Acropolis of Athens

Acropolis of Athens

UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Acropolis of Athens or Citadel of Athens is the best known acropolis (Gr. akros, akron,[1] edge, extremity + polis, city, pl. acropoleis) 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 preeminent monument on the European Cultural Heritage list of monuments on 26 March 2007.[2] The Acropolis is a flat-topped rock that rises 150 m (490 ft) above sea level in the city of Athens, with a surface area of about 3 hectares. It was also known as Cecropia, after the legendary serpent-man, Cecrops, the first Athenian king.


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). There is little doubt that a Mycenaean megaron stood upon the hill during the late Bronze Age. Nothing of this megaron survives except, probably, a single limestone column-base and pieces of several sandstone steps. Soon after the palace was constructed, a Cyclopean massive circuit wall was built, 760 meters long, up to 10 meters high, and ranging from 3.5 to 6 meters thick. This wall would serve as the main defense for the acropolis until the 5th century.[3] The wall consisted of two parapets built with large stone blocks and cemented with an earth mortar called emplekton (Greek: ἔμπλεκτον).[4] 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). At some point before the 13th century an earthquake caused a fissure near the northeastern edge of the acropolis. This fissure extended some thirty five meters to a bed of soft marl in which a well was dug.[5] An elaborate set of stairs were built and the well served as an invaluable, protected source of drinking water during times of siege for some portion of the Mycenaean period.

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 supplanted by later building activity on the Acropolis. Not much is known as to the architectural appearance of the Acropolis until the archaic era. In the 7th and the 6th centuries BC, the site 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 northwestern foot.

Archaic Acropolis

A temple sacred to "Athena Polias" (Protectress of the City) was quickly 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). This temple of Athena Polias was built upon the Doerpfeld foundations.[6] It is unknown where the "Bluebeard" temple was built. There are two popular theories (1) the "Bluebeard" temple was built upon the Doerpfeld foundations, (2) the "Bluebeard" temple was built where the Parthenon now stands.[7] That being said it is unknown if the "Bluebeard" temple and the Archaios Naos 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", German for "Early 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 (36 ft) 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 burned and looted, along with the Archaios Naos and practically everything else on the rock. After the Persian crisis had subsided, the Athenians incorporated many of the unfinished temple's architectural members (unfluted column drums, triglyphs, metopes, etc.) into the newly built northern curtain wall of the Acropolis, where they serve as a prominent "war memorial" and can still be seen today. The devastated site was cleared of debris. Statuary, cult objects, religious offerings and unsalvageable architectural members were buried 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 Callicrates.

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 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 as 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 (4 ft 11 in) high, while the total height of the statue was 9 m (30 ft). 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

During the Hellenistic and Roman periods, many of the existing buildings in the area of the Acropolis were repaired, due to damage from age, and occasionally, war.[8] Monuments to foreign kings were erected, notably those of the Attalid kings of Pergamon Attalos II (in front of the NW corner of the Parthenon), and Eumenes II, in front of the Propylaia. These were rededicated during the early Roman Empire to Augustus (or perhaps Cladius), and Agrippa, respectively.[9] Eumenes was also responsible for constructing a stoa on the South slope, not unlike that of Attalos in the Agora below.

During the Julio-Claudian period, the Temple of Rome and Augustus, a small, round edifice, about 23 meters from the Parthenon, was to be the last significant ancient construction on the summit of the rock.[10] Around the same time, on the North slope, in a cave next to the one dedicated to Pan since the classical period, a sanctuary was founded where the archons dedicated to Apollo on taking office.[11] In the following century, on the South slope, Herodes Atticus built his grand odeon.

The Venetian siege of 1687

During the 3rd century, under threat from a Herulian invasion, repairs were made to the Acropolis walls, and the "Beule Gate" was constructed to restrict entrance in front of the Propylaia, thus returning the Acropolis to use as a fortress.[8]

Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman period

In the Byzantine period, the Parthenon was turned into a church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Under the Latin Duchy of Athens, the Acropolis functioned as the city's administrative center, with the Parthenon as its cathedral, and the Propylaia as part of the Ducal Palace. A large tower was added, the "Frankopyrgos" (Tower of the Franks), demolished in the 19th century.

After the Ottoman conquest of Greece, the Parthenon was used as the garrison headquarters of the Turkish army,[12] and the Erechtheum was turned into the Governor's private Harem. The buildings of the Acropolis suffered significant damage during the 1687 siege by the Venetians in the Morean War. The Parthenon, which was being used as a gunpowder magazine, was hit by artillery fire and severely damaged.

In subsequent years, the Acropolis was a site of bustling human activity with many Byzantine, Frankish, and Ottoman structures. The dominant feature during the Ottoman period was a mosque inside the Parthenon, complete with a minaret. Following the Greek War of Independence, most post-Byzantine features were cleared from the site as part of a Hellenizing project that swept the new nation-state.

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.

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.

Site plan

Site plan of the Acropolis at Athens showing the major archaeological remains
Site plan of the Acropolis at Athens showing the major archaeological remains[13]

1. Parthenon
The Parthenon (Ancient Greek: Παρθενών) is a temple on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their virgin patron. Its construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the height of its power. It was completed in 438 BC, although decorations of the Parthenon continued until 432 BC. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered the culmination of the development of the Doric order. Its decorative sculptures are considered some of the high points of Greek art. The Parthenon is regarded as an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece and of Athenian democracy and one of the world's greatest cultural monuments. The Greek Ministry of Culture is currently carrying out a program of selective restoration and reconstruction to ensure the stability of the partially ruined structure.

The Parthenon itself replaced an older temple of Athena, which historians call the Pre-Parthenon or Older Parthenon, that was destroyed in the Persian invasion of 480 BC. The temple is archaeoastronomically aligned to the Pleiades. Like most Greek temples, the Parthenon was used as a treasury. For a time, it served as the treasury of the Delian League, which later became the Athenian Empire. In the 5th century AD, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. After the Ottoman Turk conquest, it was turned into a mosque in the early 1460s, and it had a minaret built in it. On 26 September 1687, an Ottoman Turk ammunition dump inside the building was ignited by Venetian bombardment. The resulting explosion severely damaged the Parthenon and its sculptures. In 1806, Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin removed some of the surviving sculptures, with the Ottoman Turks' permission. These sculptures, now known as the Elgin Marbles or the Parthenon Marbles, were sold in 1816 to the British Museum in London, where they are now displayed. The Greek government is committed to the return of the sculptures to Greece, so far with no success.

2. Athena
The Old Temple of Athena was an Archaic temple located on the Acropolis of Athens. Until its destruction by the Persians in 480 BC, it was the shrine of Athena Polias, the patron deity of the city of Athens. It was located at the centre of the Acropolis plateau, probably on the remains of a Mycenaean palace. Apart from its in-situ foundations, numerous architectural members in the Doric order belonging to its different construction phases have been found. The complex is sometimes described by the name "Dörpfeld foundations", after the archaeologist who first studied it.

The foundations suggest the following basic description: The temple measured 21.3 by 43.15 m, on a west-east orientation. It was surrounded by a peristasis of 6 by 12 columns. The difference between column axes was 4.04 m, narrowed by 0.31 m at the corners. The stylobate was slightly curved, whether this also applied to the superstructure remains unclear. In the pronaos and opisthodomus, two columns each stood between short antae. The cella was very short, in fact nearly square, and subdivided in three aisles by two rows of three columns each. The back of the temple was subdivided into a wide rectangular opisthodomus followed by a pair of side-by-side rooms. The foundations were composed of various materials and constructed in varying techniques. While the load-bearing parts and internal supports were made of blue Acropolis limestone, the foundations of the surrounding peristasis were of poros limestone. The superstructure and decorative pieces also appear to have been made from a variety of materials, including 'poros' and Parian marble.

Because of those variations, the reconstruction of the temple's architectural history remains controversial. Wilhelm Dörpfeld, assumed that the original structure was a double temple in antis, dating to about 570 BC, lengthened and broadened by the addition of the peristasis under Peisistratus, between 529 and 520 BC. This idea led to a subdivision of the foundations into an inner smaller structure known as H-Architektur and assumed to be the oldest part of the building, followed by a structure still described as the "Old Temple of Athena", inccorporating the H-Architektur as well as the peristasis.

The H-Architektur is assumed to be from circa 470 BC. Based on its dimensions, architectural elements have been attributed to it, such as straight and diagonal simas of Parian marble, and capitals as well as a geison depicting flying birds, of poros. Further elements likely to be attributable to the early structure because of their size and style include metopes of Parian marble, monumental poros pediments depicting fighting lions, and ion the corners on the east side Herakles on the left and the "triple-bodied" figure on the right. A group of very squat and broad capitals with wide echinus are also ascribed to the early structure, suggesting that it had a hexastyle peristasis.

The Old Temple of Athena as a separate structure is often dated to circa 510/500 BC. Its dimensions are identified as those of the entirety of the foundations excavated by Dörpfeld. Features ascribed to it include: entablature and sima of Parian marble, poros capitals with a steeper echinus, a marble frieze depicting a procession, and marble waterspouts in each of the four corners, shaped as lions' and rams' heads. The pedimental sculptures, now free-standing for the first time, depicted a gigantomachy in the east and a scene of lions killing a bull in the west. Of the gigantomachy, parts of the figures of Athena, of Zeus, and of a falling enemy are preserved.

The temple, which contained the ancient xoanon or wooden statue of Athena, believed to have fallen from the sky, was destroyed in the Persian sack of 480 BC. It remains controversial whether a partial restoration followed this. Herodotus mentions a west-facing megaron on the Acropolis. This reference, as well as a structure listed in an inscription have been interpreted as evidence that the opisthodomus of the Old Temple remained in place through the fifth century. Xenophon, states that the Old Temple of Athena burned down in 406/405 BC, but this might also refer to the Erechtheion, which had taken over the functions of the Old Temple and housed the xoanon. From the 4th century BC onwards, there are no possible references to the Old Temple; Pausanias was not aware of its existence.

3. Erechtheum
The Erechtheion (Greek: Ἐρέχθειον) is an ancient Greek temple on the north side of the Acropolis of Athens in Greece.


The temple as seen today was built between 421 and 406 BC. Its architect may have been Mnesicles, and it derived its name from a shrine dedicated to the legendary Greek hero Erichthonius. The sculptor and mason of the structure was Phidias, who was employed by Pericles to build both the Erechtheum and the Parthenon. Some have suggested that it may have been built in honor of the legendary king Erechtheus, who is said to have been buried nearby. Erechtheus was mentioned in Homer's Iliad as a great king and ruler of Athens during the Archaic Period, and Erechtheus and the hero Erichthonius were often syncretized. It is believed to have been a replacement for the Peisistratid temple of Athena Polias destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC.

The need to preserve multiple adjacent sacred precincts likely explains the complex design. The main structure consists of up to four compartments, the largest being the east cella, with an Ionic portico on its east end. Other current thinking would have the entire interior at the lower level and the East porch used for access to the great altar of Athena Polias via a balcony and stair and also as a public viewing platform.

The Porch of the Caryatids.

The entire temple is on a slope, so the west and north sides are about 3 m (9 ft) lower than the south and east sides. It was built entirely of marble from Mount Pentelikon, with friezes of black limestone from Eleusis which bore sculptures executed in relief in white marble. It had elaborately carved doorways and windows, and its columns were ornately decorated (far more so than is visible today); they were painted, gilded and highlighted with gilt bronze and multi-colored inset glass beads. The building is known for early examples of egg-and-dart, and guilloche ornamental moldings.

The Porch of the Caryatids

On the south side, there is another large porch with columns, and on the south, the famous "Porch of the Maidens", with six draped female figures (caryatids) as supporting columns, each sculpted in a manner different from the rest and engineered in such a way that their slenderest part, the neck, is capable of supporting the weight of the porch roof while remaining graceful and feminine. The porch was built to conceal the giant 15-ft beam needed to support the southwest corner over the metropolis, after the building was drastically reduced in size and budget following the onset of the Peloponnesian war.

4. Athena Promachos
The Athena Promachos (Ἀθηνᾶ Πρόμαχος "Athena who fights in the front line") was a colossal bronze statue of Athena sculpted by Pheidias, which stood between the Propylaea and the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens. Athena was the goddess of wisdom and warriors and the protectress of Athens. Pheidias also sculpted two other figures of Athena on the Acropolis, the huge gold and ivory ("chryselephantine") cult image of Athena Parthenos in the Parthenon and the Lemnian Athena. The designation Athena Promachos is not attested before a dedicatory inscription of the early fourth century CE: Pausanias (1.28.2), for one, referred to it as "the great bronze Athena" on the Acropolis.

Image: Site 04 Athena Promachos painted by Leo von Klenze (1784 1864) Pinakothek Museum Munich

Reconstruction of the Acropolis and Areus Pagus in Athens, 1846 by painter Leo von Klenze (1784-1864)


The Athena Promachos was one of Pheidias' earliest recorded works: it was placed in about 456 BCE. It was made with the Persian spoils of the Battle of Marathon, won some years earlier. Parts of the marble base remain; according to the preserved inscription, it measured about 30 feet (9 m) high. It showed Athena standing with her shield resting upright against her leg, and a spear in her right hand. The statue was so big it was possible to see the tip of the spear and her helmet crest at sea off Cape Sounion.

Surviving accounts for the sculpture cover nine years, but the dates are not identifiable, because the names of officials are missing (Stewart; Lundgreen 1997:191). The sculpture may have commemorated Kimon's defeat of the Persians at the Eurymedon in 467 or the peace of Kallias in about 450/49 (Walsh 1981).

The appearance of the Athena Promachos can only be certainly identified on a few Attic coins minted in Roman times, in the first and second centuries CE, providing clues to identifying versions in surviving sculptures, with varying confidence. They show that she wore a belted garment and stretched forward her right hand on which a winged object can be seen. A spear leans against one shoulder and her shield, which we know was made separately, by different artists, rests on the ground. Sometimes the plinth is indicated. Her crested helmet is sometimes rendered as Attic in type, sometimes Corinthian.

Athena Promachos stood overlooking her city for about 1000 years until shortly after 465 CE, when she was transported to Constantinople (capital of the Eastern Roman Empire), as a trophy in the "Oval Forum", the last bastion and safe haven for many surviving Greek bronze sculptures, under the protection of the Eastern Empire's Imperial court.

The Athena Promachos was finally destroyed in 1203 by a superstitious Christian mob who thought she was beckoning the crusaders who had besieged the city (Jenkins 1947).

Of surviving models thought to represent the type, the two outstanding are the Athena Elgin, a small bronze statuette in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who bears an owl in her outstretched hand (like some coin types), and the Athena Medici torso in the Musée du Louvre, of which there are a number of replicas.

5. Propylaea
A Propylaea, Propylea or Propylaia (in Greek — Προπύλαια) is any monumental gateway based on the original Propylaea that serves as the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens. The word propylaea (propylaeum is the Latin version) is the union of the prefix pro (before or in front of) plus the plural of the Greek pylon or pylaion (gate), meaning literally that which is before the gates, but the word has come to mean simply gate building. The Brandenburg Gate of Berlin and the Propylaea in Munich are specifically copied from the central portion of the Propylaea.

Propylaea of the Athenian Acropolis

The monumental gateway to the Acropolis, the Propylaea was built under the general direction of the Athenian leader Pericles, but Phidias was given the responsibility for planning the rebuilding the Acropolis as a whole at the conclusion of the Persian Wars. According to Plutarch, the Propylaea was designed by the architect Mnesicles, but we know nothing more about him. Construction began in 437 BCE and was terminated in 432, 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. Structural iron was also used, though William Bell Dinsmoor[1] analyzed the structure and concluded that the iron weakened the building. The structure consists of a central building with two adjoining wings on the west (outer) side, one to the north and one to the south. The core is the central building, which presents a standard six-columned Doric façade both on the West to those entering the Acropolis and on the east to those departing. The columns echo the proportions (not the size) of the columns of the Parthenon. There is no surviving evidence for sculpture in the pediments.

The central building contains the gate wall, about two-thirds of the way through it. There are five gates in the wall, one for the central passageway, which was not paved and lay along the natural level of the ground, and two on either side at the level of the building's eastern porch, five steps up from the level of the western porch. The central passageway was the culmination of the Sacred Way, which led to the Acropolis from Eleusis.

Entrance into the Acropolis was controlled by the Propylaea. Though it was not built as a fortified structure, it was important that people not ritually clean be denied access to the sanctuary. In addition, runaway slaves and other miscreants could not be permitted into the sanctuary where they could claim the protection of the gods. The state treasury was also kept on the Acropolis, making its security important.

The gate wall and the eastern (inner) portion of the building sit at a level five steps above the western portion, and the roof of the central building rose on the same line. The ceiling in the eastern part of the central building was famous in antiquity, having been called by Pausanias (about 600 years after the building was finished) "...down to the present day unrivaled." It consisted of marble blocks carved in the shape of ceiling coffers and painted blue with gold stars.

The Colonnades

The outer (western) wings to the right and left of the central building stood on the same platform as the western portion of the central building but were much smaller, not only in plan but in scale. Like the central building, the wings use Doric colonnades and Doric entablatures. However, the central building also has an Ionic colonnade on either side of the central passageway between the western (outer) Doric colonnade and the gate wall. This is therefore the first building known to us with Doric and Ionic colonnades visible at the same time. It is also the first monumental building in the classical period to be more complex than a simple rectangle or cylinder.

The western wing on the north (to the left as one enters the Acropolis) was famous in antiquity as the location of paintings of important Greek battles. Pausanias reports their presence, but few scholars believe the room was planned to hold them. Recent scholarship, following the lead of John Travlos (Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Athens, New York, 1971), has taken the northern wing to have been a room for ritual dining. The evidence for that is the off-center doorway and the position near the entrance to the Acropolis.

The wing on the south, though much smaller, was clearly designed to make the whole structure appear to be symmetrical. It seems only to have functioned as an access route to the Sanctuary of Athena Nike.

Plans for eastern and western side of Propylaea

There were two wings planned for the east side of the Propylaea, facing in toward the Acropolis. Preparations for both wings are apparent at the eastern end of the central building and along the side walls, but it seems that the plan for a southern wing was abandoned early in the construction process since the old fortification wall was not demolished, as required for that wing. The north wing was not built either. (Had it been constructed, it seems that the level of the floor would have been problematic. To the extent that preparations had been made, they were for a floor at the level of the western portion of the building, considerably below the level required on the East.)

To the right of the Propylaea and further west, on the raised bastion prepared for it, stood the Temple of Athena Nike. As a result of the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta in 431 BCE, the Propylaea was never completed. Not only are the eastern wings missing, the wall surfaces were not trimmed to their finished shapes, and so-called lifting bosses remain on many blocks. (Lifting bosses have long been called such but are now recognized to have been for another purpose, though that other purpose is not agreed. See A. Trevor Hodge, "Bosses Reappraised," Omni Pede Stare: Saggi Architettonici e circumvesuviani in memoriuam Jos de Waele, Mols & Moormann, eds.)


The Propylaea survived intact through the Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods. During the period of Latin Empire, it served as the palace of the de la Roche family, who held the title Duke of Athens from 1204 to 1311. It was severely damaged by an explosion of a powder magazine in 1656. A tower of French or Ottoman date, erected on the south wing, was pulled down in 1874.


Today the Propylaea has been partly restored, since 1984 under the direction of Dr. Tasos Tanoulas, and serves as the main entrance to the Acropolis for the many thousands of tourists who visit the area every year. In the period before the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, the Propylaea was shrouded in scaffolding as restoration work was undertaken. At the end of 2009 all scaffolding was removed, and the building is now open fully to view again. The famous ceilings have even been partly restored.

6. Temple of Athena Nike
The temple of Athena Nike after its recent anastylosis which integrated many original spare parts of the temple.

Nike means "victory" in Greek, and Athena was worshiped in this form, as goddess of victory in war and wisdom, on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Her temple was the earliest fully ionic temple on the Acropolis, compensated by its prominent position on a steep bastion at the south west corner of the Acropolis to the right of the entrance (propylaea). There the citizens worshipped the goddess in hope of a prosperous outcome in the long war fought on land and sea against the Spartans and their allies. The Temple of Athena Nike was an expression of Athens' ambition to be the leading Greek city state in the Peloponnese. The Temple sits within the sanctuary of Athena Nike, atop a bastion on the south flank of the great stair to the Athenian Acropolis. In contrast to the Acropolis proper, a walled sanctuary entered through the Propylaia, the Nike Sanctuary was open, entered from the Propylaia's southwest wing and from a narrow stair on the north. The sheer walls of its bastion were protected on the north, west, and south by a parapet, the famed "Nike Parapet", named for its frieze of Nikai celebrating victory and sacrificing to their patroness, Athena.

Temple architecture and sculpture

The Temple of Athena Nike is a tetrastyle (four column) Ionic structure with a colonnaded portico at both front and rear facades (amphiprostyle), designed by the architect Kallikrates. This building was erected on top of the remains of an earlier 6th century BC temple to Athena, demolished by the Persians in 480 BC. The total height from the stylobate to the acme of the pediment while the temple remained intact was a modest 23 feet. The ratio of height to diameter of the columns is 7:1, the slender proportions creating an elegance and refinement not encountered in the normal 9:1 or 10:1 of Ionic buildings. Constructed from white pentelic marble, it was built in stages as war-starved funding allowed.

A statue of Nike stood in the Cella, or otherwise referred to as a Naos. Nike was originally the "winged victory" goddess (see the winged Nike of Samothrace) The Athena Nike statue's absence of wings led Athenians in later centuries to call it Nike Apteros (wingless victory), and the story arose that the statue was deprived of wings so that it could never leave the city.

The friezes of the building's entablature were decorated on all sides with relief sculpture in the idealized classical style of the 5th century BC. The north frieze depicted a battle between Greeks entailing cavalry. The south freize showed the decisive victory over the Persians at the battle of Plataea. The east frieze showed an assembly of the gods Athena, Zeus and Poseidon, rendering Athenian religious beliefs and reverence for the gods bound up in the social and political climate of 5th Century Athens.

Some time after the temple was completed, around 410 BC a parapet was added around it to prevent people from falling from the steep bastion. The outside of the parapet was adorned by exquisitely carved relief sculptures showing Nike in a variety of activities, the best-known Olympian.

After three separate restorations the small Temple of Athena Nike/Apteros still stands on the Acropolis, together with the Erechtheum and the Parthenon, a survivor of antiquity. The main structure, stylobate and columns are largely intact, minus the roof and most of the tympanae. Fragments of the sculpted frieze are exhibited in the Acropolis Museum; copies of these are fixed in their place on the temple.

7. Eleusinion
An Athenian temple to Demeter, the Eleusinion was the place where all sacred objects associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries were kept between ceremonies. It was located at the base of the Acropolis. The Eleusinion played an important role in the Panathenaic festival.

8. Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia or Brauroneion
The Brauroneion was the sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia on the Athenian Acropolis, located in the southwest corner of the Acropolis plateau, between the Chalkotheke and the Propylaia in Greece. It was originally dedicated during the reign of Peisistratos. Artemis Brauronia, protector of women in pregnancy and childbirth, had her main sanctuary at Brauron, a demos on the east coast of Attica.

The sanctuary on the Acropolis was of an unusual trapezoidal shape and did not contain a formal temple. Instead, a portico or stoa served that function. The stoa measured circa 38 by 6.8 m; it stood in front of the southern Acropolis wall, facing north. At its corners, there were two risalit-like side wings, each about 9.3 m long, the western one facing east and vice versa. North of the east wing stood a further short west-facing stoa. All of the sanctuary's western part, now lost, stood on the remains of the Mycenaean fortification wall. All that remains of the eastern pare are foundations for walls, cut into the bedrock, as well as some very few architectural members of limestone.

One of the wings contained the wooden cult statue (xoanon) of the goddess. Women who petitioned Artemis for help habitually dedicated items of clothing, which were draped around the statue. In 346 BC, a second cult statue was erected. According to Pausanias, it was a work by Praxiteles.

The entrance to the small sacred precinct, near its northeast corner, is still marked by seven rock-cut steps. They, and its northern enclosure, were probably created by Mnesicles during the building of the Propylaia. The date of the complex in its final shape is unclear, but a date around 430 BC, similar to that of the adjacent Propylaia, is comnonly assumed.

9. Chalkotheke
The Chalkotheke (Greek for "bronze store") was a structure on the Athenian Acropolis. Its name and function are only known from 4th century BC inscriptions. One decree orders the listing of all objects stored in the Chalkotheke and the erection of a stele inscribed with that list in front of the building.

Remains of a structure discovered to the east of the sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia and immediately to the southwest of the Parthenon have been suggested to be those of the Chalkotheke. Only scant limestone foundations and rock-cut foundation trenches survive. The building stood in front of the southern Acropolis wall and was circa 43 m long and 14 m wide, fronted on its northern long side by a portico of 4.5 m width. To make room for that portico, the southernmost portion of the rock-cut steps leading up to the west facade of the Parthenon had to be cut away. Thus, the portico is assumed to have been an early fourth century BC addition, while the main part of the structure is thought to be roughly contemporary with the Parthenon, i.e. to date to the mid-fifth century. A major renovation appears to have taken place during Roman times, as indicated by numerous fragments of architectural members that are definitely Roman in date and have dimensions matching those of the Chalkotheke.

10. Pandroseion
The Pandroseion was a sanctuary dedicated to Pandrosus, one of the daughters of Cecrops I, the first king of AtticaGreece, located on the Acropolis of Athens. It occupied the space adjacent to the Erechtheum and the old Temple of Athena poleios

The sanctuary was a walled trapezoidal courtyard containing the altar of Zeus Herkeios (protector of the hearth, of the courtyard)under the sacred Olive Tree planted by Athena.At the west was an entrance stoa from the propylea. In the northeast corner was an elaborate entrance into the north porch and the entire Etrechtheion complex. at the east, there was also a small opening through which the Thalassa of Poseidon could be viewed.. The south-east corner gave access to what some thought was the tomb of Cecrops. The sanctuary also contained the sacred olive tree which was presented by Athena to the city of Athens, after her victory over Poseidon in the contest for the land of Attica.

11. Arrephorion
The Arrephorion was a small building sited beside the north wall of the Acropolis of Athens. It provided the lodgings for the arrephores, the girls who worked for a whole year just below the acropolis weaving the new peplos for Panathenaic procession. It was identified in 1920 by the German architect Wilhelm Dörpfeld.

12. Altar of Athena

13. Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus
The Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus was a no walled open-air sanctuary dedicated to Zeus Polieus (city protector) around 500 BC on the Acropolis of Athens, sited to the Erechtheion's east. None of its foundations have been discovered and its trapezoid plan and many entrances have been worked out from rock cuttings on the acropolis. The eastern area of the sanctuary is thought to have housed the oxen for the annual Bouphonia or ox-sacrificing. Its main entrance had a pediment.

14. Sanctuary of Pandion
The Sanctuary of Pandion was an open-air sanctuary or shrine at the south-east corner of the Acropolis of Athens, dedicated to Pandion I or Pandion II.

15. Odeon of Herodes Atticus
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a stone theatre structure located on the south slope of the Acropolis of Athens. It was built in 161 AD by Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife, Aspasia Annia Regilla. It was originally a steep-sloped amphitheater with a three-story stone front wall and a wooden roof, and was used as a venue for music concerts with a capacity of 5,000.

16. Stoa of Eumenes
The Stoa of Eumenes is a stoa on the acropolis of Athens, sited between the Odeion of Herodes Atticus and the Theater of Dionysos. It was built against the slope of the hill (meaning it needed a retaining wall supported by piers and round arches. It is named after its builder, Eumenes II of Pergamum (whose brother Attalus II of Pergamum built the Stoa of Attalus in Athens's agora, probably commissioning it from the same architect). It was two-storied, 46m longer than the Stoa of Attalus and unlike it had no rooms behind its two-aisle hall, meaning it was designed for promenading rather than business. Originally marble-faced, its arcades were built into the 1060 Byzantine defensive wall and are still visible. It had Doric columns externally, Ionic columns on the ground-floor interior and Pergemene-type capitals on the top floor interior. In front of the Stoa are the foundations of the 320BC Monument of Nikias.

17. Sanctuary of Asclepius or Asclepieion
In ancient Greece and Rome, an asclepeion (or asklepieion, Greek: Ἀσκληπιεῖον - Ἀσκλαπιεῖον in Doric dialect, Latin aesculapīum) was a healing temple, sacred to the god Asclepius.

Asclepius was probably first worshipped as a hero in Trikka, Thessaly, which ancient mythographers generally regarded as the place of his birth. Epidauros, on the other hand, was the first place to worship Asclepius as a god, beginning sometime in the 400's BC. The asclepieion at Epidaurus is both extensive and well preserved. There is an asclepieion located on the south slopes of the Acropolis of Athens which dates to around 420 BC.

Starting around 350 BC, the cult of Asclepius became increasingly popular. Pilgrims flocked to asclepieia to be healed. They slept overnight ("incubation") and reported their dreams to a priest the following day. He prescribed a cure, often a visit to the baths or a gymnasium. Since snakes were sacred to Asclepius, they were often used in healing rituals. Non-venomous snakes were left to crawl on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept.

Asclepeia provided carefully controlled spaces conducive to healing and fulfilled several of the requirements of institutions created for healing. In the Asclepieion of Epidaurus, three large marble boards dated to 350 BC preserve the names, case histories, complaints, and cures of about 70 patients who came to the temple with a problem and shed it there. Some of the surgical cures listed, such as the opening of an abdominal abscess or the removal of traumatic foreign material, are realistic enough to have taken place, but with the patient in a dream-like state of induced sleep known as "enkoimesis" (Greek: ἐγκοίμησις) not unlike anesthesia, induced with the help of soporific substances such as opium.

Pausanias remarked that, at the asclepieion of Titane in Sicyon (founded by Alexanor, Asclepius' grandson), statues of Hygieia were covered by women's hair and pieces of Babylonian clothes. According to inscriptions, the same sacrifices were offered at Paros.

Hippocrates is said to have received his medical training at an asclepieion on the isle of Kos. Prior to becoming the personal physician to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Galen treated and studied at the famed asclepieion at Pergamon.

18. Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus
The Theatre of Dionysus is a major open-air theatre and one of the earliest preserved in Athens. It was used for festivals in honor of the god Dionysus. It is commonly confused with the later and better-preserved Odeon of Herodes Atticus, located at the southwest slope of the Acropolis.


In 534 BCE, the tyrant Peisistratus transferred the City Dionysia festival from the rural district of Eleutherae.[1] The plays that formed a part of these festivals were at first performed on a flat circular area in the Agora of Athens, but were transferred around 500 BCE to the Theatre, located on the sloping southern side of the Acropolis, nearby a temple to Dionysus.

The theatre was dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine and the patron of drama; it hosted the City Dionysia festival. Amongst those who competed were the dramatists of the classical era whose works have survived- Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and Menander. It formed part of the sacred precinct, or temenos, of Dionysos Eleuthereus ("Dionysus Liberator"). The theatre was able to hold up to 25,000 people, with them all able to hear clearly what was being said on stage.

The Theatre of Dionysus also sometimes hosted meetings of the Athenian Ecclesia after the Pnyx was deemed unsuitable.

An enlarged, stone-version of the theatre, which was built c. 325 BCE, seated between 14,000 to 17,000 spectators.[3] After this it fell into disuse and little is recorded until 61 CE where there is evidence of major renovations done by the Roman emperor Nero. The remains of a restored and redesigned Roman version can still be seen at the site today.


On November 24, 2009 Greek authorities announced that they would partially restore the ruined marble theater. The Culture Ministry said the $9 million program is set for completion by 2015.

19. Odeon of Pericles
The Odeon of Athens or Odeon of Pericles in Athens was a 4000 m² odeon built at the foot of the south-east part of the Acropolis in Athens, to the left of the entrance to the Theatre of Dionysus.


It was first built in 435 BC by Pericles for the musical contests that formed part of the Panathenaea, for audiences from the Theatre to shelter in in case of bad weather and for chorus rehearsals. Few remains of it now survive, but it seems to have been "adorned with stone pillars" (according to Vitruvius and Plutarch) and square instead of the usual circular shape for an odeon. It was covered in masts, yards and rigging from captured Persian ships, culminating in a cone like a tent – Pausanias wrote that the 1st century BC rebuild of it was "said to be a copy of Xerxes' tent", and that might also apply to the original building. Plutarch writes that the original building had many seats and many pillars. From a few other passages, and from the scanty remains of such edifices, we may conclude further that it had an orchestra for the chorus and a stage for the musicians (of less depth than the stage of the theatre), behind which were rooms, which were probably used for keeping the dresses and vessels, and ornaments required for religious processions. It required no shifting scenery but its stage's back-wall seems to have been permanently decorated with paintings. For example, Vitruvius tells us, that, in the small theatre at Tralles (which was doubtless an Odeum), Apaturius of Alabanda painted the scaena with a composition so fantastic that he was compelled to remove it, and to correct it according to the truth of natural objects.

The original Odeon of Athens was burned down during Sulla's siege of Athens in the First Mithridatic War in 87–86 BC, either by Sulla himself or by his opponent Aristion for fear that Sulla would use its timbers to storm the acropolis. It was later fully rebuilt by Ariobarzanes II of Cappadocia, using C. and M. Stallius and Menalippus as his architects. The new building was referred to by Pausanias in the 2nd century AD as "the most magnificent of all the structures of the Greeks". He also refers to a "figure of Dionysus worth seeing" in an odeum in Athens, though this may refer to a different odeon.

20. Temenos of Dionysus Eleuthereus
The Theatre of Dionysus is a major open-air theatre and one of the earliest preserved in Athens. It was used for festivals in honor of the god Dionysus. It is commonly confused with the later and better-preserved Odeon of Herodes Atticus, located at the southwest slope of the Acropolis.


In 534 BCE, the tyrant Peisistratus transferred the City Dionysia festival from the rural district of Eleutherae. The plays that formed a part of these festivals were at first performed on a flat circular area in the Agora of Athens, but were transferred around 500 BCE to the Theatre, located on the sloping southern side of the Acropolis, nearby a temple to Dionysus.

The theatre was dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine and the patron of drama; it hosted the City Dionysia festival. Amongst those who competed were the dramatists of the classical era whose works have survived- Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and Menander. It formed part of the sacred precinct, or temenos, of Dionysos Eleuthereus ("Dionysus Liberator"). The theatre was able to hold up to 25,000 people, with them all able to hear clearly what was being said on stage.

The Theatre of Dionysus also sometimes hosted meetings of the Athenian Ecclesia after the Pnyx was deemed unsuitable.

An enlarged, stone-version of the theatre, which was built c. 325 BCE, seated between 14,000 to 17,000 spectators.[3] After this it fell into disuse and little is recorded until 61 CE where there is evidence of major renovations done by the Roman emperor Nero. The remains of a restored and redesigned Roman version can still be seen at the site today.


On November 24, 2009 Greek authorities announced that they would partially restore the ruined marble theater. The Culture Ministry said the $9 million program is set for completion by 2015.

21. Aglaureion
The Aglaureion was a shrine to Aglauros on the acropolis of Athens.

The Acropolis Restoration Project

The Project began in 1975 and is now nearing completion. The aim of the restoration was to reverse the decay of centuries of attrition, pollution, destruction by acts of war, and misguided past restorations. The project included collection and identification of all stone fragments, even small ones, from the Acropolis and its slopes and the attempt was made to restore as much as possible using reassembled original material - with new marble from Mount Penteli used sparingly. All restoration was made using titanium dowels and is designed to be completely reversible, in case future experts decide to change things. A combination of cutting-edge modern technology and extensive research and reinvention of ancient techniques were used.

The Parthenon colonnades, largely destroyed by Venetian bombardment in the 17th century, were restored, with many wrongly assembled columns now properly placed. The roof and floor of the Propylaea were partly restored, with sections of the roof made of new marble and decorated with blue and gold inserts, as in the original. The temple of Athena Nike is the only edifice still unfinished, pending proper reassembly of its parts, all of which survive practically intact.

A total of 2,675 tons of architectural members were restored, with 686 stones reassembled from fragments of the originals, 905 patched with new marble, and 186 parts made entirely of new marble. A total of 530 cubic meters of new Pentelic marble were used.

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 (Suggested to be depicted on the Parthenon frieze). There, a vast robe of woven wool (peplos) was ceremoniously placed on Phidias' massive ivory and gold statue of Athena.


  1. acro-. (n.d.). In Greek, Acropolis means "Highest City". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved September 29, 2008, from website: Quote: "From Greek akros, extreme; see ak- in Indo-European roots."
  2. "Acropolis proclaimed top European Cultural Heritage Monument". 2007-03-27. Retrieved 2010-12-23.
  3. Hurwit 2000, p. 74-75.
  4. ἔμπλεκτος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  5. Hurwit 2000, p. 78.
  6. Hurwit 2000, p. 121.
  7. Hurwit 2000, p. 111.
  8. Travlos, John, Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Athens, London: Thames and Hudson, 1971. p.54.
  9. Hurwit 2000 p. 278
  10. Hurwit 2000, p. 279.
  11. Nulton, Peter, The Sanctuary of Apollo Hypoakraios and Imperial Athens, Archaeologia Transatlantica XXI, 2003.
  12. Hellenistic ministry of culture History of the Acropolis of Athens


  • Hurwit, J (2000). "The Athenian Acropolis", Cambridge University Press

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This webpage was updated 27th January 2020