The Acropolis of Athens is a hill 156 meters high with a temple complex built on it, which protected the citizens from enemy raids. The upper city, which occupies an area of 300 by 130 meters, was built over the centuries, from the ancient Greek archaic period to the era of Roman Greece. Today, the Acropolis in Athens is the most visited attraction in the Greek capital: history buffs will not mind the scaffolding that surrounds the ancient temples, nor the continuous excavations, nor the blazing sun. Nor are they embarrassed by the fact that much of the decor is the work of modern masters who made copies instead of the originals stored in the halls of European museums.
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Video: View of the Acropolis of Athens from above
History of the Acropolis
According to legend, the founder of Athens and the Upper City was half-man-half-snake Cecrops. It was he who chose the goddess of wisdom as his patroness and erected the first temples in her honor. In the following centuries, more magnificent buildings were erected on their ruins until all the Acropolis buildings, with the exception of the fragmentally preserved temple of Hecatompedon, were destroyed by the Persians in the fifth century. In the time of Pericles and immediately after his death, the best works of ancient architecture – Parthenon and Erechtheion – decorated the hill.
In the era of early Hellenism and the submission of Greece to Rome, several theaters appeared at the foot of the hill. The Christians converted the pagan temples into Christian ones, not reconstructing them, but partially changing the interiors. The Turks, who came to the Balkans in the 15th century, used the buildings of the Acropolis of Athens as mosques. There were no significant changes on the hill until the Venetians shelled the city with cannons in the 17th century. Many of the temples were destroyed and their costly reconstruction has not yet been completed.
In the XIX century, some of the sculptures decorating the facades of the temples were taken to France and Great Britain, the dispute about their belonging is still going on today.
Panorama of the Acropolis in Athens
Architectural features of the Acropolis in Athens
The territory of the hill was built up gradually, new buildings were erected on the ruins or unfinished foundations of the former ones. The works were frozen for decades due to lack of funds. In general, even in ancient times the hill was almost always a construction site. The oldest surviving sites on the Acropolis, like the Parthenon, were built at the end of the reign of the strict Doric order with massive columns. The buildings close to them, like the Propylaeum, exhibit elements of the more decorative Ionic style along with the Doric. The later Erechtheion is an example of Ionic architectural order.
Video: Chronology of the Acropolis in Athens
The Parthenon – the most important temple of ancient Athens
The central, upper point of the Acropolis panorama is the temple of the Parthenon, dedicated to Athena, the patroness of the city. It is the pinnacle of the work of the architect Ictinus, who, however, did not act alone, but with a team of like-minded people. The material for the temple was white marble quarried nearby, which took on a golden glow in the sunlight. These features of the stone are noticeable now, while in ancient times the temple and all the statues were painted in bright colors – red, blue, yellow.
All works, beginning with the creation of the project and finishing with the decoration of the Parthenon were carried out under Pericles, from 447 to 432 B.C. According to the plan of the architects, the temple on the Acropolis in Athens should have surpassed all existing ones. Formally a rectangular building in plan it rested on three marble steps and was surrounded on the perimeter by a colonnade more than 10 m high. People entered the temple through the western entrance with low steps. What tourists see today are the columned steps.
The credit of the architects is that they put the laws of optics at the service of the architecture. The columns widen in the center, the corner columns and the floor are situated at an angle – all this creates a feeling of rigorous straightness. In addition, thanks to the tricks of the architects, the Parthenon looks strictly proportional from any vantage point – both from the Lower City and when approaching it.
Sculptures of Phidias
A giant, 13-meter statue of Athena, which has not survived to this day, was prepared for the temple by Phidias, the author of one of the wonders of the world – the statue of Zeus the Olympic. The wooden figure of the armed warrior-goddess, according to the speculations of historians, was decorated with precious stones, ivory and gold. This is indirectly confirmed by the records found containing the builders’ reports on the purchased materials – in total the statue took about a ton of metal. The approximate appearance of the warrior was reconstructed thanks to copies made in ancient times, one of which is preserved in the National Museum of Athens. The goddess, clad in a long robe and wearing a helmet, was leaning on a shield with her left hand and holding the figure of the winged Nike in her right hand extended to the audience.
In addition to Athena Parthenos, the master and his pupils produced the relief plates-metopes for the Parthenon frieze. Some of these were taken by Lord Elgin to Britain in the nineteenth century and are now on display in the British Museum, in a huge separate room, adorning the marble walls at visitors’ eye level. More recently, there was a traveling exhibition of the collection at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg – an unprecedented occasion, since the Parthenon sculptures have never been exported. Greece is suing Britain in the hope of returning the artifacts to their homeland, since it was the Turks, under whose oppression the country was, and not the Greeks, who gave permission for their export. However, in Greece, too, there is something to see: there are more than 40 original plates. The sculptures in the pediment, unlike the reliefs, are virtually intact and have survived only in fragments.
Equestrian frieze of the Parthenon, West Part II, 2-3, British Museum Procession on the south side of the frieze, X XI, 26-28, British Museum
Further history of the Parthenon
The temple was partially damaged by fire in antiquity, then, in the 6th century, after the final decline of Athens, became a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The statues and the interior of the Parthenon suffered during the remodeling for the needs of the cult, and the walls were painted in place of the old decorations. Under the Turks, starting from the 15th century the building served as a mosque. All this time the temple was in relative safety, until in 1687 the Venetians in another conflict with the Turks shelled it, provoking the destruction. Decorative details were partly exported outside the country. At the end of the nineteenth century, restoration work began, incomplete to this day.
The Erechtheion – the memory of the legendary king
Temples were built not only in honor of the gods, but also in memory of mortals. Such an honor was bestowed on King Erechtheion, who, according to legend, was buried here. According to another opinion, it was at this point in the Acropolis of Athens, where the Erechtheion appeared in 421-406 BC, that Athena and Poseidon argued for supremacy in the region. It was Athena who whitewashed the temple, but the temple was dedicated to both of them just in case. Erechtheus, who ruled Athens, was no stranger to the gods either: he died at the behest of an enraged Poseidon. The picturesque, multilevel ruins of the Erechtheion lie to the north of the Parthenon. The building is made of several varieties of marble – snow-white Parosian, golden-white Pentelian and grayish Eleusinian.
Unlike the outwardly straight, majestic Parthenon, the Erechtheion is composed of parts of different heights. The reason lies in the unevenness of the ground – the architect had to overcome the peculiarities of the relief. Mnesicles had already justified his confidence in Pericles by constructing the entrance gate to the Acropolis, the Propylaeum. Not to offend the gods, the architect divided the temple’s space cleverly: Athena had the eastern part, Poseidon and Erechtheus the western part. The southern portico of the Erechtheion is supported by caryatids – female figures replacing columns. Today there are copies of the statues on the site of the ancient sculptors, the originals are preserved in the Acropolis Museum and in the British Museum.
The history of the Erechtheion follows the path of the Parthenon: the building survived Christianization and the invasion of the Turks, but was destroyed in the struggle with the Venetians. Subsequently, the Italians tried to put the parts together like a construction set, so that the general outline of the temple was restored, but the impression of ruin still remained.
Propylaeum – the main gate of the complex.
Tourists enter the Acropolis of Athens through the western gate, the Propylaeum. The six massive Doric columns of the central entrance resemble the Parthenon, the main part of which was completed by the time of construction. The side Ionic columns, lighter and more decorative, relieve the sense of tension. Once there was an art gallery and a library adjoining the gate – archeologists managed to find traces of them and recreate their outlines in volumetric models. Now the general complex of the gate is basically restored, the ruined columns were replaced by copies.
The Temple of Nika Apteros
In front of the main gate there is a small temple with four Ionic columns with spirals scrolls on top, at the edges of the porticoes. The sanctuary was intended to guard the entrance to the Acropolis. Once inside was a statue of Athena, whose usual companion was Nika, the goddess of victory. Usually she was depicted winged, but this temple was an exception; it was not by chance that its patroness was named Apteros – “wingless”. The reason for this deviation from the canons, according to legend, is considered a small cunning of the Athenians. They deprived Victory of her wings so that she would never fly away from the city.
The temple was erected during the Peloponnesian War, so the building was decorated with reliefs depicting the victories of the people of Attica over the Persians and Spartans for further inspiration. The Turks dismantled the temple for building materials to erect fortifications against the Venetians. Today’s temple was restored much later, the original sculptures were given to the New Museum. The active phase of work has not passed, so the temple of Nika is often closed to visitors.
Several other objects remain in the Acropolis in the form of foundation remnants or shapeless ruins. In the eastern part of the complex is the sanctuary of Pandion, presumably named after the legendary king of Attica. Between the Parthenon and the Erechtheion is the Hecatompedon, the oldest temple of the Acropolis of Athens. A hundred years before the Parthenon it was the main sanctuary of the patroness of the city of Athens. What remains of it are the foundations of the columns and the limestone sculptures, preserved in remnants of paint, discovered during the excavations. On the right side of the Propylaeum are the modest ruins of the sanctuary of Artemis and the armory. Behind the Erechtheion was the sanctuary of Pandrosa with the altar of Zeus and the olive tree planted by Athena herself. Nearby was a tiny building where noble girls worked weaving peplos, outer women’s clothing, for the statue of Athena for the Panathenaic Games, Attica’s largest competition.
Acropolis Tourist Trails
Not sophisticated in archaeology and architecture tourist is difficult to understand the ancient Greek ruins: at first glance, all the ruins are similar to each other, mixed periods and styles. In order not to get lost, you can choose simple landmarks. The main gate from the west is the Propylaeum, the modest temple in front of it is the sanctuary of Nike. The largest rectangular cluster of columns, visible in all directions, is the Parthenon. A smaller building, harmoniously combining columns of different height and porticoes decorated with female figures – the Erechtheion. Walking around the Acropolis in Athens is also possible at night – the objects are illuminated by powerful floodlights.
New Acropolis Museum
The Acropolis Museum of Athens, which housed decorative fragments of the buildings of the Upper City, was opened in 1874. Over time, the collection grew so large that the existing halls and storerooms were insufficient to store the objects. The new building, much larger than the old one, needed to be located near the Acropolis. The troubles with the project began in the 1970s, and lasted until the end of the century: either the Greek authorities could not find suitable architects, or the land could not withstand any criticism. Finally, the builders began to dig under the foundations and discovered new archaeological finds. Work on the site was frozen until the architects proposed a project that did not affect the ground layer.
The three-level complex opened in 2009, 300 meters south of the complex, next to the Acropolis metro station. Its basement is supported by a hundred columns, and its glass floor allows visitors to admire the excavations passing beneath their feet. The glass walls offer a fantastic view of the Acropolis. There is a cafe on the lower floor and a souvenir shop and bookstore on two levels. In tourist season the museum welcomes visitors from 8 am to 8 pm, on Friday – until 10 pm, on Monday – until 4 pm, in winter works on a reduced schedule. Tickets for adults cost 5 euros.
New Acropolis Museum
The greatest number of tourists come to Athens from April to October, although the Acropolis welcomes visitors all year round. The tour of the complex will take about two hours and should be planned for early morning, around 8 o’clock, until the marble is warm under the rays of the sun. In the evening before 6 o’clock is still hot, the main flow of organized tourists goes to 15 hours. Always take drinking water and choose non-slip shoes without heels.
The ticket for a tour of the Acropolis in Athens with theaters on the slopes of the hill and located nearby Agora and the Temple of Zeus costs 12 euros. It is difficult to see all the sights at once, so the ticket for a single visit to each site is valid for 4 days. There is usually a queue at the Acropolis ticket office, but you can avoid it if you buy a ticket near another historical monument from the list. During the Night of Museums in May and European Heritage Days in September, you can get free entrance to the complex.
View of Athens from the Acropolis
How to get there
There are several public transport stops close to the Acropolis. The most convenient way is to get off at the metro station of the same name on the M2 branch, next to which there is a streetcar and bus interchange. A little further south is the stop of streetcars 1, 5, 15. From the south there is a bus number 230. From the subway and from the Acropolis Museum, an electric tram takes guests to the ticket office.
Holidays and Festivals at the Acropolis
Taking over the summer and part of the fall, the Athens Festival has chosen the Odeon of Herodes as one of its main venues – a perfectly preserved theater built in 165 AD. It is permanently closed and visitors can only get in during concert events with tickets. The capacity of the theater is about 5000 spectators.
The same fate was destined for the Dionysus Theatre, located on the eastern side of the southern slope of the Acropolis. In the heyday of Attica it was the venue for comedy and tragedy writing competitions, and under the Romans it was used for gladiatorial fights. During the reconstruction it is planned to reinforce the stone tiers and add a few rows of spectators.
Hotels near the Acropolis
Hotels in the Acropolis area are expensive, but you should book well in advance because of the high demand. Next to the New Museum is the 4-star Herodion Hotel, and to the southeast is The Athens Gate Hotel, which has earned excellent reviews from guests. The 4-star aparthotel AVA Hotel and Suites to the east of the hill will cost tourists about one and a half times as much as a hotel with rooms.
View of the Acropolis from the restaurant of the Herodion Hotel The Athens Gate Hotel
Restaurants and cafes near the Acropolis
In addition to the museum cafe, you can eat at several restaurants around the perimeter of the hill. Southwest of the Propylaeum, at the foot of the semi-wild “Hill of Muses” Park, next to the bus stop of bus line 230, is the Dionysos Restaurant with its magnificent views of the Acropolis from the summer veranda. A little to the east is the national cuisine restaurant Strofi. On the north side of the hill is Stamatopoulos Taverna, opened back in 1882. The cramped Klepsidra Café is located in a narrow street with graffiti on the walls. Nearby is Anafiotika with live music.
Attractions around the Acropolis
The Acropolis area concentrates the main historical landmarks of Athens. To the east are the ruins of the temple of Zeus the Olympic, or rather one corner of it, the perfectly preserved temple of Hephaestus and the remains of the market square-agora to the north-west. To the west is the Areopagus, the rocky hill where the authorities of Athens met.
The Acropolis of Athens (Greece) is the most popular and interesting attraction, which several million travelers come to see every year. It can be seen from various points of the city, because the government has prohibited the construction of high-rise buildings nearby that could obscure the landmark. People unfamiliar with a map of Athens can use the Acropolis as a landmark so as not to get lost in the narrow streets of the city.
History of the Acropolis
In ancient Greece, the term “acropolis” meant a well-fortified place or settlement. Several millennia ago the main city was located here, protected by strong fortifications from enemies. Even before the Mycenaean era, the Acropolis was a majestic city. It held numerous temples with cult objects and other important government buildings. Because of the monumental nature of the buildings, it is assumed that the mythical Cyclopes took part in the construction of the Acropolis. Only they were able to lift huge boulders.
In the period from XV to XIII century BC the Acropolis was the royal residence. If we believe in the reality of the myths, this was the residence of Theseus, to whom the victory over the Minotaur belongs.
By the 7th century BC the main patroness of the Acropolis was Athena. Her cult was widespread and a beautiful temple was erected in honor of the goddess. A century later, Pisistratus began to actively build up the Acropolis, there were new buildings of the Propylaeum and the Areopagus.
Alas, but during the war with the Persians, the Acropolis was badly damaged. Most of the buildings were completely destroyed. The Greeks did not accept the fall of their beloved city and vowed to revive its greatness. With the advent of peace in 447 BC, the builders, under the direction of the famous sculptor and architect Phidias, set about rebuilding the Acropolis. They rebuilt it completely, some of the temples of the Acropolis of that period have survived to this day. Among them are the Erechtheion, the temple of the goddess Nike, the statue of Athena, as well as the Parthenon.
Until the 3rd century AD the Acropolis existed in relative peace so the inhabitants were able to increase the architectural wealth of the city considerably. Statues of kings and new temples appeared, but the danger of another invasion forced them to switch to fortifying the walls.
For the next few centuries the power over the Acropolis changed. Other saints were worshipped in the temples, and the main structures changed their purpose. Having regained power, the Greeks began to actively rebuild the Acropolis. The main task of the builders was to return the place to its original appearance.
Architecture of the Acropolis
Today the Acropolis is the largest temple complex. Thanks to the work of restorers, many structures appear almost in pristine condition. They amaze with snow-white columns, labyrinthine corridors and high walls. Entrance to the territory was made through the gates. One of them is called the Bulet Gate after the archeologist who found it. It was built in a strong fortress wall in 267 BC.
Immediately behind the gate began the Propylaea, buildings that immersed travelers in the world of the Acropolis. They consisted of a long colonnade with porticoes. After walking through the corridors, the travelers came before a statue of Athena, the patroness of the city. The statue was so large that her helmet and spear were visible from ships that passed nearby.
Behind the Propylaea, tourists see the Temple of Nica Apteros (the Wingless Nica). It is a small building with four columns and sculptures placed on a ribbon of frieze. The wingless goddess of victory was made on purpose so that she could not fly away from the Greeks.
The most important temple of the Acropolis, the Parthenon, is located almost in the heart of the ancient city. It is the greatest structure built in honor of Athena. The temple is over 70 meters long and 30 meters wide. The perimeter is decorated with huge ten-meter columns.
Many of the structures of the Acropolis belong to the architect Phidias. He also created a beautiful statue of Athena, which reached a height of 12 meters. The statue was decorated with many decorative elements symbolizing invincibility. Some of the vestments and decorations were made of gold.
Not far from the Parthenon there is another beautiful temple, the Erechtheion. It is dedicated to King Erechtheus, Athena and Poseidon. The building also served as a vault, treasury and place of worship. Because of the unevenness of the terrain, the western part is lower than the other sides.
The structures of the Athenian Acropolis are very varied, in addition to those listed above, the following buildings can be singled out:
- The Sanctuary of Aphrodite. There are ruins of a temple with a beautiful architrave covered with figures of doves with garlands.
- The sanctuary of Artemis. This structure from the time of Pisistratus is decorated with a large colonnade and statues of Artemis.
- The Temple of Augustus, built in honor of the Roman Emperor, is compact in size and round in shape. Its diameter is 8.5 m and the perimeter is decorated with nine columns.
- Sanctuary of Zeus. A small temple which was divided by a low rim into a hall of the temple itself where the rituals took place and a place for the offerings.
- Chalcoteca. A special room where all the necessary attributes were kept for the rituals in honor of Athena. It was situated not far from the temple of Artemis.
- The theater of Dionysus. A beautiful building in the south of the Acropolis. According to legend, the people of the city killed Dionysus, thinking that he wanted to poison them. To redeem themselves, they began to hold noisy feasts on the day of his death in the Theater of Dionysus.
The process of rebuilding the Acropolis is not yet complete. There are several reconstruction programs, financed both by the state and by independent charitable societies. Scientists believe that the Acropolis has not yet revealed all of its secrets, so research and archaeological excavations continue.
In addition to the ruins of ancient buildings, it is worth visiting the Acropolis Museum. At first it was located in a small room near the Parthenon. The first expositions were exhibited there in 1878. Gradually the number of exhibits increased and it was decided to build a modern building. Today the museum is located 300 meters from the city walls.
The galleries display the archaeological finds discovered in the Acropolis. Among them are the Parthenon friezes and sculptures of masters of the V century BC. There are many sculptures from the temples, depicting scenes of battles of the gods, giants, Hercules, figures of the Caryatids and Moschophoros. Some of the statues require a strict temperature regime, which is closely monitored by the museum staff.
The complex is open daily from 8:00 to 18:30, except for public holidays. There is a paid entrance fee of 12 Euros. Citizens of the European Union are offered discounts: the cost of entry for pensioners and students is 6 euros, and schoolchildren visit the sights for free. The tourists have the right to visit the sights for four days with a single ticket. To get to the Acropolis Museum, you must pay an additional fee of 1 euro.
It will take 4 to 6 hours to explore the many temples in detail, so you should stock up on water and sunscreen. Comfortable clothes and shoes are welcome. Although it rarely rains here, the marble steps can be slippery in dry weather as well.