The Acropolis is a must-do on the list of every visitor to Athens I am sure. It was definitely top on mine. I have been wanting to see it in person ever since I can remember.
Acropolis refers to a citadel or fortified part of a city that is built on high grounds. There are many Acropolis around Greece, but the Acropolis of Athens is the most well known. Acropolis of Athens is the home of several temples, the most famous is of course the Parthenon.
The Acropolis became a World Heritage-listed site in 1987. When you visit, you will see the ongoing restoration programmes – most of the original sculptures and friezes were moved to Acropolis museum. The museum should be on your next to-visit location, just before you leave the area.
A Bit of History
A couple of facts:-
- The area around the Acropolis rock was first inhabited during the Neolithic period (3000-2800 BCE).
- The earliest monuments here were constructed during Mycenaean era. At the end of the Bronze age, the Mycenaneans had built a massive compound surrounded by a great wall to house the local ruler.
- Acropolis later became more and more associated with religious activities. In the 5th century BC, the Athenians built key monuments you see today – the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaia and the temple of Athena Nike. Since then, there were wars, explosions, bombardments, sackings – the area has been used as a church, mosque etc.
During the Ottoman occupation, the ambassador of England, Lord Elgin, used his influential position to bring blocks of frieze, metopes from the site back to England – now displayed at the British Museum. Read more here.
You can join a tour which would come with the entrance tickets or you can go on your own and get tickets at the site or online. The queue for the tickets however can be very long at certain times of the day. What you can do if you don’t want to take the risk of wasting an hour or more queing (if it gets that long a wait, and it can during busy periods), you can buy a combination ticket at other attractions which queues are relatively way shorter than the Acropolis’s. The combination ticket allows you to visit multiple attractions – Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, Olympieion, Kerameikos, Aristotle’s School [Lykeion] for 5 days from the time of purchase.
You can also get the tickets online. For online purchase – if only for Acropolis single entry, note that you have to specify the date of the visit. If you are buying a combination ticket, it will be valid for 5 days from the date specified on the website.
What to See
A Propylaea is a grand entrance to a religious complex. At the steps of the Athen’s Acropolis propylaea, you get a gorgeous view of the city with mountains in the background. The propylaea serves as a symbolic partition between secular and religious part of Athens.
Can you see the big rock in the second picture below – just outside the propylaea/entrance on the right side? That is the Areopagus where St Paul preached the famous “Sermon on an Unknown God” – more about this below.
Temple of Athena Nike
Before going through the main entrance, if you look up to your right, you will see the Temple of Athena Nike. It is the smallest structure on Acropolis – but still very significant. The temple was dedicated to Goddess Athena Nike, Goddess of Victory built between 427 to 424 BC.
The most famous relief on the south side parapet (now displayed at the Acropolis Museum) is named Nike Adjusting her Sandal, was part of the temple of Athena Nike’s south side parapet.
And in case you are wondering, the answer is ‘yes’ – Nike, the sport’s brand name is inspired by Nike, the Greek Goddess of Victory.
A couple of cool facts:-
- The construction of Parthenon, started 33 years after the Persian invasion and took almost four decades to complete
- It’s estimated that 13,400 stones were used to build the temple, at an equivalent cost of USD$7mil today
- Parthenon is dedicated to Athena—the Goddess of wisdom, arts and literature and war.
- The Pagan temples at Acropolis were closed in 435AD, and in the late 6th century, Parthenon was converted to a Christian church. Pagan images were discarded and modifications made to the temples to align them to Christian teachings.
- In 1456, the Turkish Ottoman Empire invaded and later converted Parthenon into a mosque.
- In 1687, the Venetian army landed in Athens (part of the military campaign of re-conquering all European lands that the Ottoman Empire occupied). The Turks fortified themselves on the Acropolis. When the Venetians attacked Acropolis (continuous bombardment for 8 days), Parthenon was severely damaged from the explosion caused by ammunition stored in the temple.
The Erechtheion, is a temple dedicated to Athena Polias (guardian of the city), also used as a place of worship of other ancient deities of Athens. Interesting facts about Erectheion:-
- The temple was named after the King of Attica, Erechtheus. Erechtheus, as per the Greek mythology was one of the first kings of the city. His name was used as an epithet for the God Poseidon, as “Poseidon Erectheus”.
- When Poseidon and Athena were competing on who should be the patron saint of Athens, as a gift to the people of Athens, Poseidon struck a rock on the Acropolis with his trident creating a salt spring known as Sea of Erechtheus. Athena meanwhile gifted the people of Athens an olive tree and the secret of growing it. The Erechtheion was constructed as such to accommodate shrines and also the sacred spots of the olive tree, and the well containing the sea water amongst others. The olive tree in the picture is believed to be at the same location of the first olive tree gifted by Athena
- PS. As you would have guessed from all the temples dedicated to Athena, she won the contest of course. The people of Athens loved the olive tree gesture and olives is still a very important commodity for Greece today
- The Caryatids are the most known feature of the temple. These are sculpted female figure that serves as pillars to support the building. The Erechtheion features six Caryatids – the ones you see at the temple today are replicas. Five of the six original columns are displayed in the Acropolis museum. The one that is missing is actually being displayed in the London museum (part of artifacts shipped to London by Lord Elgin)
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus was built under the supervision of the Roman senator and philosopher Herodes Atticus (hence the name). It is basically a Roman theatre and was completed in 161 AD. When it was built, it had a seating capacity of more than 5,000 people.
You get the top view of the theatre if you visit Acropolis. Another way to enjoy the theatre is to attend a concert here. Stars who have performed here include Luciano Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra, Nana Mouskouri, Liza Minnelli and Maria Callas. I don’t think the 2020 events are confirmed yet – usually you can check the programmes at this website.
Theater of Dionysus
The Theatre of Dionysus was dedicated to Dionysus, the Greek god of Drama and Wine. This is the oldest Greek theatre where a few of the most important Greek plays were first performed.
The theatre went through several renovations, and was later able to accommodate around 17,000 people. Originally, the seats were made of wood but were rebuilt using limestone. The front row VIP section was made of marble.
The Areopagus or the ‘Hill of Ares’ (Ares – am sure everyone knows is the God of War), is the meeting place of the Areopagus Council – Council of Leaders like the Roman Senate. At some point, the council’s authority was limited to judging homicide cases. Oh well politics…
Going back to Ares – it was believed that he was tried here by the Gods for the murder of Poseidon’s son Alirrothios.
The Areopagus is also famous as the site where St Paul delivered his speech about the identity of the ‘Unknown God’. At the bottom of the rock, near the base of the stairs is a bronze plaque of his sermon in Greek.
You get really beautiful 360 degrees views up here. Even if you don’t like ruins, myths, legends or history for that matter – the views from here makes it worth the trip!