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Acropolis of Athens

The Acropolis of Athens is the best known acropolis (high city, The "Sacred Rock") in the world. Although there are many other acropoleis in Greece, the significance of the Acropolis of Athens is such that it is commonly known as The Acropolis without qualification. The Acropolis was formally proclaimed as the pre-eminent monument on the European Cultural Heritage list of monuments on 26 March 2007. The Acropolis is a flat-topped rock which rises above sea level in the city of Athens. It was also known as Cecropia, after the legendary serpent-man, Kekrops or Cecrops, the first Athenian king.

History

Early settlement

While the earliest artifacts date to the Middle Neolithic era, there have been documented habitations in Attica from the Early Neolithic (6th millennium BC). Once into the Bronze Age, there is little doubt that a Mycenaean megaron must have stood on top of the hill, housing the local potentate and his household, guards, the local cult facilities and a number of workshops and ordinary habitations. The compound was surrounded by a thick Cyclopean circuit wall, possibly between 4.5 m and 6 m in height, consisting of two parapets built with large stone blocks and cemented with an earth mortar called emplekton. The wall follows typical Mycenaean convention in that it followed the natural contour of the terrain and its gate was arranged obliquely, with a parapet and tower overhanging the incomers' right-hand side, thus facilitating defense. There were two lesser approaches up the hill on its north side, consisting of steep, narrow flights of steps cut in the rock. Homer is assumed to refer to this fortification when he mentions the "strong-built House of Erechtheus" (Odyssey 7.81). It was during that time that an earthquake caused a fissure near the northeastern edge, one that ran all the way down to the marl layer and in which water collected. An elaborate set of stairs was built and the well was used as a protected source of drinking water during some portion of the Mycenaean period, as it was invaluable in times of siege.

The Dark Ages

There is no conclusive evidence for the existence of a Mycenean palace on top of the Athenian Acropolis. However, if there was such a palace, it seems to have been transplanted by later building activity on the Acropolis. Not much is known as to the arcitectural appearance of the Acropolis until the archaic era. In the 7th and the 6th centuries BC the site was was taken over by Kylon during the failed Kylonian revolt, and twice by Pisistratus: all attempts directed at seizing political power by coups d' etat. Nevertheless it seems that a nine-gate wall, the Enneapylon, had been built around the biggest water spring, the "Clepsydra", at the north-western foot. It was Pisistratus who initially established a precinct for Artemis on the site.

Archaic Acropolis

A temple sacred to "Athena Polias" (Protectress of the City) was erected by mid-6th century BC. This Doric limestone building, from which many relics survive, is referred to as the "Bluebeard" temple, named after the pedimental three-bodied man-serpent sculpture, whose beards were painted dark blue. Whether this temple replaced an older one, or a mere sacred precinct or altar, is not known. In the late 6th century BC yet another temple was built, usually referred to as the Archaios Naos (Old Temple). It is thought that the so-called Doerpfeld foundations might have belonged to this temple, which may have been sacred not to Polias but to Athena Parthenos (Virgin), at least for as long as the Polias "Bluebeard" temple stood. It is not known how long these temples coexisted.

To confuse matters, by the time the "Bluebeard" Temple had been dismantled, a newer and grander marble building, the "Older Parthenon" (often called the Ur-Parthenon), was started following the victory at Marathon in 490 BC. To accommodate it, the south part of the summit was cleared of older remnants, made level by adding some 8,000 two-ton blocks of Piraeus limestone, a foundation 11 m deep at some points, and the rest filled with earth kept in place by the retaining wall.

The Older Parthenon was still under construction when the Persians sacked the city in 480 BC. The building was burnt and looted along with the Archaios Neos and practically everything else on the rock. After the Persian crisis had subsided the Athenians incorporated many of the unfinished temple's architectural members (still unflutted column drums, triglyphs, metopes, etc.) to the newly built northern curtain wall of the Acropolis, where they can still be seen today. The devastated site was cleared from debris. Statuary, cult objects, religious offerings and unsalvable architectural members were burried ceremoniously in several deeply dug pits on the hill serving conveniently as a fill for the artificial plateau created around the classic Parthenon. This "Persian debris" is the richest archaeological deposit excavated on the Acropolis.

The Periclean building program

Most of the major temples were rebuilt under the leadership of Pericles during the Golden Age of Athens (460–430 BC). Phidias, a great Athenian sculptor, and Ictinus and Callicrates, two famous architects, were responsible for the reconstruction. During the 5th century BC, the Acropolis gained its final shape. After winning at Eurymedon in 468 BC, Cimon and Themistocles ordered the reconstruction of southern and northern walls, and Pericles entrusted the building of the Parthenon to Ictinus and Phidias.

In 437 BC Mnesicles started building the Propylaea, monumental gates with columns of Pentelic marble, partly built upon the old propylaea of Pisistratus. These colonnades were almost finished in the year 432 BC and had two wings, the northern one serving as picture gallery. At the same time, south of the propylaea, building of the small Ionic Temple of Athena Nike commenced. After an interruption caused by the Peloponnesian War, the temple was finished in the time of Nicias' peace, between 421 BC and 415 BC.

During the same period the building of the Erechtheum, a combination of sacred precincts including the temples of Athena Polias, Poseidon, Erechtheus, Cecrops, Herse, Pandrosos and Aglauros, with its so-called the Kore Porch (or Caryatids' balcony), was begun.

Between the temple of Athena Nike and the Parthenon there was the temenos of Artemis Brauronia or Brauroneion, the goddess represented as a bear and worshipped in the deme of Brauron. The archaic xoanon of the goddess and a statue made by Praxiteles in the 4th century BC were both in the sanctuary.

Behind the Propylaea, Phidias' gigantic bronze statue of Athena Promachos ("she who fights in the front line"), built between 450 BC and 448 BC, dominated. The base was 1.50 m high, while the total height of the statue was 9 m. The goddess held a lance whose gilt tip could be seen as a reflection by crews on ships rounding Cape Sounion, and a giant shield on the left side, decorated by Mys with images of the fight between the Centaurs and the Lapiths. Other monuments that have left almost nothing visible to the present day are the Chalkotheke, the Pandroseion, Pandion's sanctuary, Athena's altar, Zeus Polieus's sanctuary and, from Roman times, the circular temple of Augustus and Rome.

Hellenistic and Roman period

Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman period

In the Byzantine period, the Parthenon was turned into a church, dedicated to Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia). Under the Latin Duchy of Athens, the Acropolis functioned as the city's administrative center, with the Parthenon as its cathedral. A large tower was added, which was demolished in the 19th century. After the Ottoman conquest, the Parthenon was converted into a mosque. The buildings of the Acropolis suffered significant damage during the 1687 siege by the Venetians in the Morean War.

Archaeological remains

The entrance to the Acropolis was a monumental gateway called the Propylaea. To the south of the entrance is the tiny Temple of Athena Nike. A bronze statue of Athena, sculpted by Phidias, originally stood at its centre. At the centre of the Acropolis is the Parthenon or Temple of Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin). East of the entrance and north of the Parthenon is the temple known as the Erechtheum. South of the platform that forms the top of the Acropolis there are also the remains of an outdoor theatre called Theatre of Dionysus. A few hundred metres away, there is the now partially reconstructed Theatre of Herodes Atticus.

Most of the valuable ancient artifacts were situated in the Acropolis Museum, which resides on the south-east corner of the same rock. An operation to move them for the 400 metres distance to the New Acropolis Museum started on Sunday, 14 October 2007, and continued for six weeks.

Site plan

  1. Parthenon
  2. Old Temple of Athena
  3. Erechtheion
  4. Statue of Athena Promachos
  5. Propylaia
  6. Temple of Athena Nike
  7. Eleusinion
  8. Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia or Brauroneion
  9. Chalkotheke
  10. Pandroseion
  11. Arrephorion
  12. Altar of Athena
  13. Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus
  14. Sanctuary of Pandion
  15. Odeon of Herodes Atticus
  16. Stoa of Eumenes
  17. Sanctuary of Asclepius or Asclepieion
  18. Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus
  19. Odeon of Pericles
  20. Temenos of Dionysus Eleuthereus
  21. Aglaureion

Cultural significance

Every four years the Athenians held a festival called the Panathenaea that rivalled the Olympic Games in popularity. During the festival, a procession moved through Athens up to the Acropolis and into the Parthenon (as depicted in the frieze on the inside of the Parthenon). There, a vast robe of woven wool (peplos) was ceremoniously placed on Phidias' massive ivory and gold statue of Athena.

References

External links

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