The Acropolis

The rocky hill of the Acropolis ("topmost part of the city") rises to 156 meters in the middle of the Attica basin.  Three of its sides are sheer and its top can only be reached from the west.  On top of the Acropolis there is a large (300 x 150 meters) space.  On its slopes there have been springs of drinking water since antiquity.  This naturally fortified rock was an easily defended site and invited settlement as early as the Neolithic age (3000 BCE).  By degrees, the hill began to be transformed into what was primarily a place of worship.  In the Archaic period, the Acropolis became firmly established as the sanctuary of Athena. In the mid-5th century BCE, Pericles persuaded the Athenians to begin a grand program of new building work in Athens that has come to represent the political and cultural achievements of Greece. The work transformed the Acropolis with three contrasting temples and a monumental gateway. The Theater of Dionysus, on the south slope, was developed further in the 4th century BCE and the Odeion of Herodes Atticus was added in the 2nd century CE.

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The Acropolis from the Electra PalaceThe Acropolis as seen from our first hotel in Athens, the Electra Palace.

The Acropolis as seen from the AeropagusThe Acropolis as seen from the Aeropagus (Hill of Ares). The monuments on the western slope of the Acropolis - the Propylaea, the marble pedestal of Agrippa and the small temple of Athena Nike - are visible.

Acropolis from Lycabettus HillThe Acropolis, the hill of Philopappos, Piraeus and the Saronic Gulf as seen from Lycabettus Hill at dusk.

The Beulé GateThe modern entrance to the Acropolis is a gate within the walls built after the raid of the Heruli, a Germanic people, in 267 BCE. It is called the Beulé Gate after Ernest Beulé, the French archeologist who discovered it in 1852. Once through the Beulé Gate, straight ahead is the Propylaea. The PropylaeaThe  Propylaea was built in 437- 432 BCE by the architect Mnesicles to form a new entrance to the Acropolis.  The Propylaea comprises a rectangular central building divided by a wall into two porticos. Two wings flank the main building. The colonnades along the west and east sides had a row of Doric columns while two rows of Ionic columns divided the central corridor into three parts. The Eleusis marble pedestal of the statue of Agrippa is also visible at left.  The monumental marble staircase was added in 52 CE. The PinakothikiThe northern wing of the Propylaea was home to the Pinakothiki (picture gallery).  Inside it, paintings hung on the walls and there were couches on which those tired out from the ascent could rest.
Processional routePart of the processional route followed during the Panathenaic Festival leading to the Propylaea. The Beulé Gate is also visible is the background. Ionic columns of the PropylaeaThe six Ionic columns of  the central section of the Propylaea.  Eastern portico of the PropylaeaThe eastern hexastyle portico of the Propylaea faces towards the interior of the Acropolis.  The columns of the porticos are Doric.

West facade of the Nike templeThe west facade of the Temple of Athena Nike (Wingless Victory). The temple is located on the south western edge of the Acropolis rock and was dedicated to Athena Nike, the goddess who gave victories to the city of Athens. Built of Pentelic marble, the temple has four Ionic columns, each 4 meters (13 feet) high at each portico end.

Temple of Athena NikeThe small Ionic Temple of Athena Nike as seen from the columns of the Propylaea.  It was built  in 427-424 BCE to commemorate the Athenians' victory over the Persians. Designed by Kallikrates, the temple stands on a 9.5 meter (31 feet) bastion.

The Parthenon from the NWThe Parthenon, a.k.a. The Temple of Athena Parthenos (Maiden), from the northwest.  Work on the temple lasted from 447 BCE to 432 BCE.  The architects were Iktinos and Kallikrates, both of them renowned in their day.  The sculptures were executed by Pheidias, one of the greatest artists of all time. West facade of the ParthenonThe west facade of the Parthenon.  The three statues of the west pediment, depicting the dispute between Athena and Poseidon, are copies of the originals which are in the Acropolis Museum.  The metopes are all original.  The external Doric frieze had 92 metopes decorated with scenes in relief.  On the west side, these depicted the Battle of the Amazons.  The surviving metopes can be seen today in the British Museum, the Louvre, the Acropolis Museum, and some, such as these, are still attached to the temple itself. Kekrops and his daughterDetail of a sculpture on the west pediment of the Parthenon.  It represents Kekrops and his daughter.  This is a replica of the original which is in the Acropolis Museum.
The Acropolis from the SWThe Acropolis from the southwest, as seen from the roof of the Divani Palace, the hotel that we stayed in on our last night in Athens. The Parthenon from the SW

The Parthenon from the southwest.  The Parthenon is built of Pentelic marble and is a fundamentally Doric structure with Ionic elements.  The metopes on the south side depict the Battle of the Centaurs.
Centaur and LapithDetail of a fight between a centaur and a Lapith from the west end of the southern side of the Parthenon.  This is the only metope preserved in situ on the south side. The vertical carvings of the triglyphs alternate with the metope carvings.
The Parthenon from the SEThe Parthenon from the southeast.  In order to produce more aesthetically satisfactory results, the architects made use of visual trickery to counteract the laws of perspective. The columns of the building are not geometrically straight but slightly curved. Entasis (a bulge in the middle) makes each column look straight.  The columns taper as they rise and are inclined towards the center of the temple.  The corner columns are thicker than the others. The base of the temple is higher in the middle than at the edges. The steps curve upwards slightly at the center to make them appear level from a distance. These methods were employed to correct the distortion created by the human eye.

East facade of the ParthenonThe east facade of the Parthenon, from which the temple was entered.  This side is decorated with a depiction of the Battle of the Giants (metopes), the birth of Athena from the head of Zeus (pediment) and the presentation of the 'peplos' brought here by the Panathenaic procession (internal Ionic frieze).  Both the east and west facades are Doric colonnades of six columns (amphiprostyle). Each column was constructed from fluted drums of marble. The fluting was added once the columns were in place.

The Parthenon from the NEThe Parthenon from the northeast. The entire building is surrounded by a Doric peristyle of eight columns on the short side and seventeen on the long styles (peripteral temple).  The metopes on the north side depict the Fall of Troy.

The top of the AcropolisThe Parthenon (left), the Erechtheum (right), and the Propylaea (center). 

East pediment of the ParthenonDetail of a sculpture on the south end of the east pediment of the Parthenon. The sculptures of the pediment are replicas of the originals which are in the British Museum.

Horse head and lion waterspoutA horse head and lion spout from the northeast corner of the Parthenon.  The horse is part of Selene's chariot and is a replica of the original which is located in the British Museum.

The Erechtheum from the SWThe Erechtheum from the southwest.  The Erechtheum dominates the north side of the Acropolis.  The architect of the Erechtheum, whose name is unknown,  exploited the uneven surface at this point to create an unusual temple built on different levels. Inside, Athena Polias and Poseidon were worshipped, along with the deities associated with the mythical past of Athens, including Erechtheus, who gave his name to the temple.

North porch of the ErechtheumThe north porch of the Erechtheum.  The Erechtheum is built in the Ionic order with porches on its east, north and south sides.  The north porch encompassed an altar to Poseidon.  It has a monumental door leading to the west room that supposedly marked the site where Poseidon opened the salt water spring.

Western facade of the ErechtheumThe western facade of the  Erechtheum.    It was built in the fifth century (421-414 and 409-406 BCE) on the spot where, according to tradition, Athena and Poseidon had disputed over the naming of Athens.  Next to the temple was a sacred olive tree of Athena and in a well was the sea water that was a Poseidon's gift to the city.  The existing olive tree was planted in modern times to replace the ancient one.

Erechtheum from the southThe southern facade of the  Erechtheum showing the predominate feature on the south side, the porch of the Caryatids. The Erechtheum housed the old olive wood cult statue of Athena. Though less magnificent than Pheidias' gold and ivory statue in the Parthenon, the early statue was considered more sacred. The CaryatidsThe porch of the Caryatids.  These are six female statues set in place of columns.  Although their function is primarily to support the entablature, they look light and graceful.  The bend in one leg breaks the monotony of the vertical axis, while the heavy, dense folds on the other leg give the overall composition variety and balance.  One of the Caryatids is now in the British Museum, while the others are kept in the Acropolis Museum to prevent further deterioration.  The figures we see on the Erechtheum are casts. The Erechtheum from the SEThe  Erechtheum (right) and the Propylaea (distant left) from the southeast.
Erechtheum Ionic ColumnClose-up of an Erechtheum Ionic Column from the east porch.

The south slope of the AcropolisThe south slope of the Acropolis played a significant role in the artistic, spiritual and religious activity of ancient Athens. Important public buildings were erected in the area including the Odeion of Herodes Atticus (left) and the stoa of Eumenes (right).

The stoa of EumenesThe hind wall of the stoa of Eumenes, located on the south slope of the Acropolis. The stoa is dated to the Hellenistic period and is attributed to Eumenes II, the king of Pergamos (197-159 BCE). The stoa was constructed along the "peripatos", the road which runs above it and runs around the bottom of the hill.
Hind wall of HerodeionThe hind wall of the Odeion of Herodes Atticus, located on the south slope of the Acropolis. The Odeion of Herodes Atticus was donated by Herodes of Marathon in Attica, in memory of his wife Regilla who died in 160 CE.  Herodes, heir to a vast fortune, spent enormous sums on the erection of public buildings throughout Greece.  His odeion was built in 160-174 CE as a venue for musical and dramatic contests. Odeion of Herodes AtticusThe Odeion of Herodes Atticus was shaped as a semicircular theatre and seated an audience of 5,000 spectators.  The walls were tessellated and the floors had marble paving and mosaics.  Also in marble were the seats of the spectators while the three-story facade was elaborately ornamented with columns and recesses.  The odeion was originally enclosed by a cedar wood roof that gave better acoustics and allowed for all-weather performances. The Herodeion from the AcropolisThe Odeion of Herodes Atticus, a.k.a. the Herodeion, is situated at the southwest corner of the Acropolis. It was restored in 1955 and is used today in the summer months for artistic events including plays and concerts, both classical and popular.

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