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The Acropolis of Athens

The Acropolis of Athens

 

The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient 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.

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While there is evidence that the hill was inhabited as far back as the fourth millennium BC, it was Pericles (c. 495 – 429 BC) in the fifth century BC 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. The Parthenon and the other buildings were damaged seriously during the 1687 siege by the Venetians during the Morean War when gunpowder being stored in the Parthenon was hit by a cannonball and exploded.

 

Acropolis of Athens Early settlement

With an area of 3 hectares, the Acropolis is situated on a flat-topped rock that rises 150 m (490 ft) above sea level in Athens (7.4 acres).

Archaeological evidence suggests that the first inhabitants of Attica lived there as far back as the Early Neolithic period (6th millennium BC). Late Bronze Age Mycenean megaron palaces are almost certain to have been located at this location.

Only a single limestone column base and fragments of numerous sandstone steps remain from this megaron. A Cyclopean huge circuit wall, 760 metres long, up to 10 metres high, and varying from 3.5 to 6 metres thick, was erected soon after the construction of the palace.

Until the fifth century, this wall was the acropolis’ primary line of defence.

The wall was made up of two parapets made of big stone blocks that were bonded together using an earth mortar known as emplekton. As is characteristic of Mycenaean design, the wall’s southern entrance was positioned obliquely with a parapet and tower overhanging the intruders’ right-hand side. This made defence much easier.

On the north side of the hill, there were two more modest ascent routes comprised of narrow, steep stairs dug into the rock. The “strong-built House of Erechtheus” (Odyssey 7.81) is thought to be a reference to this stronghold.

A fracture formed on the northeastern border of the Acropolis before the 13th century BC. A well was excavated 35 metres down into a soft marl bed that was created by this fracture. Mycenaean civilization erected an extensive series of steps and the well functioned as a vital, protected supply of drinking water throughout sieges for a significant duration.

No substantial evidence exists for the presence of a Mycenean palace on top of the Acropolis. A palace may have existed, but it seems to have been replaced by subsequent construction.

Archaic Acropolis

Proposed elevation of the Hekatompedon temple. Built between 570–550 BC, it stood where the Parthenon now stands. Fragments of the sculptures in its pediments are in the Acropolis Museum.

Proposed elevation of the Old Temple of Athena. Built around 525 BC, it stood between the Parthenon and the Erechtheum. Fragments of the sculptures in its pediments are in the Acropolis Museum.

Until the Archaic period, little little is known about the Acropolis’ architectural appearance. For a brief period in the 7th and 6th century BC, the location was held by Kylon, who attempted to seize governmental authority by a coup d’état, and again by Peisistratos.

Peisistratos also erected an entrance gate or Propylaea, which is referenced later.

As a result of this, it seems that the Enneapylon was created to protect the Clepsydra spring at its northern foot.

The city’s tutelary goddess, Athena Polias, was honoured with a temple built in 570–550 BC. It is also known as the Ur-Parthenon (German for “original Parthenon” or “primitive Parthenon”), the Hekatompedon (Greek for “hundred–footed”), the H–Architecture (after the pedimental three-bodied man-serpent sculpture whose beards were painted dark blue), or the Bluebeard Temple (after the three-headed pedimental man-serpent sculpture). It’s not clear whether this temple is a new one, or only a holy precinct or altar. The Hekatompedon may have been erected on the site of the Parthenon.

The Peisistratids erected another another temple between 529 and 520 BC, known as the Arkhaios Nes ( v, “old temple”), during this time period. The Dörpfeld foundations were used to build this temple of Athena Polias between the Erechtheion and the still-standing Parthenon. The Persian invasion destroyed Arkhaios Nes in 480 BC; nevertheless, the temple was presumably repaired in 454 BC, as the Delian League’s treasury was relocated in its opisthodomos. The temple was undoubtedly reconstructed during this time. It’s possible that the temple was destroyed in a fire around 406/405 BC, since Xenophon records a fire at the previous Athena temple. In his second-century AD Description of Greece, Pausanias makes no mention of it.

To make way for the “Older Parthenon,” or “early Parthenon,” the Hekatompedon was destroyed in 500 BC. The Older Parthenon was built from Piraeus limestone that was originally intended for the Olympieion temple, which was associated with the tyrannical Peisistratos and his sons. Approximately 8,000 two-ton slabs of limestone were added to the summit’s south side to make it level, and a foundation 11 metres (36 feet) deep was built and then filled in with dirt held in place by a retaining wall.

A new strategy was implemented after the victory at Marathon in 490 BC, and marble was substituted. Pre-Parthenon I refers to the limestone period, whereas Pre-Parthenon II refers to the marble phase. Construction was halted in 485 BC, when Xerxes became king of Persia and war looked impending, in order to save resources. When the Persians came and plundered Athens in 480 BC, the building of the Older Parthenon was still underway. With the temple and almost all of its contents, it was destroyed in a fire and looting.

As soon as the Persian crisis ended, the Athenians placed numerous architectural elements of the incomplete temple onto the newly erected northern curtain wall of the Acropolis, where they functioned as a visible “war monument” and may be seen today. Debris was removed from the shattered location. Several deep trenches were ceremoniously excavated on the hill to bury statues, cult artefacts, religious gifts, and unsalvageable architectural components, which served as a suitable fill for the artificial plateau erected around the classical Parthenon. The “Persian detritus” found on the Acropolis is the most valuable archaeological find ever discovered there.

The Periclean building program

The Parthenon.

They ordered a renovation of the Acropolis’s southern and northern walls after their victory at Eurymedon in 468 BC. During the so-called Golden Age of Athens (460–430 BC), Pericles ordered the rebuilding of most of the main temples, including the Parthenon. Sculptor Phidias and architects Ictinus and Callicrates were responsible for the renovation of the temple.

A colossal gate at the western extremity of the Acropolis, the Propylaea was begun by Mnesicles in 437 BC, partially on the previous propylaea of Peisistratos, with Doric columns of Pentelic marble.

 

In 432 BC, the northern wing of these colonnades, which had paintings by Polygnotus, was almost complete.

 

Small Pentelic marble temples of Pentelic marble, with tetrastyle porches, were also being built south of the Propylaea at the same time as the Athena Nike Temple. After the Peloponnesian War, the temple was completed between 421 BC and 409 BC under Nicias’ peace.

 

The Erechtheum

Complex plans were used to build the Pentelic marble Erechtheion temple (421–406 BC) because of its uneven terrain and the necessity to avoid numerous other shrines in the vicinity.

Six Ionic columns flank the east-facing entryway. There are two porches on the temple, one on the northwest corner supported by Ionic columns and the other on southwest corner supported by enormous female statues called Caryatids.

Dedicated to Athena Polias, the eastern section of the temple featured the altars of Hephaestus and Voutos, the brother of Poseidon-Erechtheus, which served the worship of the archaic ruler. The original design of the interior, which was destroyed by fire in the first century BC and reconstructed numerous times, is unknown..

At the same time, the Kore Porch (Porch of the Maidens) or Caryatids’ balcony was built, which included the temples of Athena Polias, Poseidon, Erechtheus, Cecrops, Herse, Pandrosos, and Aglauros.

 

The Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia (or the Brauroneion), the goddess portrayed as a bear and worshipped in the deme of Brauron, was between the Athena Nike and the Parthenon. In the shrine, according to Pausanias, a wooden statue of the goddess and a statue of Artemis built by Praxiteles in the 4th century BC were both there.

 

The Propylaea

When Phidias’ enormous bronze statue of Athena Promachos (Athens who battles in the front line) stood beside the Propylaea in Athens, it had a resounding presence.

There was a 1.50-meter (4-foot-11-inch) height difference between the statue’s base and its full 9-meter (30-foot) height. The crews of ships crossing Cape Sounion could see the golden point of the goddess’ spear and a massive shield on her left side, adorned by Mys with scenes of the Centaur-Lapith battle. [28] The Chalkotheke, the Pandroseion, the sanctuary of Pandion, the altar of Athena, the sanctuary of Zeus Polieus, and the circular temple of Augustus and Rome from Roman times are other sites that have almost nothing remaining to be seen today.

Hellenistic and Roman period

The Acropolis of Athens

3-D model of the Acropolis

Many of the structures around the Acropolis had to be renovated throughout the Hellenistic and Roman eras because of age-related degradation and battle damage. The Attalid monarchs of Pergamon, Attalos II (in front of the NW corner of the Parthenon) and Eumenes II (in front of the Propylaia), were honoured with statues. Both Augustus and Agrippa had them re-dedicated to them during the early years of the Roman Empire.

Eumenes also built a stoa on the South slope of the Agora, similar to that of Attalos.

Around 23 metres from the Parthenon, a modest, spherical temple known as the Temple of Rome and Augustus was the last notable ancient structure to be built on this rock’s top during the Julio-Claudian era.

 

It was also at this time that another sanctuary was built on the North slope, close to the one that had been devoted to Pan since classical times, in which the archons consecrated Apollo upon taking office.

 

The Roman Herodes Atticus erected his huge amphitheatre or Odeon on the South slope around 161 AD. Reconstruction was completed in the 1950s when the Herulians invaded a century later, but it was destroyed.

Fortification of the Acropolis walls against a Herulian invasion took place during the third century, which included construction of the “Beulé Gate,” which prevented anybody from entering from directly in front of the Propylaia.

 

Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman period

The Acropolis of Athens

Depiction of the Venetian siege of the Acropolis of Athens during 1687.

The Virgin Mary was venerated at the Parthenon’s church throughout the Byzantine era. Acropolis was the administrative capital of Athens under the Latin Duchy, with the Parthenon serving as its cathedral and the Propylaia as part of the Ducal Palace. The “Frankopyrgos” tower, built in the 17th century, was dismantled in the 19th century.

It was only after the Ottoman invasion of Greece that the Parthenon and Erechtheum were transformed into the private Harems of their respective Governors. During the Venetian siege of 1687 during the Morean War, the Acropolis structures sustained substantial damage. The Parthenon, a gunpowder storage facility, was extensively destroyed by artillery fire.

 

The Acropolis of Athens

Leo von Klenze, 1846, idealised restoration of the Acropolis and Areios Pagos in Athens.

Byzantine, Frankish, and Ottoman constructions occupied the Acropolis in the following centuries. During the Ottoman era, the Parthenon was adorned with a mosque and a tower. Most Byzantine, Frankish, and Ottoman-era elements were removed from the site during the Greek War of Independence in an effort to return the monument to its original shape, free of any subsequent alterations.

 

Acropolis of Athens – Archaeological remains

The Acropolis of Athens

Remains of the Theatre of Dionysus as of 2007

It was a colossal doorway known as the Propylaea that led up to the Acropolis. Small Temple of Athena Nike is located south of the entryway. The Parthenon, or Temple of Athena Parthenos, is in the heart of the Acropolis (Athena the Virgin). The Erechtheum temple is located north of the Parthenon and east of the entrance. Theater of Dionysus remnants may be found south of the Acropolis platform that constitutes the pinnacle of the Acropolis. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus, now largely rebuilt, is just a few hundred metres distant.

All the valuable ancient artifacts are situated in the Acropolis Museum, which resides on the southern slope of the same rock, 280 metres from the Parthenon.

Acropolis of Athens – Site plan

Site plan of the Acropolis at Athens showing the major archaeological remains

Parthenon Old Temple of Athena Erechtheum Statue of Athena Promachos Propylaea Temple of Athena Nike Eleusinion Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia or Brauroneion Chalkotheke Pandroseion Arrephorion Altar of Athena Polias Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus Sanctuary of Pandion Odeon of Herodes Atticus Stoa of Eumenes Sanctuary of Asclepius or Asclepieion Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus Odeon of Pericles Temenos of Dionysus Eleuthereus Aglaureion

The Acropolis of Athens

 

The Acropolis of Athens Restoration Project

The Acropolis of Athens

In the summer of 2014, this view eastward toward the Acropolis was still under development.

The Project started in 1975, but it has come to a grinding stop by 2017. Reversing centuries of deterioration, pollution, destruction, and erroneous restorations was the purpose of the restoration. Even tiny stone pieces from the Acropolis and its slopes were collected for identification as part of the effort.

New marble from Mount Penteli was also used sparingly to help recreate as much of the Acropolis’ original material as possible (anastylosis). In the event that a new team of specialists decides to make changes, the titanium dowels used in the restoration process will allow for a seamless transition. Cutting-edge contemporary technology was paired with a long-term study and reinvention of traditional methods.

As a result of the 17th-century Venetian assault of the Parthenon colonnades, several incorrectly built columns have been repaired. Some of the Propylaea’s roof and floor have been repaired, with portions constructed of fresh marble and adorned with blue and gold inlays, much like the original.  In 2010, the Temple of Athena Nike was restored to its former glory.

686 stones were reconstructed from shards of the originals, 905 were mended with new marble, and 186 new marble sections were used to complete the 2,675-ton restoration. A total of 530 cubic metres of brand-new Pentelic marble were used in this project.

 

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