Acropolis

panoramic view of acropolis


Southwest of central modern city, rises the hill of the Acropolis. A location marked by the centuries old history of the city more than any other. This craggy hill with an approximate height of 150 meters was selected as the ideal fortress location, from the first stages of Athenian life, and later as a religious centre. With a commanding position of the entire area below, from the city to Pireas, it had secured its defense with the steep cliff faces (apart from the west side) keeping it safe until the last century. The level plateau of the acropolis enabled the erection of temples, without the need for embankment.
Though the Acropolis was settled from Neolithic years, it is only from the Mycenaean Age (1200 BC) that architectural lodgings are visible. During this time, the ‘Cyclopean’ fortification was constructed and referred to as the ‘Pelagiko’ by the ancient writers. The Mycenean palace within this fortification has left no evidence, yet the ‘Pelagiko’ wall is clearly visible on thesoutheast Propylaea, despite being integrated in newer fortifications of later ages. During the early Historic Years, the hill became significant in the worship of the Gods. An early temple dedicated to Athena Pallas was built in the 8th century BC, on the earlier location of the Mycenaean palace. On the same location, 6th century BC, a larger temple, known as the ‘ancient temple’ was discovered, and a third, though problematic in its identification is known as the ‘Ekatopedou’ (describing its length of 100 feet - ekato podi). The latter is believed to have existed in the very site the Parthenon occupied.

karyatides The Persians destroyed every building on the in 480 BC. The Athenians upon their return to city, after the Persian Wars buried the temple billets and tributes, and construction began of the new Parthenon under the aegis of Kimon. His sudden death in 449 BC in Cyprus halted the construction program. Pericles now enters the political arena makes the correct political moves and raises the status of the Athenians and empowers her economic position by taking advantage of the Treasury of the First Athenian Alliance, transferring it from Delos to Athens. The construction of the Parthenon begins 470 BC. At her new temple, Athena is no longer worshipped in her warrior form – Pallas – but as the virgin, Parthenos. Work on the Parthenon is completed nine years later, and the construction of the Propylaea begins in 437 BC, but is never completed due to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, 431 BC. During the Nicean Peacetime 421 BC, construction begins of the Erectheion, and is completed between 409 – 405 BC, as is the Temple of Apterou Nike. During the 5th century BC, a number of dwellings were built on the Sacred Rock, that have not been able to resist the pressures of time. However, we are aware of the existence of the copper warehouse, (halkothikis), the temple of Vraronias Artemidos and Ariforios, and the Temple of Dios Polieos. The picture of the acropolis remains the same, without serious intervention throughout the Hellenistic years. During the Roman Period a small cylindrical temple was erected at the northeast entrance to the Parthenon, dedicated to the worship of Rome and Augustus, and in the 3rd Century AD a wall was built on the west side of the hill with two gates, to contend with the barbarian invaders of the time. The west gate stands to this day and is known as the Beulé Gate, named after the French archaeologist who studied the area in 1852. The entrance on the west side of the rock is identified with the Beulé gate that was built immediately after the Eroulean invasion, 267 AD. The gate and the Roman wall that was subsequently built using second hand architectural relics. The north tower on this gate is used as the ticket office of the acropolis today. Directly to the right of the Beulé Gate remains part of the architrave of the temple of Aphrodite Pandemou mentioned by Pausanias after visiting the site during the 2nd century BC. The temple of Aphrodite must have sat somewhere between the temple of Nike and the Irodeion. The architrave bears an inscription and is decorated with garlands and doves. Standing before the north wing of the Propylaea, is a tall pedestal that formed the base of a dedication to Markus Agrippa, son-in-law of Augustus and great benefactor of Athens. It is certain that the pedestal existed before the statue was placed on it. It is possible that it was meant for a four-horsed dedication to Eugene II (2nd century BC), King of Pergamon who was victorious at the Panathenean games of 170 BC.

parthenonThe monumental Propylaea took up practically the entire west face of the sacred rock, and were built on the position of the ancient Propylaea that had been destroyed by the Persians. The architect is noted as Mnesikles; who shouldered the responsibility to design and create Propylaea worthy of the structures it was likened to. Pendelic marble was used and dark coloured stone from Elefsina. This structure was comprised of a central building with two wings and a front row of six Doric columns. The middle of which was longer in relation to the rest, thus enabling access to the religious processionals during festivities. Behind the two central Doric columns, there are two rows with three Ionic columns each, supporting the pediment. The east passage of the Propylaea is built in the same manner and has six Doric columns. The pediment was decorated with painted panels. The central building has two lateral wings. The north wing has a metope of three Doric columns, creating an order of a building with a foyer and right-angled room. The door to this room was positioned centrally and the room was decorated with works of art, hence the name of the building – Pinakotheke (art gallery). It was a restful room for relaxation for the visitors to the temple.

The south wing has the same face with three Doric columns, however without the existence of a room behind it. It was obviously built for aesthetic reasons as dictated by the harmony of the whole site. West of the Propylaean entry and located on a tower is the temple of Nike Apterou, also mentioned by Pausanias. Inside this temple and according to tradition, was the statue of Nike with her wings removed. It is believed the architect Kallikrates constructed the temple before the Peloponnesian War (431 BC). The material used for this Ionian amphiprostyle four columned temple was white marble. The sculptures on the frieze that ran along all four sides of the temple have been saved. The theme of the frieze consists of a symposium of the gods and battles between Greeks and barbarians. The sculptures on the east side of the frieze are authentic, the rest are plaster casts of the originals now located at the British Museum. The temple was destroyed in 1687 AD during the siege of the Venetian Moresini and further by the Turks who used the materials to fortify the Propylaea. The temple owes it current shape to the restoration effort of 1936 – 41. The sanctuary of Vravronias Artemidos is situated southeast of the Propylaea. This sanctuary owes its form to the tyrant Pisistratos, who remodeled it from a gallery into the shape of the letter Pi and with an enclosure that defined the space. Unfortunately, all that has been saved are the sculptures that were carved into the rock during the construction work. Pausanias, who also witnessed the statue of the goddess within, refers to this sanctuary. East of the sanctuary, Vravronias Artemidos is a rectangular building of the 5th century BC, parallel to the wall described as the Halkotheke, a warehouse for the metal offerings to the goddess Athena.

the sacred rockAll that remains are the carvings on the natural bedrock. The building that dominates the sacred rock is the Parthenon, not just by its size, but its aesthetic perfection. Justifiably regarded as the height of international architecture, its conception surpasses the boundaries of time and even to this day is a vehicle of those socio economic conditions that today are referred to as classic. The architects of this brilliant structure are given as Iktinos and Kallikrates, however creative supervision was given to Pheidias. Construction began 447 BC and the temple was completed by 438 BC, the decorative work was completed six years later in 432 BC. It is a Doric, eight columned temple, and seventeen columns in length. The nave is divided in two, the east side housed the statue of Athena with the support of three colonnades, and the west was accessible only through the west side and supported by four Ionic columns, The west side held the treasury of the city. It was made entirely of Pendelic marble. The monument is divided visually into three horizontal parts – the podium, the colonnade and the entablature, all of which combine into a harmonic whole, replacing every straight line with curves. These are the so-called optical refinements, liberating the temple geometrically and turning it into a live organic whole. The temple is decorated along all four sides of the frieze with ninety two metopes.

The east side depicts Gigantomachy (war of the giants), the west depicts Amazonomachy (war of the Amazons), the north depicts scenes from the Trojan War, and the south depicts Centauromachy. The temple’s pediments, possibly an initiative by Pheidias, depict the birth of Athena on the east side, and the battle between Athena and Poseidon on the west. The relief frieze is 160 meters wide, includes 360 humans and a large number of animals during the most significant religious festival of Athens, the Procession of the Panathenaea. The procession begins at the pylons of Keramikos and moves upwards to the Acropolis where the robe of the goddess is handed to her priestess. The length of the temple was decorated with lion heads and gargoyles; the corners of the pediments had promontories of honeysuckle. The choice of the sculptural decoration, even the mythological themes, juxtaposed the city’s history and even the Persian Wars.Within the east section of the shrine a huge gold statue dedicated to Athena stood. The creator of this statue was Phideias. Athena stood with her helmet, protective clothing at her breast, and leaning her left hand on her shield that is situated next to her, and her outstretched right hand holds the statue of Nike. She stood on a built platform. Together the statue and platform would reach 12 meters in height, and kept here until the 5th century BC when it was transported to Constantinople, and hence was lost without a trace. Indicative of the level of Panhellenic recognition of this monument was the shipment of twenty shields from the battlegrounds of Granikos River that Alexander the Great led against the Persians and placed inside the eastern architrave of the temple. Today the markings of these placements are still visible today. The temple escaped with small damages after the fire of 2nd century BC, and in 61 AD, the east architrave has an inscription marked, in honour of the Roman Emperor, Nero. The temple ceases to function during the 5th century AD, after an order of the Byzantine emperor, Theodosios II and is transformed into a Christian church, a niche erected on the east entrance, side doors down the length and stairs raised in the southwest corner. In 1458 AD, the monument is transformed into a Muslim temple. Despite all these changes, the shape of the Parthenon remained unchanged until 1687, when the Venetian Admiral Morosini, bombarded the temple where the Turks had barricaded themselves. During 1801 – 5 the Parthenon was violently stripped of its sculpture decorations by Lord Elgin.

the temple at nightRestorative works on the monuments of the Acropolis began immediately after the creation of the new Greek State and continue until today. The Erechtheion is located north of the Parthenon and in the remains of the ancient temple. An exceptional composite structure, it embodied many points of worship and according to its name seems to have been the home of Erechtheios. Construction began during the Nicaea Peacetime and completed during 405 BC. Architect of at least one phase of the building was someone known as Filoklis of Aharnon. The difficult landscape created an unusual building; the east side is three meters taller than the west. The east is dedicated to the worship of Athena Pallados, and the west to the worship of Erechthea Poseidonas, Iphestos and the hero Voutos. Within the foundations of the building is the grave of Kekropas.

The eastern side of the structure is formed with a prostasis of six ionic columns. On the colonnade of the prostasis is the architrave, sculptured frieze that covered all the top of the building and pediments without decorative sculptures. Externally the west side is formed on two levels of four ionic columns, which were joined via a low wall. The openings between these were closed with balustrade giving the impression of half columns.
The prostasis of the Korres on the south side is an exceptional style. This prostasis is not joined to the building but is believed to have been built on top of the tomb of Kekropas. The six statues that decorate the prostasis – the Caryatids – replace the columns, something that seems to have been inspired by the Knedian and Sifnian treasures at Delphi. These creations mark one of the pinnacle moments in classic sculpture. Today, replicas stand in their place as the originals are within the Acropolis Museum, apart from one that is found at the British Museum. The frieze on the building is composed of dark coloured stone from Elefsina and Pendelic marble, unfortunately, the themes are not clear. The monument changed after many interventions into a church in the 6th century AD and in the 14th century it was converted into a palace by the Catalanian crusaders. The shape of the building today is the result of the last restorative works of 1979 – 1986.

Dating this monument has the scientists divided, as it seems that the last phases of the building coexisted, even for a small number of years, with the Erechtheion. Finally, upon the Sacred Rock, apart from the Parthenon, sat the huge copper statue of Athena, and was located between the Propylaea and the Erechtheion. Phideias created Athena standing tall with spear and shield. She reached a height of nine meters. Today there remain only carvings on the foundation she is believed to have stood, as well as part of the platform decorated with ionic eggs and ankle bracelets, possibly constructed after the victory of the Athenians at the Evrimedonta River.