Suitcase and World: The Acropolis.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Acropolis.

The Acropolis. (Photo by Christophe Meneboeuf)

I've always wanted to come to Athens. One of the oldest cities in the world, centuries of history. Just up my alley. We'll be arriving into Athens from the US and then immediately going on our road trip so we won't actually be in Athens until five days into our trip. By the time we arrive, we'll have had a whirlwind tour of tourist sights and having a bit of downtime would be welcomed. We'll only be in town for three days and I don't want it to be a rushed visit. So, we'll be narrowing down the list of must-see touristy places to the highlights, leaving plenty of time to wander the markets and to just find a nice spot to sit and people watch and soak in our surroundings.

First place on our must see list? Is that even a question? The Acropolis of course! The word Acropolis comes from the Greek word Akron meaning “edge” and the word Polis meaning “city”. The Acropolis dates back to the 5th BC and was ordered to be constructed by Pericles, the Greek statesman and general.  I will forever wonder why this most impressive of heritage sites is not one of the Seven Wonders of the World!

This map was adapted from the map on p. 12 of "L'Acropole, Nouveau guide des monuments et du musée", by Dr G. Papathanassopoulos, Éd. KRÉNÉ, Athens, 1991.  (Source:  Bernard Suzanne)

Archeological findings date human habitation on the Acropolis back to the Neolithic period. Over the centuries, the rocky hill was continuously used either as a place for cult worship or as a residential area or both.

The Acropolis is primarily constructed of limestone and marble from the surrounding mountains. From the time of its completion, the entire Acropolis had been sacked, burned, blown up, and eventually reconstructed multiple times over. The most notable damage-inducing event in history was during the 1687 Siege of Athens by the Venetians, as part of the Morean War.

The majority of structures on the Acropolis are temples dedicated to various gods of ancient Greek mythology.  During the Classical period (450-330 B.C.) three important temples were erected on the ruins of earlier ones:

The Parthenon (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The Parthenon which was dedicated to Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin), the patron goddess of Athens. The current Parthenon was built between 447 and 438 BC, as part of the greater Periclean building project.  This so-called Periclean Parthenon (Parthenon III) replaced an earlier marble temple (Parthenon II), begun after the victory at the battle of Marathon around 490 BC and destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC. Parthenon II replaced the very first Parthenon (Parthenon I) which was built circa 570 BC.

The Parthenon remained unchanged until the 5th century AD, when it was converted into a church dedicated first to Saint Sophia and later to the Panagia (Virgin Mary). Under Ottoman rule it became a mosque. In 1687, during the siege of the Acropolis by Morozini, the Parthenon was bombarded and largely destroyed. Conservation and restoration of the Parthenon has taken place on and off since 1896.

The Erechtheion (Photo from
The Erechtheion which was dedicated to Athena Polias.
Located on the north side of the Acropolis, the Erechtheion was built in 421-406 BC as a replacement of an earlier temple also dedicated to Athena Polias.

The building owes its unusual shape to the irregularity of the terrain and the multiple cults it was designed to accommodate - there is a three-meter difference in height between the eastern and western parts. The eastern part of the building was dedicated to Athena Polias, while the western part served the cult of Poseidon-Erechtheus and held the altars of Hephaistus and Voutos, brother of Erechtheus.

The temple burned in the 1st century BC and was subsequently repaired with minor alterations. In the Early Christian period it was converted into a church dedicated to Theometor (Mother of God). It became a palace under Frankish rule and the residence of the Turkish commander's harem in the Ottoman period. During the Greek War of Independence, the building was bombarded and severely damaged. Restoration was undertaken immediately after the end of the war and again in 1979-1987, when the Erechtheion became the first monument of the Acropolis to be restored.

The Temple of Athena Nike (Photo from
The Temple of Athena Nike is the smallest structure on the Acropolis, but holds no less importance than its neighboring shrines.  The temple  was built was built in 426-421 BC to honor Athena Nike, the goddess of victory.  It stands at the southeast end of the Acropolis, atop a bastion, which in Mycenaean times protected the entrance to the Acropolis.

The Temple of Athena Nike has ceremonial roots that date back to the Bronze Age. When the newer, Classical temple was built in the fifth century B.C., it no  did double duty - as a shrine to Athens Nike and as a symbol of Athens’ military and political strength.

The temple was converted into a church in the 5th century AD and was used as a munitions store during the Ottoman period.  In 1686, the Turks demolished the temple and used its building material to erect a fortification wall. The temple has been undergoing restoration, off and on since 1835.

The Propylaea (Photo by sailko)

The Propylaea, which is the monumental entrance to the sacred area, where the temples are located, was also constructed in the same period. 

In 1975, reconstruction efforts began to fully restore the Acropolis and some its artifacts which now reside in the Acropolis Museum in Athens.

Statuary from the east pediment of the Parthenon.

The Elgin Marbles. It's not possible to write about the Acropolis without mentioning the Elgin Marbles.  In fact, I remember going to the British Museum, when I was a child, and seeing the magnificent artifacts that make up the collection and dreaming of the day that I would step foot on the Acropolis.

The Elgin Marbles or the Parthenon Sculptures (preferred term used by the British Museum) are a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures, inscriptions and architectural members that originally were part of the buildings on the Acropolis. 

During the Ottoman Period, Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin obtained a controversial permit from the Ottoman authorities to remove pieces from the Parthenon while serving as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803.

From 1801 to 1812, Elgin's agents removed about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as architectural members and sculpture from the Propylaea and Erechtheion.  The collection was transported by sea to Britain.  In 1816, Lord Elgin sold the collection to the British government and it was placed on display in the British Museum, where they stand now on view in the Duveen Gallery.

The British museum's collection includes the following marble, architecture and architectural sculpture from the Acropolis:

In actuality, the British Museum only holds approximately half of the surviving sculptures from the Parthenon. The remainder can be found in the following locations.  A visit to the Acropolis Museum, to see their collection, will be a must-do for us.

Visiting the Acropolis.  From April 1st to October 31st, the Acropolis is open from 8:00a - 7:30p daily except on Mondays when it opens up at 11a.  Entry fee for adults is 12 Euro and is valid for 7 days except the 1st Sunday of each Monday when it's free admission.  Our last day in Athens is that Monday so we'll have to decide whether to pay the 12 Euros or wait.  I vote to pay the 12 Euros as I know I won't be able to wait to see this magnificent heritage landmark!