The Acropolis, one of the most important monumental sites in Ancient Greece, is also thought to be the finest sanctuary of ancient Athens. The goddess Athena Polias, its patron, is at the centerfold of this citadel located on a natural rocky hilltop that rises 150 m above sea level in modern Athens.
It houses the remains of several great ancient buildings that were of particular interest due to their social and historical relevance for Greece antiquity; among them, one has to mention first the Parthenon.
The word acropolis comes from the Greek words ἄκρον (akron, “highest point, extremity”) and πόλις (polis, “city”).
The most celebrated myths of ancient Athens, its greatest religious festivals -such as the procession believed to depict the Panathenaic Festival in the Parthenon Frieze-, earliest cults and several decisive events in the city’s history are all connected to this sacred precinct. These unique masterpieces of ancient architecture combine different orders and styles of Classical art in a most innovative manner and have influenced art and culture for many centuries.
Though the hill was already inhabited in Neolithic times, witness different pottery sherds found on excavation sites in the area, my main concern will be to illustrate the significance and historical relevance of the Acropolis from the eight century BC onwards, when the site became a sacred sanctuary dedicated to the cult of the goddess Athena Polias, whose temple stood at the northeast side of the hill. In the mid-sixth century BC, during the time of Peisistratos, the precinct flourished while the Panathenaea, the city’s greatest religious festival, was set in motion, and the first monumental buildings of the Acropolis, among them an entry gate (Propylaia) and the Hekatompedos, the predecessor of the Parthenon, were built.
After the Athenians defeated the Persians at Marathon, in 490 BC, they began building a very large temple, the so-called Pre-Parthenon. This temple was still unfinished when the Persians invaded Attica in 480 BC, pillaged the Acropolis and set fire to its monuments.
One might not be wrong in affirming that the Acropolis of the fifth century BC, i.e. during Pericles’ time, represents the golden age and the power of ancient Greece which extended far beyond its borders.
In point of fact, it was Pericles (c. 495 – 429 BC) who coordinated the construction of this archaeological site’s most important buildings: the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Athena Nike.
The temples on the north side of the Acropolis housed primarily the earlier Athenian cults and those of the Olympian gods, while the southern part of the Acropolis was dedicated to the cult of Athena in her many qualities: as Polias (patron of the city), Parthenos, Pallas, Promachos (goddess of war), Ergane (goddess of manual labour) and Nike (Victory).
If we now make a big leap into history we will be witness into the great destruction which the Parthenon suffered due to the occupation of the Ottoman between (1456-1833) and its use as a garrison headquarters by the Turks. The Parthenon and the other buildings were seriously damaged on September 26th,during the 1687 siege by the Venetians, under F. Morozini, when the Parthenon was being used for gunpowder and munitions storage and was hit by a cannonball.
What follow next with Lord Elgin’s adventures in the acquisition (or looting should I say?) of most of the artifacts belonging to the Parthenon Frieze is part of another history which I will try to disentangle in incoming posts.
Reconstruction of the Acropolis and Areus Pagus in Athens, by Leo von Klenze 1846