Athens - the Greek capital with a rich and varied history, has attracted people from all over the globe since ages. Its picturesque cityscape consisting of its ancient structural remains adds a feeling of awe. The saying 'Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder', does not hold true in case of Athens, where all things beautiful and sacred seem to appear together.
The most imposing historical structure in Athens is its Acropolis. There are many acropolises in Greece, but the one at Athens boasts of the spirit of classical Greece, and proudly testifies the very essence of its mighty empire. It is so renowned and popular, that the term Acropolis has become synonymous with the one at Athens.
The word Acropolis is derived from the Greek words akron, meaning edge, and polis, meaning city. So, in literal terms, Acropolis refers to the city on the edge. The Athenian Acropolis is situated on a hilly limestone outcropping that overlooks the city of Athens. Due to its location on the edge of a hill, it is also considered as the upper city or a citadel, which was enclosed by a herculean fortification wall.
More on Athenian Acropolis
- The Acropolis rises 490 feet above sea level, and covers a surface area of about 30,000 square meters.
- The earliest instances of human occupation of the Acropolis belong to the Neolithic phase of the 4th millennium B.C., where evidences show human occupation in the caves around Attica.
- The next indication of large-scale occupation comes from the Late Bronze Age, the period that was marked by the Mycenaean rule. There is ample evidence pointing towards the presence of Mycenaean megaron or palace on the Acropolis Hill.
- The megaron was enclosed within a Cyclopean fortification wall, which denied the access of the hill to the enemies. It provided defense to the complex till about the 5th century B.C.
- Remains of a deep well of Mycenaean era have also been recovered from underneath the hill. This well was seemingly the primary source of water supply to the complex, as well as a medium of protection from the enemies.
- Originally, the Acropolis was meant for defense purposes. The Greeks kept an eye on the positions of their enemies from the complex, at the time of war.
- It served the purpose of both, a fortified citadel and a religious center, which houses one of the most famous buildings in the world, the Parthenon. This is why the hill of the Acropolis is called the 'Sacred Rock of Athens'.
- It was also known as Cecropia or Kekrops, after the first king of Athens, who was a mythical serpent-man.
- Three main structural edifices of the Acropolis are the Parthenon, the Erechteion and the Temple of Athena Nike. The Parthenon, which literally means 'the apartment of the virgin', is dedicated to the Goddess Athena, who is also considered as the patroness of the city of Athens. The Erechteion is said to be located on the most sacred corner of the Acropolis Hill, and was a place where all holy ceremonies linked to Goddess Athena and God Poseidon were held. The Temple of Athena Nike is a square structure with ionic architecture, located on the south-western edge of the hill. Interestingly, the statue of Athens Nike in this temple depicts her as a fertility deity.
- The temple of Athena Polias was constructed on the Acropolis Hill around 570 - 550 B.C. This Doric style limestone shrine of the Protectress of the city was named as Hekatompedon, meaning 'the one with hundred feet', and probably stood right where the Parthenon stands today.
- Numerous other temples were erected on the Acropolis in the so-called archaic period, but many of them were either completely or partially destroyed during the Persian invasions. The so-called Persian rubble is the most affluent archaeological deposit ever unearthed on the Acropolis.
- After a considerable portion of the Acropolis was plundered by the Persians in 580 B.C., the proud Athenians decided never to reconstruct on it. However, after a gap of 33 years, it was General Pericles, who managed to convince the Athenians to carry out building activity on the Acropolis, and initiated a massive building program in 5th century B.C.
- This was the Golden Age of Athens (460 - 430 B.C.), which was characterized by prolific building activity in and around the city.
- Numerous buildings of the Acropolis underwent severe modifications and several of them were reconstructed. Parthenon was one of them.
- During the sovereignty of the Hellenistic and Roman rulers, the repair and restoration of the monuments continued. But it was during 3rd century B.C., when Athens was threatened by the Herulians, that significant repairs were made to the fortification wall, and Acropolis was re-established as a military garrison.
- The Byzantines converted Parthenon, which was originally dedicated to Goddess Athena, into a church of Virgin Mary, and later on the Ottomans used the structure as their military headquarters.
- The Ottomans also erected a small mosque with a minaret inside the Parthenon, which further went on to become a significant marker of the Ottoman rule.
- In 1687, while the Ottoman forces were operating from the Parthenon, the Venetians bombarded the ammunition trash that was kept inside. This resulted in a huge explosion in which a severe damage was caused to the edifice as well as its sculptures.
- In 1806, Lord Elgin took permission from the Ottomans and managed to remove some of those marble sculptures which survived the explosion. These are now known as the Elgin Marbles or the Parthenon Marbles, and are currently housed in the British Museum in London.
- Since 1983, the Government of Greece has been trying hard for the restitution of the Elgin Marbles, but have not achieved any success so far.
- Apart from the three main structures, the Theater of Dionysus is a significant monument built at the foot of the Acropolis. It is an open-air theater, and probably the first of its kind in Athens.
- Another impressive structure is the Stoa of Eumenes, which is a covered colonnade to be used as a walkway by the people.
- The Odeon of Pericles, which is just beside the theater of Dionysus, is an interesting structure. This square structure was constructed in 435 B.C. by Pericles, and was meant for holding musical concerts. The original structure was burnt down in 1st century B.C., and was later on reconstructed in 2nd century A.D.
- Other structures of the Acropolis include the Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia, Altar of Athena, the Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus, the Asclepeion, the Eleusinion, and so on.
- The ancient Athenians held a festival called Panathenaea after every four years, from 4th century B.C. to 3rd century A.D., the procession of which traveled through the city and ended on the Acropolis, when a woolen robe was offered to Goddess Athena.
- Over the years, the monuments of Acropolis of Athens suffered from pollution. In 1975, the government of Greece took over the restoration of Acropolis. However, the restoration work moved at snail's pace. In 2007, many of the relics and historical objects were shifted to the newly constructed Acropolis Museum.
The Acropolis of Athens has been a symbol of artistic and architectural excellence, and has been an inspiration for numerous artists from the Roman times to the present day. Not to forget that it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, attracting nearly three million visitors every year.
But modern technology and human intervention are causing considerable damages, owing to which, the UNESCO has undertaken a $15 million project in order to save it. Under this project, UNESCO also set up the Acropolis Museum, which houses and preserves artifacts from the Acropolis from further damage and eventual destruction.