The Acropolis in Athens is one of the most iconic and recognizable landmarks. Located on a rocky hill overlooking the city, the Acropolis has been a site of human habitation since prehistoric times and was home to some of the most significant cultural and architectural achievements of ancient Greece.
The most famous structure on the Acropolis is the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. Athens is named after Athena the Goddess of wisdom, war, protector of the city handicraft, and practical reason. The Parthenon was built between 447 and 432 B.C. The Parthenon is widely considered to be the pinnacle of classical Greek architecture, and its elegant proportions and sophisticated engineering have inspired architects for centuries.
Despite being damaged by earthquakes, invasions, and explosions over the centuries, the Acropolis and its structures have endured as symbols of ancient Greek culture. The restoration efforts are ongoing to preserve the site. When I visited in May 2022 there was extensive construction taking place at the site. The image below explains the work being done and states that the bombardment during the siege of 1687 destroyed the Parthenon to ruins. Attempts to reinforce the ancient structure actually caused more damage. The text in the image goes into much more detail. And although it makes for images of ancient structures with building operations in the background I’m very happy that history is being preserved. People are at least trying to restore the structures.
As you approach the Acropolis, you’ll first see the Propylaea, a monumental gateway that once served as the entrance to the sacred precinct. The Propylaea was built in the 5th century BC and is an impressive display of Doric architecture, with six columns supporting the central portico.
The Doric Order of Greek architecture was the first style of stone temple architecture in ancient Greece. It became popular in the Archaic Period, roughly 750-480 BCE, and replaced the previous style of basic, wood structures. The Doric Order was the first style of Classical Architecture, which is the sophisticated architectural styles of ancient Greece and Rome that set the standards for beauty, harmony, and strength for European architecture. The other two orders are Ionic and Corinthian. Doric Order is recognizable by two basic features: the columns and the entablature.”Source: Study.com
The Temple of Athena Nike
Next, you’ll come to the Temple of Athena Nike, a small temple dedicated to the goddess of victory. The temple is located at the southwest corner of the Acropolis. Despite being the smallest temple at the Acropolis, it holds great historical significance. Its construction was completed in 420 B.C.E. during the High Classical Period, designed by Kallikrates, who was also responsible for the design of the Parthenon. This temple replaced an earlier one, which was destroyed during the Persian Wars, a series of conflicts between the Greek city-states and the Achaemenid Empire of Persia that occurred between 499-449 B.C.E.
Like all Greek temples, the Temple of Athena Nike was considered the dwelling place of the deity, whose image was represented in the statue. As a result, ordinary people were not permitted to enter the temple and instead performed rituals in front of it, where a small altar was situated. Through the space between the columns, they could catch a glimpse of the sculpted figure of the goddess. Only priestesses were granted access to the temple, a position that held high regard in Greek society. The temple housed the statue of Athena Nike, a symbol of victory, and was likely linked to the Greeks’ victory over the Persians about 50 years earlier. Unlike Nike’s usual representation with wings, the statue in this temple, called Athena Apteros, had none. Pausanias, an ancient Greek writer, later explained that the statue was wingless to prevent her from leaving Athens.
In the late 5th century BC, the Erechtheion was built by the architect Mnesikles to replace the Ancient Temple of Athena Polias, which had been partially destroyed by the Persians 60 years earlier. The new temple was a complex structure consisting of two chambers – an eastern room dedicated to Athena and a lower western room that housed shrines of Poseidon-Erechtheus, Hephaistos, and Boutes. The temple’s unique design was necessary to accommodate all of these cults in one building and adapt to the uneven ground of the site. Additionally, the structure had to incorporate symbols related to Poseidon’s battle with Athena for Athens’ supremacy.
The temple was decorated with an Ionic frieze featuring figures of gods, heroes, and mortals that likely depicted scenes related to the temple’s myths and cults. The figures were carved from Parian marble and attached to slabs of gray Eleusinian limestone using metal fasteners. The most famous feature of the Erechtheion was its south porch, which lacked columns and instead supported its roof on the heads of six female statues known as Caryatids. Five of these figures are now on display in the Acropolis Museum, while the sixth is housed at the British Museum. The Greek government has requested the return of the Caryatid but she has not been returned yet. This is the temple I enjoyed seeing the most because of the Caryatid sculptures.
Finally, you’ll reach the Parthenon, the most famous and impressive of the Acropolis’ structures. The Parthenon was designed to be the centerpiece of the Acropolis and the most magnificent temple in Greece. It was constructed using a system of interlocking marble blocks and featured intricate sculptural decorations and intricate friezes depicting scenes from Greek mythology.
Once you reach the summit of the Acropolis you will be able to see the New Acropolis Museum and south-eastern Athens. The southern slopes of the Acropolis, and the Theatre of Dionysus, will be visible in the foreground as pictured below.
The Theatre of Dionysos, originally constructed in the 5th century BC from stone and marble by Lycourgos, is now mostly in ruins. While the auditorium originally held 17,000 seats, only 20 rows have survived. The Greek Archaeological Society began excavating the site around the sanctuary of Dionysos and uncovered the theatre in 1838. A decorative relief at the rear of the stage from the 2nd century BC depicts the life and myths of Dionysos, although most of the figures are missing their heads.
During Athens’ golden age under Pericles, the annual Festival of the Great Dionysia was a major event of the year, first introduced in the 6th century BC by the tyrant Pisistratus. Politicians and wealthy sponsors would finance dramas and comedies by famous writers like Aristophanes, Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles. The monument of Lysicrates is an example of such sponsorship. Visitors from all over Attica would come to enjoy the plays and other festivities. The Theatre of Dionysos was also used by the Romans for state events, ceremonies, and theatrical performances.
Around 500 BC, the Acropolis of Athens was home to a walled open-air sanctuary that was dedicated to Zeus Polieus and located east of the Erechtheion. It’s lesser known and it might be because no foundations of the sanctuary have been uncovered, its trapezoid layout and multiple entrances have been deduced from rock carvings on the Acropolis. The area in the east is believed to have been used to keep oxen for the annual Bouphonia, where oxen were sacrificed. The sanctuary’s main entrance was adorned with a pediment.
Theatre of Herodes Atticus
Herodes Atticus, a wealthy Roman, constructed the Theatre of Herodes Atticus in AD 160 as a tribute to his wife Regilla. This impressive structure has a radius of 38m, providing seating for over 5000 spectators. The seating is made of marble. The theatre was discovered in 1857-58 and restored between 1950-61. Currently, the Athens Festival takes place every summer, utilizing the Theatre of Herodes Atticus for various performances, including musicals, dances, and theatrical plays. Numerous renowned artists and performers from all around the world come to the theatre and create an incredible ambiance.
The view of Athens
The view of the city below from the back of the Acropolis is just wow don’t miss it and take a few photos since it’s something you do want to remember. My shots are below.
The Beulé Gate, which leads to the Propylaia of the Acropolis of Athens, was built as a fortified gate in the Roman era, using materials almost entirely taken from the Choragic Monument of Nikias. Nikias’ monument was constructed in the fourth century BCE and dismantled between the second and fourth centuries CE. Despite this, the inscription from Nikias’ monument can still be seen in the entablature of the Beulé Gate.
The gate was part of the Post-Herulian Wall, a late Roman fortification erected after Athens was sacked by the Germanic Heruli people in 267. The wall helped to reinforce the Acropolis as a military stronghold. Its construction marked a change in the Acropolis’ use, from a religious site to a defensive position. In the medieval period, the gate was fortified and closed off, and during Ottoman times it was built over with a bastion.
The gate was uncovered by the French archaeologist Charles Ernest Beulé between 1852 and 1853. Its discovery was celebrated in France but criticized by Greek commentators and archaeologists due to the excavation’s aggressive means. Today, the gate is mostly used as an exit for visitors to the Acropolis.
The Acropolis remains a stunning example of ancient Greek architecture and a testament to the enduring legacy of ancient Greece. If you’re planning a trip to Athens, a visit to the Acropolis is an absolute must-see, and a chance to immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of this ancient civilization.
Thank you for reading and please feel free to comment. If you want more information on how to get to the Acropolis and other tips check out my guide