short sides and seventeen columns on the long ones. The columns had the same width as those of Parthenon II, so that use was made of the material prepared for it, even though the new temple was much broader than its predecessor. The interior demonstrates an innovative approach to both new and old elements: inside the cella a double pi-shaped colonnade established a background for the gold and ivory statue of Athena Parthenos, which showed the goddess in full armour carrying Nike (Victory) to the Athenians in her right hand. The west room, where the city's treasures were kept, had four Ionic columns. The two-sloped wooden roof had marble tiles, marble palmette-shaped false antefixes along the edge of its long sides and false spouts in the shape of lion heads at the corners. Marble statues adorned the corners of the pediments and large, ornate palmettes their apex. The pediments were decorated with sculptural compositions inspired from the life of the goddess Athena. The east pediment depicted the birth of the goddess, who sprang from the head of her father, Zeus, before an assembly of the Olympian gods, while the west pediment showed Athena and Poseidon disputing for the possession of the city of Athens before the gods, heroes and mythical kings of Attica. Ninety-two metopes alternating with triglyphs were placed above the epistyle of the outer colonnade and under the architrave. All of them were adorned with reliefs, the earliest sculptures of the Parthenon. Their themes were derived from legendary battles: the Gigantomachy was depicted on the eastern side, the Trojan War on the northern side, the Amazonomachy on the western side and the Centauromachy on the southern side. The frieze, an element of the Ionic order, brilliantly added to this Doric temple along the top of the cella, pronaos and opisthodomos, depicted the splendid procession of the Panathinaia, the greatest festival of Athens in honour of Athena.
The Parthenon remained unchanged until the fifth century AD, when it was converted into a church dedicated first to Saint Sophia and later to the Panagia (Virgin Mary). Under Turkish rule it became a mosque. In 1687, during the siege of the Acropolis by Morozini, the Parthenon was bombarded and largely destroyed. Further serious damage was caused in the early nineteenth century by Lord Elgin, who looted much of the temple's sculptural decoration and sold it to the British Museum. Conservation and restoration of the Parthenon took place in 1896-1900 and again in 1922-1933. A vast conservation and restoration program of the monuments of the Acropolis, including the Parthenon, is currently under way since 1975 by the Service of Restoration of the Monuments of the Acropolis in collaboration with the First Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, under the supervision of the Committee for the Conservation of the Monuments of the Acropolis.
2. Τhe Erechtheion
The temple was made of Pentelic marble, the frieze of Eleusinian grey stone with white relief figures attached to it and the foundations of Piraeus stone. On its east side, an Ionic portico with six columns sheltered the entrance to the east part of the building. Inside was the cult statue of Athena, made of olive wood, which the Arrhephoroi draped with the sacred peplos during the Panathenaic festival. On the north side is the entrance to the west part of the building, sheltered by a pi-shaped propylon with four Ionic columns along the facade and one on either side. The stone paving of this propylon was thought to preserve the traces made by Poseidon's trident when it hit the ground and produced salt water. Under the temple's floor was, according to tradition, the ''Erechtheis Sea'' where the waters from Poseidon's salt-water spring gathered. A small door on the west side led to the sanctuary of Pandrosos, which stood west of the Erechtheion. Four Ionic columns on a high stylobate, with metal railings between them, adorned the west facade. Finally, another door on the south facade of the western temple opened onto the porch of the Karyatides, a pi-shaped structure with six female statues instead of columns to support the roof. Created by Alkamemes or Kallimachos, the statues were later named Karyatides after the young women from Karyes of Lakonia who danced in honour of the goddess Artemis. Five of them are in the Acropolis Museum and another in the British Museum those on the building are casts. The frieze probably depicted scenes related to the mythical kings of Athens.
The temple burned in the first century BC and was subsequently repaired with minor alterations. In the Early Christian period it was converted into a church dedicated to the Theometor (Mother of God). It became palace under Frankish rule and the residence of the Turkish commander's harem in the Ottoman period. In the early nineteenth century, Lord Elgin removed one of the Karyatides and a column and during the Greek War of Independence the building was bombarded and severely damaged. Restoration was undertaken immediately after the end of the war and again in 1979-1987, when the Erechtheion became the first monument of the Acropolis to be restored as part of the recent conservation and restoration project. Its restoration received the Europa Nostra award.
3. The Propylaia
The Propylaia of the Athenian Acropolis were built on the west side of the hill, where the gate of the Mycenaean fortification once stood. The first propylon, or gate, was constructed in the age of Peisistratos (mid-sixth century BC), after the Acropolis had become a sanctuary dedicated to Athena. A new propylon, built in 510-480 BC, was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC and repaired after the end of the Persian Wars, during the fortification of the Acropolis by Themistokles and Kimon. The monumental Propylaia admired by modern visitors were part of the great Periklean building program. They were erected in 437-432 BC, after the completion of the Parthenon, by architect Mnesikles. The original building plan was particularly daring both in architectural and artistic terms, but was never completed.
The pi-shaped building of Pentelic marble frames beautifully the entrance to the sacred precinct. The central section, the propylon proper, had an outer (west) and inner (east) fa?ade, both supported by six Doric columns, and between them a wall with five doors. Three Ionic columns flanked the main, middle door on either side. The central section followed the configuration of the terrain so the east portico and its crowning pediment were placed higher than those to the west. The two lateral sections, too, were placed lower than the central one. The sloping terrain dictated the creation of flights of steps both inside and in front of the propylon. The north wing of the Propylaia is described by Pausanias (1, 22, 6) as the Pinakotheke, an art gallery with paintings by famous artists, such as Polygnotos and Aglaophon. It has a facade of three Doric columns and a door flanked by windows. Some scholars believe that this space was used as a refectory or resting area for the visitors to the Acropolis and that it contained beds. Like the north wing, the south wing has a facade of three Doric columns but no back or side rooms because of its close proximity to the existing temple of Athena Nike. Access to this temple was possible through the south wing.
In Christian times both the south wing and the central section of the Propylaia were converted into churches, the former during the Early Christian period (fourth-seventh centuries AD) and the latter in the tenth century AD when in was dedicated to the Taxiarches. Under Frankish rule (thirteenth-fourteenth centuries AD) the Propylaia became the residence of the dukes of de la Roche; during the same period a tower, known as Koulas, now demolished, was built against the south wing. In the Ottoman period (1458-1830) the Propylaia were used as garrison headquarters and munitions store, resulting in a great explosion that destroyed the building in 1640. After the Greek War of Independence the Medieval and Turkish additions to the Propylaia were demolished and the site excavated. Restoration work was undertaken by engineer Nikolaos Balanos in 1909-1917 and is again in progress since 1982, as part of the greater conservation and restoration project carried out on the Acropolis since 1975 by the Restoration Service of the Monuments of the Acropolis in collaboration with the First Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, under the supervision of the Committee for the Conservation of the Monuments of the Acropolis.
4. The Temple of Athena Nike
The current temple was erected atop a new bastion created for this purpose by covering the Mycenaean bastion with neatly built isodomic walls of tufa, which made it larger and more regular in shape. The temple is a small Ionic amphiprostyle structure with four monolithic columns on either short side. The side walls of the cella end in antae, which flank a pair of pillars. Metal railings placed between the antae and the pillars and the antae and the side columns created a sort of small pronaos. Above the epistyle, a frieze by sculptor Agorakritos depicted battle scenes between the Greeks and Persians on three sides and, on the east side, an assembly of the Olympian gods watching these battles. Little is preserved of the pediments, which are believed to have depicted a Gigantomachy on the western side and an Amazonomachy on the eastern side. Outside the temple, to its east, was the altar. A marble parapet was built in 409 BC along the edge of the bastion for safety reasons. It consists of relief slabs, one metre high, with representations of winged Victories leading bulls to be sacrificed or sacrificing them or decorating trophies before the seated Athena. Several slabs and parts of the frieze can be seen in the Acropolis Museum; other parts of the frieze are in the British Museum.
The temple was converted into a church in the fifth century AD. In the Ottoman period it was used as a munitions store. During the siege of Morosini, in 1686, the Turks demolished the temple and used its building material to erect a fortification wall in front of the Propylaia and a tall tower, the so-called Koulas. The temple was restored soon after the Greek War of Independence, in 1835, and again in 1935-1940. A study for further restoration of the temple was published in 1994. Conservation and restoration of the monument is currently in progress since 1997 by the Service of Restoration of the Monuments of the Acropolis in collaboration with the First Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, under the supervision of the Committee for the Conservation of the Monuments of the Acropolis. The frieze was moved to the Acropolis Museum in 1998.
The main part of the shrine consisted of a Doric pi-shaped stoa, 38 metres long and seven metres wide. The stoa faced north and had ten columns along the facade, while its back wall ran parallel to the southern fortification wall. At either end of the stoa was a closed rectangular wing, 10x7 metres, in which the shrine's treasures were kept. North of the shrine was an enclosure wall with a gate at the northeast corner. The staircase leading to the shrine and the north section of the enclosure wall visible today were built in the fifth century BC, probably during the construction of the Propylaia. The triangular courtyard contained the offerings of the faithful, while the shrine itself probably contained a wooden cult statue of Artemis, similar to the one at the Brauron sanctuary. According to Pausanias, a second statue of the goddess, by sculptor Praxiteles, was placed there in the mid-fourth century BC. The head of this statue is today on display at the Acropolis Museum. A new east wing, consisting of a stoa, seventeen metres long and seven metres wide, was added to the existing one in the fourth century BC.
Today, only the cuts in the bedrock for wall foundations are visible; these allow us to reconstruct the shape and access to the shrine.
6. The Temple of Rome and Augustus
The inscription on the temple's epistyle mentions that the building was dedicated by the city of Athens to the goddess Rome and to Octavian Augustus. Pausanias does not mention the building during his visit to the Acropolis, possibly because it did not present any interest at his time. The small, circular temple had a single row of nine Ionic columns and no interior wall, the entablature and conical roof being entirely of white marble. The fact that the columns imitate those of the Erechtheion may indicate that the temple was built by the same architect who repaired the Erechtheion after it was damaged by fire.
The rectangular, slightly tapering pedestal is the only part of the monument preserved to this day. Made of grey-blue Hymetus marble, it uses pseudo-isodomic masonry, which was particularly popular in the Hellenistic period, and stands on a stepped base of stone and tufa, 3.80 metres long, 3.31 metres wide and 4.50 metres tall. The pedestal is 8.91 metres tall. Its shape resembles that of other Hellenistic pedestals dedicated at large sanctuaries, such as Delphi.
The gate is framed to the north and south by two rectangular towers. Both the gate and the towers are made of reused building material from earlier structures, such as the choregic monument of Nikias (late fourth century BC), which stood on the south slope of the Acropolis (only the monument's foundations are visible today between the theatre of Dionysus and the stoa of Eumenes). The votive inscription mentioning the choregic victory of Nikias Nikodemos is embedded in the wall above the gate's epistyle.
The monument is currently under conservation by the Department of Restoration of Ancient Monuments of the Ministry of Culture.
After the departure of the Persians, both the city of Athens and the Acropolis were given new walls. The northern, or Themistoclean, wall was the first to be built using material from the monuments destroyed by the Persians. North of the Erechtheion one may notice the unfinished marble drums of the Pre-Parthenon, while further to the west are fragments from the entablature (cornices, triglyphs and metopes) from the Old temple of Athena. The southern, or Kimonean, wall was erected under Kimon after the victory at Eurymedon in 467 BC. The wall's construction necessitated the creation of a terrace along the south edge of the hill. It, too, used building material (epistyles) from the Old temple and the Pre-Parthenon. The wall remained in use and was built up to approximately the height of the Parthenon under Perikles.
After the Herulian invasion in the third century AD, another wall was built west of the Propylaia. Of its two gates, only the west one, the so-called Beule gate, stands to this day. The Acropolis became a fortress once again and was used as such until the nineteenth century. Another south wall with two bastions, the so-called Koulas, demolished in the nineteenth century, and a second one located at the present Belvedere, were built in the thirteenth century. The southeast corner of the fortification wall was repaired one last time after the Second World War.
The Chalkotheke was a rectangular building, accessed from the north. Its back wall ran parallel to the southern fortification wall. Inside, along the building's longitudinal axis, six columns supported the roof. A portico was added along the facade in the fourth century BC, its northeast corner resting on the steps carved in front of the Parthenon. Cuttings in the bedrock and fragments of the tufa foundations are the only traces left of the Chalkotheke today.
The earliest temple to Athena Polias on the Acropolis, called 'the Old temple' in ancient literary sources, was located between the Erechtheion and the Parthenon. It was probably built in the third quarter of the sixth century BC, on the site of an earlier, Geometric temple and of the even earlier Mycenaean palace. The Old temple was damaged by the Persians in 480 BC, but was repaired soon after; parts of its entablature were incorporated in the Acropolis fortification wall. The temple was damaged again in 406 BC after the completion of the Erechtheion and was never rebuilt. Traces of the temple's altar to Athena are visible on the bedrock, east of the building.
The Old temple was a Doric, peripteral structure with six columns on the short sides and twelve on the long sides. The interior arrangement was quite unusual. The east part of the temple consisted of a distyle pronaos with antae and a naos divided into three naves by two rows of columns. Inside the naos was the wooden cult statue (xoanon) of the goddess Athena. The east part of the temple consisted of three rooms, each dedicated to the worship of Poseidon-Erechtheus, Hephaistus and Boutes. The marble pediments of the Gigantomachy, displayed in the Acropolis Museum, and a sime with lion and ram's heads probably belonged to this temple. The metopes, cornices and roof tiles were also of marble, while the rest of the temple was built of limestone.
The temple was unearthed in 1885 and W. Dοrpfeld was the first to identify it. Only the foundations of its south side, towards the Erechtheion, are visible today, along with two stone column bases from the Geometric temple.