The Acropolis of Athens
The Acropolis of Athens is a hill 156 meters high with a temple complex built on it, which protected the citizens from enemy raids. The upper city, which occupies an area of 300 by 130 meters, was built over the centuries, from the ancient Greek archaic period to the era of Roman Greece. Today, the Acropolis in Athens is the most visited attraction in the Greek capital: history buffs will not mind the scaffolding that surrounds the ancient temples, nor the continuous excavations, nor the blazing sun. Nor are they embarrassed by the fact that much of the decor is the work of modern masters who made copies instead of the originals stored in the halls of European museums.
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Video: View of the Acropolis of Athens from above
History of the Acropolis
According to legend, the founder of Athens and the Upper City was half-man-half-snake Cecrops. It was he who chose the goddess of wisdom as his patroness and erected the first temples in her honor. In the following centuries, more magnificent buildings were erected on their ruins until all the Acropolis buildings, with the exception of the fragmentally preserved temple of Hecatompedon, were destroyed by the Persians in the fifth century. In the time of Pericles and immediately after his death, the best works of ancient architecture – Parthenon and Erechtheion – decorated the hill.
In the era of early Hellenism and the submission of Greece to Rome, several theaters appeared at the foot of the hill. The Christians converted the pagan temples into Christian ones, not reconstructing them, but partially changing the interiors. The Turks, who came to the Balkans in the 15th century, used the buildings of the Acropolis of Athens as mosques. There were no significant changes on the hill until the Venetians shelled the city with cannons in the 17th century. Many of the temples were destroyed and their costly reconstruction has not yet been completed.
In the XIX century, some of the sculptures decorating the facades of the temples were taken to France and Great Britain, the dispute about their belonging is still going on today.
Panorama of the Acropolis in Athens
Architectural features of the Acropolis in Athens
The territory of the hill was built up gradually, new buildings were erected on the ruins or unfinished foundations of the former ones. The works were frozen for decades due to lack of funds. In general, even in ancient times the hill was almost always a construction site. The oldest surviving sites on the Acropolis, such as the Parthenon, were built at the end of the reign of the strict Doric order with massive columns. The buildings close to them, like the Propylaeum, exhibit elements of the more decorative Ionic style along with the Doric. The later Erechtheion is an example of Ionic architectural order.
Video: Chronology of the Acropolis in Athens
The Parthenon – the most important temple of ancient Athens
The central, upper point of the Acropolis panorama is the temple of the Parthenon, dedicated to Athena, the patroness of the city. It is the pinnacle of the work of the architect Ictinus, who, however, did not act alone, but with a team of like-minded people. The material for the temple was white marble quarried nearby, which took on a golden glow in the sunlight. These features of the stone are noticeable now, while in ancient times the temple and all the statues were painted in bright colors – red, blue, yellow.
All works, beginning with the creation of the project and finishing with the decoration of the Parthenon were carried out under Pericles, from 447 to 432 B.C. According to the plan of the architects, the temple on the Acropolis in Athens should have surpassed all existing ones. Formally a rectangular building in plan it rested on three marble steps and was surrounded on the perimeter by a colonnade more than 10 m high. People entered the temple through the western entrance with low steps. What tourists see today are the columned steps.
The credit of the architects is that they put the laws of optics at the service of the architecture. The columns widen in the center, the corner columns and the floor are situated at an angle – all this creates a feeling of rigorous straightness. In addition, thanks to the tricks of the architects, the Parthenon looks strictly proportional from any vantage point – both from the Lower City and when approaching it.
Sculptures of Phidias
A giant, 13-meter statue of Athena, which has not survived to this day, was prepared for the temple by Phidias, the author of one of the wonders of the world – the statue of Zeus the Olympic. The wooden figure of the armed warrior-goddess, according to the speculations of historians, was decorated with precious stones, ivory and gold. This is indirectly confirmed by the records found containing the builders’ reports on the purchased materials – in total the statue took about a ton of metal. The approximate appearance of the warrior was reconstructed thanks to copies made in ancient times, one of which is preserved in the National Museum of Athens. The goddess, clad in a long robe and wearing a helmet, was leaning on a shield with her left hand and holding the figure of the winged Nike in her right hand extended to the audience.
In addition to Athena Parthenos, the master and his pupils produced the relief plates-metopes for the Parthenon frieze. Some of these were taken by Lord Elgin to Britain in the nineteenth century and are now on display in the British Museum, in a huge separate room, adorning the marble walls at visitors’ eye level. More recently, there was a traveling exhibition of the collection at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg – an unprecedented occasion, since the Parthenon sculptures have never been exported. Greece is suing Britain in the hope of returning the artifacts to their homeland, since it was the Turks, under whose oppression the country was, and not the Greeks, who gave permission for their export. However, in Greece, too, there is something to see: there are more than 40 original plates. The sculptures in the pediment, unlike the reliefs, are almost completely intact and have survived only in fragments.
Equestrian frieze of the Parthenon, West Part II, 2-3, British Museum Procession on the south side of the frieze, X XI, 26-28, British Museum
Further history of the Parthenon
The temple was partially damaged by fire in antiquity, then, in the 6th century, after the final decline of Athens, became a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The statues and the interior of the Parthenon suffered during the remodeling for the needs of the cult, and the walls were painted in place of the old decorations. Under the Turks, starting from the 15th century the building served as a mosque. All this time the temple was in relative safety, until in 1687 the Venetians in another conflict with the Turks shelled it, provoking the destruction. Decorative details were partly exported outside the country. At the end of the nineteenth century, restoration work began, incomplete to this day.
The Erechtheion – the memory of the legendary king
Temples were built not only in honor of the gods, but also in memory of mortals. Such an honor was bestowed on King Erechtheion, who, according to legend, was buried here. According to another opinion, it was at this point in the Acropolis of Athens, where the Erechtheion appeared in 421-406 BC, that Athena and Poseidon argued for supremacy in the region. It was Athena who whitewashed the temple, but the temple was dedicated to both of them just in case. Erechtheus, who ruled Athens, was no stranger to the gods either: he died at the behest of an enraged Poseidon. The picturesque, multilevel ruins of the Erechtheion lie to the north of the Parthenon. The building is made of several varieties of marble – snow-white Parosian, golden-white Pentelian and grayish Eleusinian.
Unlike the outwardly straight, majestic Parthenon, the Erechtheion is composed of parts of different heights. The reason lies in the unevenness of the ground – the architect had to overcome the peculiarities of the relief. Mnesicles had already justified the trust of Pericles by constructing the entrance gate to the Acropolis, the Propylaeum. Not to offend the gods, the architect divided the temple’s space cleverly: Athena had the eastern part, Poseidon and Erechtheus the western part. The southern portico of the Erechtheion is supported by caryatids – female figures replacing columns. Today there are copies of the statues on the site of the ancient sculptors, the originals are preserved in the Acropolis Museum and in the British Museum.
The history of the Erechtheion follows the path of the Parthenon: the building survived Christianization and the invasion of the Turks, but was destroyed in the struggle with the Venetians. Subsequently the Italians tried to put the parts together like a construction set, so that the general outline of the temple was restored, but the impression of ruin still remained.
Propylaeum – the main gate of the complex.
Tourists enter the Acropolis of Athens through the western gate, the Propylaeum. The six massive Doric columns of the central entrance resemble the Parthenon, the main part of which was completed by the time of construction. The side Ionic columns, lighter and more decorative, relieve the sense of tension. Once there was an art gallery and a library adjoining the gate – archeologists managed to find traces of them and recreate their outlines in volumetric models. Now the general complex of the gate is basically restored, the ruined columns were replaced by copies.
The Temple of Nika Apteros
In front of the main gate there is a small temple with four Ionic columns with spirals scrolls on top, at the edges of the porticoes. The sanctuary was intended to guard the entrance to the Acropolis. Once inside was a statue of Athena, whose usual companion was Nika, the goddess of victory. Usually she was depicted winged, but this temple was an exception; it was not by chance that its patroness was named Apteros – “wingless”. The reason for this deviation from the canons, according to legend, is considered a small cunning of the Athenians. They deprived Victory of her wings so that she would never fly away from the city.
The temple was erected during the Peloponnesian War, so the building was decorated with reliefs depicting the victories of the people of Attica over the Persians and Spartans for further inspiration. The Turks dismantled the temple for building materials to erect fortifications against the Venetians. Today’s temple was restored much later, the original sculptures were given to the New Museum. The active phase of work has not passed, so the temple of Nika is often closed to visitors.
Several other objects remain in the Acropolis in the form of foundation remnants or shapeless ruins. In the eastern part of the complex is the sanctuary of Pandion, presumably named after the legendary king of Attica. Between the Parthenon and the Erechtheion is the Hecatompedon, the oldest temple of the Acropolis of Athens. A hundred years before the Parthenon it was the main sanctuary of the patroness of the city of Athens. What remains of it are the foundations of the columns and the limestone sculptures, preserved in remnants of paint, discovered during the excavations. On the right side of the Propylaeum are the modest ruins of the sanctuary of Artemis and the armory. Behind the Erechtheion was the sanctuary of Pandrosa with the altar of Zeus and the olive tree planted by Athena herself. Nearby was a tiny building where noble girls worked weaving peplos, outer women’s clothing, for the statue of Athena for the Panathenaic Games, Attica’s largest competition.
Acropolis Tourist Trails
Not sophisticated in archaeology and architecture tourist is difficult to understand the ancient Greek ruins: at first glance, all the ruins are similar to each other, mixed periods and styles. In order not to get lost, you can choose simple landmarks. The main gate from the west is the Propylaeum, the modest temple in front of it is the sanctuary of Nike. The largest rectangular cluster of columns, visible in all directions, is the Parthenon. A smaller building, harmoniously combining columns of different heights and porticoes decorated with female figures – the Erechtheion. Walking around the Acropolis in Athens is also possible at night – the objects are illuminated by powerful floodlights.
New Acropolis Museum
The Acropolis Museum of Athens, which housed decorative fragments of the buildings of the Upper City, was opened in 1874. Over time, the collection grew so large that the existing halls and storerooms were insufficient to store the objects. The new building, much larger than the old one, needed to be located near the Acropolis. The troubles with the project began in the 1970s, and lasted until the end of the century: either the Greek authorities could not find suitable architects, or the land could not withstand any criticism. Finally, the builders began to dig under the foundations and discovered new archaeological finds. Work at the site was frozen until the architects proposed a project that did not affect the ground layer.
The three-level complex opened in 2009, 300 meters south of the complex, next to the Acropolis metro station. Its basement is supported by a hundred columns, and its glass floor allows visitors to admire the excavations passing beneath their feet. The glass walls offer a fantastic view of the Acropolis. There is a cafe on the lower floor and a souvenir shop and bookstore on two levels. In tourist season the museum welcomes visitors from 8 am to 8 pm, on Friday – until 10 pm, on Monday – until 4 pm, in winter the museum works on a reduced schedule. Tickets for adults cost 5 euros.
New Acropolis Museum
The greatest number of tourists come to Athens from April to October, although the Acropolis welcomes visitors all year round. The tour of the complex will take about two hours and should be planned for early morning, around 8 o’clock, until the marble is warm under the rays of the sun. In the evening before 6 o’clock is still hot, the main flow of organized tourists goes to 15 hours. Always take drinking water and choose non-slip shoes without heels.
The ticket for a tour of the Acropolis in Athens with theaters on the slopes of the hill and located nearby Agora and the Temple of Zeus costs 12 euros. It is difficult to see all the sights at once, so the ticket for a single visit to each site is valid for 4 days. There is usually a queue at the Acropolis ticket office, but you can avoid it by buying a ticket near another historical monument from the list. During the Night of Museums in May and European Heritage Days in September, you can get free entrance to the complex.
View of Athens from the Acropolis
How to get there
There are several public transportation stops close to the Acropolis. The most convenient way is to get off at the metro station of the same name on the M2 branch, next to which there is a streetcar and bus interchange. A little further south is the stop of streetcars 1, 5, 15. From the south there is a bus number 230. From the subway and from the Acropolis Museum, an electric tram takes guests to the ticket office.
Holidays and Festivals at the Acropolis
Taking over the summer and part of the fall, the Athens Festival has chosen the Odeon of Herodes as one of its main venues – a perfectly preserved theater built in 165 AD. It is permanently closed and visitors can only get in during concert events with tickets. The capacity of the theater is about 5000 spectators.
The same fate was destined for the Dionysus Theatre, located on the eastern side of the southern slope of the Acropolis. In the heyday of Attica it was the venue for comedy and tragedy writing competitions, and under the Romans it was used for gladiatorial fights. During the reconstruction it is planned to reinforce the stone tiers and add a few rows of spectators.
Hotels near the Acropolis
Hotels in the Acropolis area are expensive but you need to book well in advance due to the high demand. Next to the New Museum is the 4-star Herodion Hotel, and to the southeast is The Athens Gate Hotel, which has earned excellent reviews from guests. The 4-star aparthotel AVA Hotel and Suites to the east of the hill will cost tourists about one and a half times as much as a hotel with rooms.
View of the Acropolis from the restaurant of the Herodion Hotel The Athens Gate Hotel
Restaurants and cafes near the Acropolis
In addition to the museum cafe, you can eat at several restaurants around the perimeter of the hill. Southwest of the Propylaeum, at the foot of the semi-wild “Hill of Muses” Park, next to the bus stop of bus line 230, is the Dionysos Restaurant with its magnificent views of the Acropolis from the summer veranda. A little to the east is the national cuisine restaurant Strofi. On the north side of the hill is Stamatopoulos Taverna, opened back in 1882. The cramped Klepsidra Café is located in a narrow street with graffiti on the walls. Not far away is Anafiotika with live music.
Attractions around the Acropolis
The Acropolis area concentrates the main historical landmarks of Athens. To the east are the ruins of the temple of Zeus the Olympic, or rather one corner of it, the perfectly preserved temple of Hephaestus and the remains of the market square-agora to the north-west. To the west is the Areopagus, the rocky hill where the authorities of Athens met.
The Acropolis of Athens
The Acropolis of Athens is located 156 meters above sea level and covers almost 3 hectares. The history of the picturesque Greek ruins is inextricably linked to a man named Pericles, a skilled politician and founding father of Athenian democracy. Under him Athens reached its highest point of development. If it were not for Pericles’ power, the Acropolis would never have become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was with the help of this ruler that the Parthenon, the Propylaeum, the Erechtheion and a number of other significant structures were built in the 5th century BC. The sculptures and temples of the Acropolis of Athens have remained intact for almost two thousand years, in spite of constant enemy seizures. But in the 17th century, the Parthenon temple and other buildings were destroyed by the Venetians who besieged the Turks hiding on the hill. Only some statues of Phidias remained intact and were later taken to the British Museum. Today, visiting the Acropolis in Athens, you can only see the ruins and copies of the sculptures. Nevertheless indifferent to what has remained of the greatest creation of the ancestors, are few.
Originally the hill in Athens was called Kekropia. The toponym comes from the name of the mythical serpent-man Kekrops, considered the first king of Athens.
Temples of the Acropolis in Athens
To tell about the ancient Acropolis of Athens in brief is hardly possible. After all, the history of its creation goes deep into the past. The Parthenon and other temples of the Acropolis appeared much later than the hill was first occupied by people. It is established that the hill was inhabited as early as the third millennium BC. Its broad and flat surface was quite suitable for life. In addition, the territory surrounded on three sides by a precipice provided security. In the surviving documents the Acropolis in Athens is mentioned not just as a settlement, but as an entire city. The mansion of the local governor was located on the site where the Erechtheion was erected many centuries later.
During the reign of the tyrant Pisistratus (6th century BC), the temple of Athena Hecatompedon, a hundred steps long, and several other sanctuaries were built in the Acropolis. But they did not last long because they were allowed to stand during the Persian wars.
The restoration of the sanctuaries and the construction of new temples began in 447 BC on the initiative of Pericles. At this point the history of the Acropolis of Athens reached a climax.
With Pericles came the spirit of democracy. To validate the change, the statesman decided to build a majestic temple. The Parthenon was to be the center of Athens. The best artists and sculptors were involved in the construction. The statues and reliefs were based on sketches by Phidias. Pericles wanted to tell how, thanks to the gods and heroes of the past, a new era was born. Without exception, all monuments of the Acropolis in Athens convey this message in their exterior and interior appearance.
The modern reconstruction of the Acropolis of Athens began back in 1975 and continues to this day. The Greeks are not trying to return the sights to their former appearance. The purpose of the restoration is to remove traces of centuries of decline, to eliminate debris, pollution and traces of destruction. The restoration work will eventually affect all the temples of the Acropolis of Athens.
The Acropolis of Athens
The Parthenon, the Propylaeum, the Erechtheion, the temple of Athena-Nica, the statue of Athena, embody true art. The structures of the Acropolis in their original form formed a unified architectural ensemble. No doubt their main creator Pericles had a common plan and drawings of the buildings. And much of what was planned was realized.
Any description of the Acropolis of Athens will tell you that the ensemble was based on a social and political idea. The complex is a memorial commemorating the victory of the Greeks over their enemies. The heroic struggle was identified with the statue of Athena Prohomas (or Athena the Warrior) holding a spear and helmet. The Ionic and Doric orders are of great stylistic importance.
In addition to the Pericles’ ensemble, the Acropolis of Athens includes the Odeion of Herodes Atticus (a theater built in 161 at the southern foot of the hill), the Sanctuary of Zeus, the Pandroseion, the Dionysus Theater, the Asklepios and several other buildings. Apart from the Odeon, the listed buildings of the Athenian Acropolis are only small fragments of the once majestic structures.
The Parthenon of the Acropolis of Athens
The Parthenon is the main temple of the Acropolis of Athens, the ideal of beauty for Ancient Greece. Its erection began in 447 B.C. The main works were finished in 438. In the same year the building was consecrated. But the external finishing continued for another six years. The general features of the Athenian Acropolis ensemble were reflected on the walls of the Parthenon and in its sculptures.
The Parthenon is not a pantheon at all, as it is sometimes erroneously called by schoolchildren. The temple is dedicated to only one goddess – the city’s protector Athena.
During the Byzantine era, the Parthenon in the Acropolis of Athens was converted into a Christian church. During the reign of the Franks it became a Catholic temple, and during the Turkish occupation it became a mosque.
During the Turkish occupation the Acropolis suffered the greatest damage. The Turks stored gunpowder in its structures. Part of the stocks were in the walls of Parthenon. In 1687, the Venetian Morozini, besieging the Turks, fired a shell that destroyed most of the temple. Some of Fidius’ sculptures survived. However, shortly before the revolution of 1821, English Lord Elgen bought the surviving statues from the Turks and took them to London.
The propylaei, or front entrance to the Acropolis, are classicist architecture at its best. The entrance began to be built in 436 BC. The construction is divided into three parts. In the center is a long temple-like structure and is flanked by two wings. The left wing is the Pinacoteca, where the paintings donated to Athena were kept.
The propylaei of the Acropolis of Athens were never completed. In 431 BC the Peloponnesian War broke out and construction was halted. The Athenians were able to resist the Spartans. But in 429 a plague came to the city. Pericles too became infected and soon died. His successors showed no interest in the Propylaeum.
Temple of Athena.
Between 427 and 424 BC, construction began on a small marble temple. The Ionic style prevailed. Inside was a statue of Athena who held a helmet in her left hand and a pomegranate in her right (symbol of the gods of the underworld). In 1687, the Turks destroyed the temple of Nika Apteros in the Acropolis of Athens (aka the Temple of Athena in the Acropolis) in order to make fortifications out of its parts. An extensive restoration of the sanctuary was carried out from 1998 to 2010.
The ancient Greek myths indicate that the site of Erechtheion was once the site of a quarrel between Athena and Poseidon. The subject of the quarrel was dominion over the city. The god of the sea struck the rock with his trident and a well of salt water was formed. Athena in turn struck the rock with her spear and an olive tree sprang up from the earth. The gods, who acted as judges, proclaimed Athena the victor. But the inhabitants of the city wished to reconcile the rivals and built a common sanctuary for them. The temple of the Erechtheion at the Acropolis in Athens was erected between 425 and 406 BC. A brief description tells us that the sanctuary was divided into two parts. On the eastern side of the facade was Athena and on the western side was Poseidon. In this case the Erechtheion received its name because in its place, according to mythology, was the tomb of King Erechtheus.
Ancient Greece and the Acropolis in Athens are inseparable. And so is the name of Phidias inseparable from them. Some sources point to the fact that it was he who supervised the building on the hill. But in fact Phidias was rather the chief sculptor of the “upper city” and created most of the statues of the gods. The architecture of the Acropolis of Athens is too multifaceted to belong to a single author. In the planning and construction of the buildings, Phidias served only as an advisor to Pericles. With his help, the key features of the Acropolis of Athens were defined.
Curiously enough, the envious people could not reconcile themselves to the talent of Phidias. In the end, the sculptor of the Acropolis of Athens was accused of stealing precious materials and sent to prison.
The architects of the Acropolis of Athens, who were responsible for creating temples and other structures, are not as famous as Phidias. However, their names, too, have gone down in history. Ictinus, for example, is the presumed author of the Parthenon, and Kallikratis is the supervisor of the construction of the Parthenon and the chief architect of the Temple of Athena.
From time to time gravel is brought into the “upper city” on purpose. This is done so that tourists do not tear up the last remaining original fragments of thousands of years old. Otherwise, the main monuments of the Acropolis of Athens will finally lose their appearance.
Excursions to the Acropolis of Athens are organized at any time of the year. Professional guides take tour groups on well-established routes, showing the most famous temples of the Acropolis, noting what other buildings are in the complex, and telling interesting facts. Even completely unfamiliar with the history of ancient Greece, tourists after such excursions get the general idea of who built the Acropolis, how the main temples look like, and what their features are.
It is also possible to visit the Acropolis of Athens on your own. A full walk with a tour of the main sights takes a couple of hours. Audioguide in Russian can be purchased additionally when buying tickets.
You can buy tickets to the Acropolis of Athens in 2022 online or directly on site. Keep in mind that if you buy tickets offline you will have to stand in a huge line. The waiting time in some cases can be more than two hours. Therefore, today most people prefer to plan a visit to the Acropolis in advance.
The Acropolis of Athens does not have a full-fledged official website. But the scheme of the attraction with the signatures of all the objects is always available on the Internet. And beautiful and high-quality photos of the Acropolis of Athens can be searched in social networks.
The Acropolis Museums in Athens have their own schedule. Separate tickets are required to visit them. The Old Acropolis Museum was founded back in 1874. It is located on the territory of the complex. There you can see many artifacts from different eras. And the New Acropolis Museum of Athens was laid out in the 1980s just three hundred meters from the rock. The need for an additional site arose because the existing building could no longer hold a full exhibition. Moreover, the New Acropolis Museum was the Greeks’ answer to the British refutation that it was impossible to return the marble sculptures taken out by Lord Elgen because there were no conditions for preserving the masterpieces. The museum, which was presented in 2009, was built with all the necessary features. But the desired statues of the Greeks have not yet returned.
How to get to the Acropolis of Athens
The main attraction of the Greek capital is well visible from the central areas of the city and from the surrounding hills. Figuring out how to get to the Acropolis in Athens is not difficult at all. It all depends on the starting point.
The fastest and most convenient option is the metro. It covers almost the entire capital and the suburbs. The station “Acropoli” is located on the red line (M2) and comes right after “Syntagma” station.
There are also other modes of public transport. Three minutes from the Acropolis is based at the Akropolē stop, which is reached by bus number 230. You can also get off at the “Makrygiannē” stop, through which buses 040, 230, A2 and trolleybuses 1, 5 and 15 pass. From it to the desired location is about 10 minutes on foot.
The best way to walk to the Acropolis is along Dionysiou Areopagitou Street. Go straight ahead, without turning around. In the case of a car, the best way to get to Acropolis is by street Rovertou Galli. In front of the Parco Roberto Galli there is a free parking lot. The parking lot is free, but you can find a free spot only in the early morning, so you need to arrive right before the opening. The rest of the time, the parking lot is crowded with tourist buses.
To get to the Acropolis from the airport of Athens take highway 62, then turn off at highway 6 to the center of Athens and then take highway 64.
Another accessible way is by cab. In Athens, it is customary to catch a car right on the street. In addition, tourists make full use of the online application Uber.
The Acropolis in Athens does not depend on the season. It is open every day from 8:00 to 20:00 excluding public holidays.