The Acropolis of Athens is, certainly, one of the most important places in the history of Western civilization. First, the term acropolis means “upper city” in Ancient Greek, evoking the narratives and characters of this nation’s mythology. And although there are several acropoleis spread across Greece, the Acropolis of Athens has a unique meaning, being the most famous in the world.
This ancient citadel is located on a rocky plateau in the heart of Athens, clearly standing out from the modern city, 150 meters above sea level. Here you can find ruins and remains of several classic buildings, whose historical and architectural value is definitely unquestionable.
So, do you want to know more about the Acropolis Of Athens: Best Tips For Visiting In 2023? Keep reading!
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- Brief History of the Acropolis of Athens
- How to Get to the Acropolis of Athens
- What to See at the Acropolis of Athens
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Brief History of the Acropolis of Athens
The history of the Acropolis of Athens is almost as old as the history of the Western world itself since it dates back to the Neolithic period. Although there are documented dwellings in the Attica region dating from 6000 BC (Ancient Neolithic), the artifacts found at the site refer to the Middle Neolithic. Other than that, it was recovered traces of a megarus, a kind of “great hall” existing in the palaces of the Mycenaen Civilization (1600-1100 BC), that is, the last phase of the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece.
Centuries later, the city of Athens was reformed by Pericles, in a historical period that would become known as the “Century of Pericles” or the “Golden Age of Athens”. It was thanks to this politician and general that buildings like the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, or the Temple of Athena Nike were built on the Acropolis of Athens.
Since each of these monuments has its own history, you can continue reading this article to learn more details about each one. Despite that, I will only mention the six main ones, since the Acropolis of Athens consists of more than twenty points of interest!
Did you that the Acropolis of Athens was part of Greece’s second set of inscriptions on the UNESCO World Heritage List? This 11th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in Paris (France), between December 7th and 11th, 1987.
Only one other Greek site was announced in the session: the Archaeological Site of Delphi.
Nowadays, Greece is the seventeenth country in the world and the eighth country in Europe with the most UNESCO sites, right behind Italy, Germany, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Turkey. It has eighteen heritage assets (both cultural and natural) inscribed on the world list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.
How to Get to the Acropolis of Athens
The main archaeological remains of the Acropolis of Athens comprise several dozen monuments. For that reason, here is a list of all the points of interest that I was able to identify during my visit:
- Pedestal of Agrippa
- Temple of Athena Nike
- Shrine of Athena Hygieia and Hygieia
- Old Temple of Athena
- Stuatue of Athena Promachos
- Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia
- Temple of Rome and Augustus
NORTH SLOPE OF THE ACROPOLIS OF ATHENS:
- Peripatos (road around the slopes of the Acropolis)
- Panathenaic Way
- Sacred Caves (of Apollo Hypoakraios, Olympian Zeus, and Pan)
- Klepsydra Spring (with a Fountain and a Paved Court)
- Church of Saint Nikolaos or Serapheim
- Sanctuary of Aphrodite and Eros
- Mycenaean Fountain
SOUTH SLOPE OF THE ACROPOLIS OF ATHENS:
- Odeon of Herodes Atticus
- Theater of Dionysus Eleuthereus
- Sanctuary of Dionysus Eleuthereus (which included a Propylon, Archaic Temple, Later Temple, Altar, Doric Stoa, and a Peribolos)
- Chapel of Saint Paraskevi (a Christian martyr from the 2nd century)
- Stoa of Eumenes
- Odeon of Pericles
As you can see, there’s a lot to visit in the Acropolis of Athens, so make sure to plan your time well! For instance, I spent four hours in the morning at this UNESCO World Heritage Site and continued my day at the Acropolis Museum.
Opening Hours & Ticket Prices
The Acropolis of Athens is open every day from 8 am to 6 pm, with the last admission at 5:30 pm. And although it doesn’t have a weekly closing day like most museums and monuments, this archaeological site is closed on January 1st, March 25th (Greece Independence Day), Easter Sunday, May 1st, and December 25th and 26th.
As for tickets, these cost €12 (normal fare) or €10 (reduced fare). There’s also a combined ticket for €30, which is valid for 5 days and includes entry to seven different locations:
- Acropolis of Athens
- Ancient Agora of Athens
- Roman Agora
- Library of Hadrian
- Archaeological Site of Kerameikos
- Archaeological Site of the Lyceum of Aristotle
- Temple of Olympian Zeus
You can buy tickets to museums, monuments, and archaeological sites in Greece at the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sport’s online ticket office. But there are also dates when access is free, such as on the following days:
- March 6th (Melina Mercouri Day)
- April 18th (International Day of Monuments)
- May 18th (International Museum Day)
- Last weekend of September (European Heritage Days)
- October 28th (Ohi Day or No Day)
- First Sunday of the month, between November and March
What to See at the Acropolis of Athens
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Herodes Atticus was an important Greek politician and rhetoric during the Roman Empire. Descended from a wealthy family, he was also known for his patronage, financing numerous public works (theaters, thermae, stadiums, aqueducts, etc.), both in Greek cities and in modern Italy.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus, on the way to the Acropolis of Athens, was donated to the city of Athens in memory of his wife Regilla. Built between 160-169 a.C., it was used both for musical events and for philosophical lectures – after all, an “odeon” is a small Greek amphitheater.
However, in Ancient Rome, the theater stands had a different name: cavea. In this case, the semicircular cavea had 39 rows of marble seats, which welcomed up to 6000 people. In Classical Antiquity, the social class of spectators dictated the location of their seats at events. While the lower ranks were reserved for the high society, the middle and upper sections were intended for the general public, distinguishing men from women and children.
That being said, there was still an “orchestra” paved with marble and a proscenium with a wooden floor. As for the stage, it had a luxurious mosaic floor and external walls that are among the least preserved sections of the entire monument. The same goes for the old cedar wood ceiling, which is no longer possible to visualize.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus was connected to the Theater of Dionysus Eleuthereus through the Stoa of Eumenes, a portico that served as a passage for the population. In 267 AD, the Odeon was destroyed by the Herulians, a Germanic people who invaded the Roman Empire. Later, it became part of the fortified wall of the slope of the Acropolis of Athens, surviving demolitions and pillages over the centuries.
In the 19th century, after excavations led by the Greek archaeologist Kyriakos Pittakis, the monument was re-qualified and from the 1930s, it was used again for musical events and theatrical performances.
The Propylaea (or Proyplaia) was the monumental entrance to the Acropolis of Athens, located at the western end of the plateau. With Mnesikles as its architect – the alleged author of the Erechtheion – the construction of the Propylaea began in 437 BC but was interrupted five years later, by the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. As a result, the original project was never completed.
In summary, the Propylaea consists of two Doric façades, decorated with six columns and a pediment, which hasn’t stood the passing of time. The central building was divided into two parts by a cross wall with five doors.
Previously, there were corridors of Ionian colonnades, marble ceilings richly decorated with paintings, a recreation hall in the north wing, and a porch in the south wing, which linked the Propylaea to the Temple of Athena Nike.
This last wing was transformed into a Christian basilica in the 6th century AD and, in the Middle Ages, the Frankish and Florentine governors converted the whole building into a palace, with a new tower to the south. In 1640, during the occupation of the Ottoman Empire, the gunpowder stored in the Propylaea exploded, destroying almost the entire monument. With the archaeological excavations of the Acropolis of Athens during the 19th century, the medieval and late reformulations of the Propylaea were removed, in order to reveal its original classical construction.
Temple of Athena Nike
The Temple of Athena Nike, in Pentelic marble, is dedicated to the city’s patron saint, who has offered Athenians victories in many battles. Built between 427-424 BC, on top of the steep bastion that guarded the southwest end of the Acropolis of Athens, it occupies a prominent position to the right of the Propylaea.
Nike was the divine personification of victory, strength, and speed and was usually represented by a winged woman. The goddess Athena was worshiped in this way by the Athenian citizens, as she was victorious in the war.
The Temple of Athena Nike was erected on the location of an ancient temple, which housed a wooden statue in honor of the goddess. It’s the first fully Ionic temple on the Acropolis of Athens and, later, they added a balustrade decorated with relief representations of divinity. On the other hand, the upper frieze of the temple depicts battles between Greek warriors and other civilizations, although the east side represents the agora (“assembly”) of the Olympian gods.
According to late literary sources, the name Erechtheion (or Erechtheum) came from Erechtheus, the mythical king of Athens. Its construction started sometime between 431 BC (just before the Peloponnesian War) – and 421 BC, with the Peace Treaty of Nicias.
Thus, this temple of Ionic order was completed in 406 BC, with an interior wall dividing the monument in two. One side was dedicated to Athena Polias, with a “xoanon” (archaic cult image made of wood) in the center.
However, the rest of the space was divided into three sections, one for each cult: the gods Poseidon Erechtheus and Hephaestus, and the Greek hero Butes. On the north facade, you can also see a magnificent porch with six ionic columns.
Still, the most well-known part of the Erechtheion is its balcony with six statues of young women, the famous Caryatids. These female figures in sculpted marble served as columns in several temples in Ancient Greece, although the ones at the Erechtheion are the only ones with worldwide fame. Today, you can find five of the original statues at the Acropolis Museum (in Athens) and the last one at the British Museum (in London).
The Parthenon is a Doric temple dedicated to Athena Parthenos (Virgin Athena), as well as the most important monument of the Acropolis of Athens. The architects responsible were Iktinos and Kallikrates, while the ornamentation was in charge of the sculptor Pheidias. The latter collaborated with other artists in the decoration of the temple, having also created a statue of Athena using the sculptural technique of gold and ivory called chryselephantine.
The construction took place between 447 and 438 BC, but the project was only fully completed in 432 BC. During the following centuries, details were added to the architraves of the façades, especially the bronze shields of Alexander the Great (ca. 334 BC) and the bronze letters in honor of the Roman Emperor Nero (AD 61).
Just like the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Parthenon was destroyed by the Herulians between the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, and, in the 6th century, it became a church dedicated to the “Holy Wisdom”. This new Christian period marked the following ages of the Parthenon, which became the place of worship for Panagia Athiniotissa (Virgin Mary) in the 11th century and the Catholic Church of Notre Dame in 1204.
However, when Athens was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1458, the Parthenon became a mosque and, later, a gunpowder deposit.
Since then, this magnificent monument has suffered numerous plundering and destruction. In 1628, during the siege of the Acropolis of Athens by the troops of the Venetian general Francesco Morosini, a cannonball collapsed the roof of the temple and parts of its sculptures.
But the most serious damage occurred between 1801-1802 when Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, and the English Ambassador in Constantinople sacked much of the marble from the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis. Just to illustrate, 19 pedestrian sculptures, 15 metopes, and reliefs from 56 roughly sawn blocks of the frieze were removed and transported to England. These looting became popularly known as the “Elgin Marbles” and are now on display at the British Museum in London.
Theater of Dionysus Eleuthereus
This ancient theater is located on the southern slope of the Acropolis of Athens and integrates the Sanctuary of Dionysus Eleuthereus. First of all, the Theater of Dionysus was the most important theater in all of Ancient Greece and the birthplace of tragedy and Western theater. In addition, its architecture served as a prototype for future theaters of Classical Antiquity and was the stage for the premieres of the famous works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes.
Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, festivals, joy, and theater and the equivalent of the god Bacchus in Roman mythology. Every spring a festival in honor of the god was celebrated in Athens, with dramatic performances, songs, dances, processions, rituals, and even sacrifices.
The construction of the theater began in the 5th century BC, with the creation of the orchestra, a circular terrace in clay, with an altar in the center. At that time, spectators sat on the hill, before wooden bleachers were added in 410 BC. The existing stone bleachers appeared around 330 BC, as well as a new marble stage and orchestra. Just to illustrate, these rows of seats were able to accommodate up to 17,000 people!
If, on the one hand, the Theater of Dionysus Eleuthereus continued to be used and renewed during the Roman Empire (27 BC – 395 AD), on the other hand, it entered into a profound decline from the Byzantine era until the 18th century. Shortly after being rediscovered in 1765, a profound archaeological restoration began in the following decades, under the direction of the German architect and archaeologist Wilhelm Dörpfeld.
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