Athens Greece Guide
The Complete travel Guide to Athens and Greece

Acropolis

The Acropolis of Athens


Athens


The Acropolis of Athens, the icon of Greece


acropolis of athens

The Acropolis of Athens is a complex of buildings on top of the Acropolis rock looking over Athens that were built nearly 2,500 years ago. The most recognisable building on the Acropolis is the Parthenon, one of the most iconic buildings in the world, it has influenced architecture in practically every western country.

From the White house in the USA to the temples of ancient Rome; there are not many towns without a court building, library, museum or some building that isn't influenced by The Parthenon. No other single man-made structure has had such an impact on architecture as the Acropolis and Parthenon. Acropolis in Greek means "high City" and was used like a citadel when under attack, although most people associate the Acropolis with Athens it is actually uased to describe other citadels in Greece, such as the Acropolis of Rhodes.


The Buildings of the Acropolis


Although the Parthenon is the most famous building on the Acropolis there are others just as interesting like the Propyaia (gate), Erechtheum, Theatre of Dionysus and the temple of Nike. There are also other structures around the Acropolis such as the Odeum/theatre of Herodes Atticus, but these are covered on another page in the website - Around the Acropolis

The Acropolis is 150m (490ft) high and is what most people imagine when they think of Athens or Greece . The Acropolis was once the site of a Mycenaean fortress, some of the Cyclopean walls can still be seen (though used for other buildings), it is believed that Mycenaean Athens was mentioned by Homer in the Odyssey "strong built house of Erechtheus". Although there has been buildings and temples on the Acropolis rock since Mycenaean times it is the structures from the Periclean building program that we see today looking over Athens.


The Buildings of the Acropolis


The Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis were all built between 460 and 430 BC (the Golden age of Athens) under the leadership of Pericles. The building project of the Acropolis was to demonstrate the political and cultural achievements of Athens and Greece. Much of the funding of the Acropolis came from the Delian league (a league of Greek Islands and city states formed to protect each other against the Persians), the other city states begrudged Athens using their money to build the Acropolis, this partly caused the later war between Athens and Sparta (Pelponnesian War).

Since being built over 2,500 years ago the Acropolis has seen many occupying armies come and go, all leaving their mark on it. Over the years the Acropolis has been used as a Byzantine church, an administrative building with the Parthenon as a Cathedral under the Venetians, a Frankish fortress, a Turkish Garrison, an armoury, a mosque and even a harem.

Parthenon on the Acropolis

The Parthenon


The Parthenon is one of the most recognisable buildings in the world and one of the most famous ancient monument up there with the Pyramids in Egypt and the Colosseum in Rome, it is what people imagine when they think of the Acropolis or Athens. Infact many people believe the Parthenon is the Acropolis, not realising that the the Acropolis is a complex of buildings. The Parthenon was built in honour of the patron goddess of Athens, Athina, construction began in 447 BC and completed by 438 BC although decorating the temple wasn't finished until some years later.

Like the other remaining monuments on the Acropolis, the Parthenon was built during the Golden age of Athens under the leadership of Pericles and built by the architects Kallikrates and Iktinos, and all the sculptures by Pheidias. The Parthenon was built on the exact site of a previous Temple dedicated to Athina, this temple was destroyed by the Persians when they sacked Athens and the Acropolis during the Greek-Persian war. It was actually built to give thanks to Athena for salvation from the Persians, but later it was used as the treasury (like most temples) to keep all the money from the Delian league.

The dimensions of the Parthenon are 69.5 metres (228 ft) by 30.9 metres (101.4 ft) with 46 outer columns and inner columns. The exterior columns are are 10.4 metres (34.1 ft) tall and have a diameter of 1.9 metres (6.2 ft). Inside the Parthenon was a 12 metre (40 ft) tall statue of Athina by Pheidias, made out of wood, gold, and ivory. Sadly like many other parts of the Parthenon and Acropolis this has been lost to history, it is believed to have been taken to Constantinople by the Romans, and then looted by crusaders during the middle ages.

Parthenon

The Parthenon, as with most of the Acropolis, that you see today is just a shadow of its former glory, with 2,500 years of earthquakes, vandalism, looting, war and just general erosion this isn't surprising. There once were 72 metopes carved in the high relief all probably painted, only a few still remain on the Parthenon, some are in the Acropolis Museum, British Museum and the Louvre. The metopes depicted all different myths and legends of the Greeks such as the battle of Lapiths and the sack of Troy, all four sides showing a different story. As well as the metopes missing there are many friezes missing too, being damaged or stolen over the years. The worst damage to the Parthenon was in 1687 when the Venetians shelled the Acropolis from Philopappos Hill as the Turks were using the Parthenon as an armoury. The shell ignited the Turkish ammunition an the following explosion destroyed what was left of the roof and toppled columns, much of the sculptures were damaged and were scattered over the floor. When Greece gained control of Athens in 1832, all medieval and Ottoman buildings (including a minaret) were removed from the Parthenon.


The Elgin Marbles


The Parthenon marbles are sometimes known as the Elgin marbles after Lord Elgin. Elgin was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire who got permission from the Ottomans who ruled Greece at the time to remove some of the sculptures from the Acropolis.

Elgin had his agents remove half of all the remaining sculptures from the Parthenon, Erechtheum and Propylaia and shipped them back to Britain. He later sold them to the British museum where they are controversially still displayed today. The Greek Government are still trying to get the marbles returned to Athens and the Acropolis, so far unsuccessfully. Many other parts of the marbles have been returned to Athens from other museums around the world such as the Vatican, Getty museum and others in Sweden and Germany.


The Propylaia


 The Propylaia, Acropolis

The Propylaia is a huge entrance building at the top of the stairway into the main Acropolis complex. This huge entrance was admired through out the ancient world and even in modern times buildings like the Branenburg Gate in Berlin are copies of the Propylaia.

The construction of the Propylaia began in 437BC but was delayed by the Peloponnesian war in 432BC. Like many of the buildings on the Acropolis the architect was Mnesikles. The main building is at the top of the steps and is a rectangle that is divided by a wall into two porticoes with five entrance doors, the rows of columns are both ionic and Doric. The main entrance building once had a blue ceiling and decorated with gold stars, some of this ceiling has been restored in recent years. Either side of the entrance are smaller rooms the one on the north side (your left as you enter) was once a Pinakothiki, art gallery.

propylaia of the acropolis

As with many other buildings on the Acropolis and in Athens, the Propylaia has been used as many different things over the centuries; a Frankish Palace, a Archbishops home and a Turkish fortress and Armoury. During the period it was used as an armoury the Propylaia was struck by lightning (1656) causing and explosion which caused most of the damage you can see today.


The Erechtheum


erechtheum, porch of the caryatids

The Erechtheum was built between 421BC and 407BC and is at the north side of the Acropolis. It is situated on the most sacred site of the Acropolis, legend has it that it's the place Poseidon left his trident marks and where Athina's olive tree grew during their competiton to name the city. The architect was once again Mnesides, but all the sculptures and masonry were done by Phidias. It is thought to be named after the legendry Greek hero Erechtheus, who according to myths was a king of Athens. The Erechtheum is probably the second most know building on the Acropolis after the Parthenon, most people recognising the porch of the maidens from a post card or photograph of Greece.

The building itself consists of four compartments and is built on a slope - the west and north sides are 3 metres (9ft) lower than the east and south sides. The columns were painted and decorated with glass beads and had gilted bronze, the doorways and windows were elaborately carved, unfortunately none of this can be seen today. Over the centuries the Erechtheion has been used as all kinds of different buildings, from a church to a Turkish disdars harem, a far cry from its original purpose as a temple.


The Porch of the Caryatids


The Porch of the Caryatids (Porch of the Maidens) is the south porch and what the Erechtheum is most famous for, and most visible from inside the Acropolis. The six columns holding up the roof are all female figures each sculptured differently and engineered so that their slender necks could take the weight of the roof and still look in real and elegant.

One of the Caryatids was removed from the Acropolis by Lord Elgin and used to decorate his mansion, this is now in the British Museum. He also tried to remove a second figure which was smashed to pieces, this was later reconstructed with cement and iron rods. The remaining five Caryatids have now been replaced by exact copies and the original ones are now kept safety in the Acropolis Museum.


The Temple of Athena Nike


 

The Temple of Athena Nike is on the right hand side of the Propylaia as you walk up the stairs to the Acropolis and is named after the Godess Athena who was sometimes worshiped like this, Nike means 'victory'. Like many of the building on the Acropolis the Temple of Nike sits on the site of older temples, the previous one being destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC. It was designed by the architect Kallikrates with four columns forming a portico on both the front and back, a few years later a parapet was added to stop people falling from the high bastion.

Temple of Athena Nike, Acropolis

Inside the temple there was a statue of the Goddess Athena made from wood, holding a helmet in her left hand and a pomegranite in the other, the pomegranite symbolized fertility. The temple also has friezes depicting gods and battles the south frieze shows the battle of Plataea.


The Acropolis of Athens - Information


The Acropolis is the most famous building in both Greece and Athens, it has such famous ancient structures like the Parthenon, Erechtheum, Temple of Nike and the Propylaia.

Location - The Acropolis is next to Plaka in the centre of Athens, the main entrance is just off Areopagitou street.

Nearest Metro Station: Acropolis or Monastiraki.

Entrance fee: 12 euros, this ticket also allows you to enter the following places for free - Acropolis museum, Theatre of Dionyisos, Ancient Agora, Stoa of Attalos, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Kerameikos, Oberlander museum, Temple of Zeus and the Roman Agora and is valid for 7 days.

Opening hours: (summer) Tue - Sun 08:00 - 19:00. Monday - 11:00 - 19:00. (Winter) Tue - Sun 08:30 - 14:30. Monday - 11:00 -14:30. Closed on all public holidays.

Tips: Get there early to miss the crowds. Take plenty of water, there is little shade on the Acropolis especially in the summer.