Hey y’all! Welcome to my new Site Sunday series, where I feature a new archaeological site each week. First up is the Acropolis in Athens, Greece! The Acropolis, which means “city top” or “citadel”, served as the administrative and religious center of Athens. The Athenian Acropolis rises nearly 500 feet over the city and has a surface area of about 7 1/2 acres, which is pretty huge!
Like most Ancient Greek sites, the buildings of the Acropolis are in ruins. There are 4 structures still standing: the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion, and the Propylaia. These structures date from the 5th century BC, making them a few thousand years old! Thankfully, many conservation and restoration efforts are occurring to ensure that the structures remain standing for many years to come.
The Parthenon was built for the goddess Athena between 447 and 438 BC. Athena is significant in Athens because she won patronage of the city and serves as the city’s namesake. The Parthenon is a marble temple with 50 columns, triangular pediments, and elaborate sculptures. A 30-foot tall gold and ivory statue of Athena once sat inside the Parthenon. The Parthenon stands around 101 feet tall and 228 feet in length.
Each side of the Parthenon depicted a different scene from mythology through several metopes, the square-shaped reliefs that run along the seam where the sides of the Parthenon meet the roof. Unfortunately, it’s hard to determine what many of the individual metopes depicted due to the damage they’ve sustained. The eastern metopes likely depict a battle between the Gods and giants. The western metopes likely depict battles between the Greeks and the Amazons (known as Amazonomachy). The southern metopes depict the fight between the centaurs and the Lapiths, which took place at a wedding feast. Damage to the northern metopes is so extensive that it’s hard to determine what they depicted.
The Parthenon features two pediments, with statues that have since been removed and are on display elsewhere or destroyed (though reconstructions can be found in the Acropolis Museum). The east pediment depicted the birth of Athena, while the western pediment depicted the battle between Athena and Poseidon for Athens (which Athena won!).
Temple of Athena Nike
The Temple of Athena Nike is a small temple that sits at the southwest corner of the Acropolis. The temple was dedicated to Nike and completed around 420 BC. Elaborate decorations and friezes illustrating Greek dominance in battle covered the temple. Many of these friezes incorporated the Greek Gods, particularly Nike, Zeus, Athena, Poseidon. The temple was home to the famous relief of Nike adjusting her sandal (now housed at the Acropolis Museum).
Athenians would visit the temple in hopes of obtaining victory in wars, such as the long Peloponnesian War against the Spartans and their allies. The temple has been destroyed, rebuilt, renovated, and repurposed over the years. During the Ottoman Empire, it even served as a munitions store.
Named for the mythical Athenian king Erechtheos, the multi-level Erechtheion stands on the north side of the Acropolis. The Erechtheion is famous for its Porch of Caryatids, which is the raised area with 6 female column figures. One of these figures is now housed in the British Museum and the other 5 are housed in the Acropolis Museum. The 5 caryatids on the Acropolis today are replicas.
The Erechtheion has major mythological significance. According to mythology, it was the spot Athena and Poseidon fought for patronage of the city. Athena sprouted an olive tree here when she defeated Poseidon. An olive tree planted in modern times by Sophia of Prussia still stands on the site. The site also bears the mark of Poseidon’s trident and a salt water well from when he fell to Athena. Additionally, The Erechtheion serves as a burial ground for the mythical kings Erechtheos, Kekrops, Kekrops’ three daughters, and the tribal heroes Pandion and Boutes.
Built on the western side of the hill, the Propylaia (sometimes Propylaea) served as the gate to the Acropolis. Construction of the Propylaia occurred from 427 to 432 BC. Three buildings make up the Propylaia: a central building and two wings.
The central building controlled access to the Acropolis, which was incredibly important religiously and governmentally. The north wing functioned as an art museum, which housed works from artists like Aglaophon. The south wing allowed access to the nearby Temple of Athena Nike.
The cost to visit the Acropolis depends on when you go. During high-season, tickets cost 20€ for the Acropolis and slopes. Tickets are only 10€ off season. If you’re going to be visiting a lot of sites around Athens, I recommend the “Special Ticket Package“, which is 30€ during high-season (15€ off-season) and includes access to sites and museums all over the city.
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes when visiting the Acropolis – you will be hiking a bit. I recommend going earlier in the day in order to avoid the larger foot traffic. Take a wind-breaker or jacket, as the Acropolis can be a bit chilly!
I hope y’all enjoyed this first post in my new Site Sunday series. Be sure to check back each week to learn about a different site!