Acropolis of Athens

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient hill-top citadel located on a rocky outcrop above the city of Athens and contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the most famous being the Parthenon. During ancient times it was known also more properly as Cecropia, after the legendary serpent-man, Cecrops, the supposed first Athenian king.

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While there is evidence that the hill was inhabited as far back as the fourth millennium BCE, it was Pericles (circa 495–429 BCE) in the fifth century BCE who coordinated the construction of the site's most important present remains including the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike. Since 1975 numerous large-scale restoration projects have been undertaken; the latest is expected to finish in 2020.

Archaeological Remains

circa 525 BCE

Old Temple of Athena Polias
The large Archaic temple to the south of the Erechtheion, which today preserves only its foundations, was called the "Old Temple" according to epigraphic evidence. Dedicated to Athena Polias, the patron deity of the city, it housed the xoanon, the wooden cult statue of the goddes to which the Athenians offered a peplos during the Panathenaic festival. The western section of the temple, consisting of three smaller parts, housed the cults of other divinities, possibly Hephaistus, Poseidon-Erechtheion and the hero Boutes.

Built at the site once occupied by the palace of the Mycenaean ruler of Attica, the temple replaced a smaller Geometric one (circa eighth century BCE) also dedicated to Athena Polias. The only remains of this early temple are two stone column bases as well as a bronze disc with an image of Gorgo, which adorned the pediment or the tip of the roof in the seventh century BCE.

The "Old Temple" of Athena, a Doric peripteral building with six columns at the front and rear end and twelve at the sides, measured 43.44 x 21.43 meters. It was built of poros, while Parian marble was used for some upper parts, such as the metopes, pedimental sculptures and tiles. One pediment, was adorned with a sculpted group illustrating the Gigantomachy (the battle between the Olympian gods and the rebellious giants), while the other featured a partially preserved group of lions devouring a bull. The altar, which is no longer preserved, was located to the east of the temple, as is indicated by some cuttings on the rock.

The temple was built circa 525-500 BCE and was associated with the sons of the tyrant Peisistratos or the Athenian people at the time of its establishment of Democracy by Kleisthenes. It was destroyed in 480 BCE, during the Persian invasion. Many of its architectural elements were later incorporated in the northern wall of the Acropolis.

circa 450 BCE

Statue of Athena Promachos
The colossal bronze statue of Athena, known as Athena Promachos, dominated the area between the Propylaea and the Erechtheion, to the left of the visitor walking along the processional way of the Acropolis. It was made by the renowned sculptor Pheidias probably at the bronze foundry situated at the southwest slope of the Acropolis. The Athenians dedicated the statue to Athena, to express their gratitude for her contribution to the victories in the Persian Wars. Later sources refer that its construction was financed from the Persian spoils. However, according to the inscription with the expense accounts, the construction of the statue is dated to 475-450 BCE.

The exact form of the statue is not known, but later copies and coins of the Roman period present the goddedd standing, in a calm pose, wearing a belted peplos (robe). According to another version, the outstretched right hand held a Nike (victory) or an owl. Pausanias, the second century CE traveler, mentions that her shield was decorated with scenes from the Centauromachy (battle between Centaurs and Lapiths), executed by the famous bronze sculptor Mys, following drawings by the painter Parrhasios. The total height of the statue with the pedestal is estimated around nine meters. According to ancient tradition, the point of her spear and the crest of her helmet were visible to sailors at sea off cape Sounion. Athena's pedestal, measuring five square meters, was repaired in the Roman period,probably during the reign of Augustus (circa 31 BCE to 14 CE). Fragments of its crowning with relief mouldings have been preserved to the present day.

Phidias' masterpiece was carried to Constantinople, and was placed at the hippodrome, probably in the fifth century CE. There, it was destroyed by the crowd during the siege of the city by the Franks in 1204 CE, because it was considered that the outstretched hand of the goddess beckoned the enemy.

circa 432 BCE

Construction of the majestic Parthenon began in 447 BCE when the Athenian Empire was at the peak of its power. It was completed in 438 BCE, although decoration of the building continued until 432 BCE. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece. In the final decade of the 6th century CE, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. After the Ottoman conquest, it was turned into a mosque in the early 1460s.

circa 432 BCE

The monumental gateway to the Acropolis, the Propylaea, was one of several public works commissioned by the Athenian leader Pericles in order to rebuild the Acropolis at the conclusion of the Persian Wars. According to Plutarch, the Propylaea was designed by the architect Mnesicles, about whom nothing else is known. Construction began in 437 BCE and was terminated in 432 BCE, when the building was still unfinished. The Propylaea was constructed of white Pentelic marble and gray Eleusinian marble or limestone, which was used only for accents.

circa 421 BCE

The Pandroseion, a sanctuary dedicated to Pandrosus, was founded north of the Old temple of Athena already during the Archaic period. Pandrosos, the kind and obedient daughter of the legendary king of Athena, Kekrops, was the first priestess of Athena Polias, the patron goddess of the city.

The Pandroseion (illustration) was founded in the area of the Acropolis where the oldest sacred spots of the Athenian mythology were located, such as the signs of the contest between Athena and Poseidon for the patronage of the city; the sacred olive tree, which according to the legend sprung when the goddess struck the rock with her spear, giving her the victory; the salty spring, which appeared when Poseidon struck his trident; and the tomb of king Kekrops (inspect), who was the judge or a witness of the contest of the two gods, according to the myth.

The sacred olive tree of Athena was enclosed in the sanctuary of Pandrosos, while Kekrops' tomb was protected by a separate precinct wall at the south-east. The early Pandroseion, whose form is unknown, was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BCE.

Today, the remains of this structure are quite scant. Very few stones of this classical sanctuary are preserved at the west wall of the Erechtheum, as well as parts of the foundation of its north boundary. These remains indicate that it was an open-air sanctuary of a trapezoidal plan with a stoa of the Ionic order at the north-side. The entrance (inspect) of the sanctuary was a small propylon (gate) at the eastern end of the stoa. The altar of Herkeios Zeus, protector of the family, was located in the court under the sacred olive tree.

The Pandroseion underwent alterations when the Erechtheion was built attached to its eastern end (circa 431-406 BCE or 421-406 BCE). Then, the entrance was through a small undecorated door at the right of the elaborate entrance at the north porch of the Erechtheum, while the two sancturies were also directly connected with a small door in the western wall of the Erechtheion. At that time, the court of the sanctuary was paved and part of Kekrops' tomb was integrated under the porch of the Caryatids.

The olive tree that exists in the sanctuary today was planted in the beginning of the twentieth century CE in memory of Athena's sacred tree.

circa 420 BCE

Temple of Athena Nike
The Temple of Athena Nike is a temple on the Acropolis of Athens, dedicated to the goddess Athena Nike. Built around 420 BCE, the temple is the earliest fully Ionic temple on the Acropolis. It has a prominent position on a steep bastion at the south west corner of the Acropolis to the right of the entrance, the Propylaea. The Temple of Athena Nike was finished around 420 BCE, during the Peace of Nicias. Architects Christian Hansen and Eduard Schaubert excavated the temple in the 1830s.

circa 419 BCE

The Asclepieion, the sanctuary of the god Asclepios and his daughter Hygieia, the personification of "health", is located to the west of the Theatre of Dionysos, between the Acropolis and the Peripatos, i.e. the road which used to surround it. The sanctuary was founded in the year 420/419 BCE by an Athenian citizen from the deme of Achamai, named Telemachos. The founding of the Asclepieion is recorded in theTelemachos Monument, votive stele consisting of a narrow shaft, crowned by two slabs with relief panels, which commemorate the arrival of thegod in Athens from the sanctuary of Epidaurus and present him in his new residenceat the sanctuary on the southern slope of the Athens Acropolis. A copy of the Monument of Telemachos is exhibited today in the Doric stoa of the sanctuary.

Entrance from the Peripatos to the two courts of the sanctuary was made through a monumental entrance (propylon), which, according to epigraphic sources, was renovated in Roman times. The eastern court, which was entered through a porch at the western side, included the temple and altar of the god as well as two stoas, the so-called Doric stoa at the north side and the so-called Roman stoa at the south side, which was added in the Roman period, to accommodate the ever increasing pilgrims to the sanctuary. The Doric stoa served as an incubation hall for the visitors to the Asclepieion, who stayed there overnight and were miraculously cured by the god, who appeared in their dreams. The Ionic stoa (katagogion), which was the most important building of the western court, served as a guest-house and refectory for the priests and the visitors to the shrine.

The temple of Asclepios is a building from the first century BCE, with a two-column in antis facade and a small cella, which, according to Pausanias, who visited Athens in the second century CE, housed the statues of Asklepios and his childred. In the the third century CE it was expanded eastwards, in order to create a four-column facade, with a wider pronaos.

The Doric stoa, a two storey building with a facade of seventeen Doric columns, was built in 300/299 BCE, as epigraphical accounts attest. The stoa integrated into its wastern part the sacred spring, i.e. a small cave with a spring in the Acropolis rock, since water has always been a significant element in the cult of Asclepios and into its western part the sacred bothros, which functioned as a sacrificial pit. The sacred bothros, was a well built with polygonal masonry, in the mezzanine floor of the stoa. It is dated earlier than the stoa itself, to the lastquarter of the fifth century BCE. In this part of the sanctuary the sacrifices to the chthonian deities and the heroes were performed.

The Ionic stoa, is also dated to the last quarter of the fifth century BCE. It was a single-storied building with four rooms and a colonnade with ten ionic columns of excellent quality.

In the sixth century CE, when Christianity replaced paganism, all the buildings in the Asklepieion were integrated into the complex of a large three-aisled early Christian basilica. In the Byzantine period (eleventh and thirteenth century CE) two smaller, single aisled churches were erected on the site of the basilica. The last one probably functioned as the katholikon of a small monastery.

After 2002 CE, the western part of the Doric stoa's ground floor, the sacred bothros and the temple of Asklepios were partially restored.

circa 406 BCE

The Erechtheion or Erechtheum is an ancient Greek temple on the north side of the Acropolis of Athens in Greece which was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon. The temple as seen today was built between 421 and 406 BCE. Its architect may have been Mnesicles, and it derived its name from a shrine dedicated to the legendary Greek hero Erichthonius. The Erectheum was associated with some of the most ancient and holy relics of the Athenians, such as the Palladion, a xoanon or "wood-carven effigy" of Athena Polias (protectress of the city).

circa 400 BCE

Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus
The ancient Greek Theatre of Dionysus, also known as the Theatre of Dionysos, can be found in Athens. Positioned on the southern slope of the Acropolis hill, it was originally a part of the sanctuary dedicated to Dionysus Eleuthereus, the liberating deity. The first terrace for the orchestra was built on this site during the 4th and 5th centuries BC, serving as the venue for the City Dionysia. In the fourth century BC, under the supervision of Lycurgus, the theatre expanded to its largest size, accommodating up to 25,000 spectators. It remained in use until the Roman period. Over time, during the Byzantine era, the theatre fell into disrepair and was forgotten. It wasn't until the nineteenth century that it was rediscovered, excavated, and restored to its current state.

circa 320–319 BCE

Choragic Monument of Thrasyllos
The Choragic Monument of Thrasyllos, constructed between 320 and 319 BCE, stands on the man-made cliff of the southern side of the Acropolis in Athens. Its purpose is to honor Thrasyllos, who served as a choregos. This memorial structure takes the form of a small temple and occupies the entrance of a natural cave. Thrasykles, the son of Thrasyllus and an agonothetes in the Great Dionysia Games, made modifications to the monument in 271/70 BCE. Pausanias indirectly mentions the monument and informs us that inside the cave there was a depiction of Apollo and Artemis slaying the children of Niobe.

circa 178 BCE

Pedestal of Agrippa
The Pedestal, now known as the Agrippa Pedestal located west of the Propylaea of Athens and the same height as the Temple of Athena Nike to the south, was built in honor of Eumenes II of Pergamon in 178 BCE to commemorate his victory in the Panathenaic Games chariot race. Its height is 8.9 meters. It was the base of a bronze quadriga, life-size robably driven by Eumenes and/or his brother Attalus II. Towards 27 BCE this chariot was replaced by another one, dedicated by the city of Athens to Marcus Agrippa, son-in-law of Augustus.

circa 160 BCE

Stoa of Eumenes II
The Stoa of Eumenes II is situated between the theatre of Dionysos and the Odeion of Herodes Atticus, along the Peripatos (the ancient road around the Acropolis). The king of Pergamon, Eumenes II, donated this stoa to the Athenian city, during his sovereignty, which lasted from 197 to 159 BCE. This elongated colonnaded building, 163 meters long and 17.65 meters wide, had two storeys. The ground floor facade consisted of a colonnade of sixty four doric order columns, whicle the interior colonnade consisted of 32 columns of Ionic order. On the upper storey, the extrerior colonnade had the equivalent number of double semi-columns of Ionic order and the interior columns had the rather rare type of capitals, the Pergamene ones.

Nowadays, a visible part of the monument is the north retaining wall, reinforced with buttresses connected by semicircular arches. This wall was constructed in order to hold the north earth embankment in place and to support the Peripatos. Today are also visible, the Krene (spring) included in the north wall, the stylobates of the inner colonnade on the ground floor and the foundation of the exterior eolonnade. Besides, a part of the sub-structure of the eastern wall of the stoa has also survived, in addition to the west wall, which was saw some alteration during the Roman period, when the Odeion of Herodes Atticus was erected.

circa 100 CE

Temple of Themis

circa 161 CE

Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Herodes Atticus constructed the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in 161 CE as a memorial for his Roman wife, Aspasia Annia Regilla. The Odeon initially had a steeply sloped design, featuring a three-story stone facade and a roof crafted from luxurious cedar of Lebanon wood. It served as a prominent location for music concerts, accommodating up to 5,000 attendees. The structure remained intact until its destruction by the Heruli in 267 CE, leaving it in a state of ruin.

circa 350 CE

Beulé Gate
The Beulé Gate, located west of the propylaea, is part of the fortification of the Acropolis which reinforced the vulnerable west slope in the third century CE. At the time the Acropolis acquired the form of a castle where one could enter through this gate from the western side and through a secondary gate located souht-west of the propylaea, which is no longer preserved. THe reinforcement of the west slope of the Acropolis in the third century CE was either included in the defence works carried out in Athens at the time of emperor Valerian (253-260 CE) or tribe of the Heruli in 267 CE.

The west gate was built on the base of the monum marble stairway, dated to 52 CE, which leads to the Propylaia. It is flanked by two rectangular towers and it was constructed with material from earlier buildings, such as the choregic monument of nikias (circa 319 BCE) on the southern slope of the Acropoli. The gate was in use for sevral centuries, while rooms were added to the inner side for protection fromthe weather for the guards and those who entered the castle. Probably in the sixth century CE the heightof the door opening was reduced with the placement of a lintel. In addition, in the eleventh century CE an upper floor was built on the gate provide better protection of the castle entrance and thelintel was decorated with an eagle and a snake relief. At the time of the Frankinsh occupation of the De la Rouche dukes (1204-1311 CE), the use of the gate ceased, whereas during the Ottoman occupation, after the end of the fifteenth century CE, it was incorporated in the large bastion built for the defense of the western side of the Acropolis.

The gate remained covered until it was revealed in 1852-1853 CE by the French archaeologist E. Beulé, after whom it was named "The Beulé Gate". Due to the poor state of preservation of the gate towers, consolidation works were carried out in the nineteenth century CE, such as the addition of buttresses on the outer side.

circa 1650 CE

Parthenon Mosque
The precise circumstances under which the Turks appropriated parthenon for use as a mosque are unclear. The shrewdest guess is that it happened under the orders of Mehmed the Conqueror, perhaps the most powerful sultan of all who reigned over Constantinople. Allegedly, changing the Parthenon into a mosque came as a punishment to the Athenians for attempting a plot against the Ottoman reign. Later on after the Parthenon was damaged in an explosion, circa 1650 CE, a smaller mosque was built in typical Ottoman style. The descriptions and engravings from the era show that it resembled to the Fethiye Mosque.

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