In Mycenaean times (some 5,000 years ago) the Acropolis Hill was already a religious center dedicated to the goddess Athena. The Parthenon, along with the Erechtheion and Temple of Nike were built over earlier temples on the Acropolis. When the Persians destroyed the Acropolis complex in 480 BC, Pericles rebuilt it about three decades later, reflecting most of what we see today. The Acropolis’ main structures include the Parthenon, the Erectheion, the Propylea and the temple of Athena Nike.
An architectural masterpiece, the Parthenon in its original form boasted two pi-shaped colonnades that surrounded the 40-foot or 12-meter gold and ivory statue of Athena dressed in full armor. Above the outer colonnade there were 92 stunning reliefs in the monument’s heydays depicting four legendary battles, one on each side, complete with centaurs, amazons, giants, Lapiths and Trojans. The most notable ancient architects worked on the temple such as Ictinus and Callicrates, under the supervision of famed Athenian sculptor Phidias.
This excellent example of Doric architecture exploited Pentelic marble and architectural ‘tricks’ to create an outstanding effect: the columns were purposely crooked to compensate for optical illusions so that the structure could ultimately appear straight. It also had a pool of water in its midst, representing a luxuriously impressive monument that has withstood the test of time. Remains and copies of the intricate friezes and the two pediments can be seen at the Acropolis Museum.
Over the last 2,000 years, the Parthenon became a Byzantine church, a catholic church and an Ottoman mosque. It was bombed then pillaged by Venetian general Francisco Morosini in 1687 reducing it practically to a rubble. More recently, its outstanding marblework was plundered by the British Lord Elgin between 1801 and 1812, and the marbles now displayed shamelessly in the British Museum (do visit what has remained at the Acropolis Museum). Restoration attempts have brought it closer to its former glory, although to think it was in relatively very good shape before Morosini’s attack means it withstood almost 2,000 years of challenges and transmutations.
Taking its name from Erechtonius, a mythical king with the body of a snake who was slain by Poseidon, this temple is a masterpiece of Ionic architecture. Its two parts are dedicated to Athena and Poseidon, and its northern porch – famed for the six female columns known as the Caryatids – was home to the sacred gift of Athena to the city, the olive tree.
Temple of Athena Nike
Closed to visitors, this square building boasts four Ionic columns at each end and an impressive frieze with the conference of gods among other scenes of mythology and war. It once held the outstanding statue of the goddess Athena holding a pomegranate (fertility) in one hand and a helmet (war) in the other.
Huge gateway to the Acropolis in Athens, with a central hall and two side wings. The northern gallery wing hosted painted panels while the southern wing before entering the Temple of Athena Nike featured gold and colorful decoration.
The Panathenaic Way
Route taken by the Panathenaic procession during the festival of Panathenaia, the most important event of ancient Athens dedicated to the goddess Athena, complete with dance, sports, drama and music contests.
The goddess Artemis (or a version of her called Artemis Brauronia from Ancient Brauron not far from Athens) was venerated right here at the Brauroneion. The sanctuary built in her name held a wooden cult statue of the goddess. While neither the structure nor its contents remain, a 3D construction of the building yields a good idea of what it once looked like.
Sanctuary of Aphrodite and Eros
This enigmatic open-air place of worship was beloved by the masses. Nobody described it better than Kevin T. Glowacki, Assistant Professor of Art & Architectural History Texas A&M University: “As gods of love, marriage, and fertility, Aphrodite and her son Eros played important roles in the daily lives of the ancient Greeks, and their worship ranged from state-sponsored festivals to simple sacrifices and offerings made by individual men and women. The open-air sanctuary of Aphrodite and Eros on the north slope of the Acropolis of Athens is an instructive example of a less formal or “popular” shrine, where the ancient Athenians made dedications of sculpted reliefs, marble statuettes, and terracotta figurines — much like the ones on display in the exhibition “Aphrodite and the Gods of Love.” The sanctuary and its archaeological remains are analyzed from the perspective of the three main types of ritual activities that were intended to create and sustain personal relationships between mortals and their gods: prayer, sacrifice, and dedication.”
Chalkos means copper, and the word Chalkotheke conjures the idea of ‘copper store’. Thanks to ancient inscription, we now know that the building that once stood on this site housed metal objects and votive offerings, from statuettes and weapons to three-handled water jars (hydriae) – all dedicated to the goddess Athena. While nothing remains of the building today, we know it was a long rectangular structure featuring six columns.
Temple of Rome and Augustus
To put it in context, this Roman building was built several centuries after the Acropolis. There is controversy around where exactly this temple lay on the Acropolis Hill, but we do know that it was in the area and was dedicated by the city of Athens to Roman Emperor Octavian Augustus and to the goddess Rome. This was a more simple (more ‘modern’?) building with nine Ionic columns and a conical marble roof, representing a unique structure among the rest.
Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus
Zeus Polieus, meaning ‘Zeus of the City’, refers to the god’s role as city protector. While there aren’t any remains of this temple, archeologists have determined that its trapezoidal shape from rock cuttings where it stood. Evidence points out to the temple being used to contain oxen for sacrifice in a yearly event known as Bouphonia.
Before the current Parthenon was built, an even ‘Older Parthenon’ began to rise on the Acropolis Hill after the famed battle of marathon around 490 BC. But then the Persians sacked the city 10 years later and destroyed the building that was under construction, not far from its later and more impressive version. Some 33 years passed before the new Parthenon was built, probably because of political and financial reasons after the Persian run.
Pandrosus, the mythical daughter of Cecrops the equally mythical first king of Athens, got her very own sanctuary on the Acropolis Hill, right near the Erechtheion. The once L-shaped portico may have contained the tomb of Cecrops representing the perfect example of how myth and reality were intertwined in Ancient Greece. The site was also home to an ancient olive tree, supposedly presented as a gift by the goddess Athena to the city of Athens.
Stenopos Kollytos Area
You might not notice it at first, but the area between the Pnyx and Thisseo hides some interesting finds. As you walk up the cobblestone street of Apostolou Pavlou, on the hilly terrain below the street are buildings and houses dating between the 4th century BC to the 4thcentury AD. Visible from the street is the ‘the House of the Roman Mosaic’ with a mosaic floor from the 2nd century AD, depicting two parrots drinking from a vessel. Findings from the area include two shrines from the 6th century BC along with votive offerings and inscriptions.
Theatre of Dionysus
Dionysus, god of wine and patron of drama, was honored with a theatre in his name at the foothills of the Acropolis. Once being able to accommodate as many as 17,000 people, the theatre came to be somewhere in the sixth century BC and hosted events connected to the Dionysian festival of ancient times. The structure was initially made of wood and was eventually rebuilt in stone in the 4th century BC, representing most probably the first stone theatre ever built.
Many notable dramatists of Classical Greece competed here, including Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, Menander and Sophocles. Greek tragedies formed the subject matter of most of the plays, including the Oresteia of Aeschylus, the famous trilogy of Agamemnon, Choephori, and Eumenides which won the Dionysian competition in 458 BC.
Today only some large stones remain in place from the redesigned Roman version that luckily wasn’t too different from the original structure. This time it was dedicated not only to Dionysus, but to Nero as well, reflecting an important sign of the times.