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Acropolis, Athens

From Academic Kids

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The Acropolis of Athens lit up at night, seen from Phillopapus Hill
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The Acropolis of Athens, seen from the hill of the Pnyx to the west
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The Acropolis of Athens, seen from the north, with the restored Stoa of Attalus in the foreground
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The south wall of the Acropolis of Athens, seen from the Theatre of Dionysus
The Acropolis of Athens, seen from the  to the south-east
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The Acropolis of Athens, seen from the Temple of Olympian Zeus to the south-east
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Stairs leading up to the Propylea
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The western side of the Parthenon
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The Erechtheum and Athena's olive tree.

The Acropolis of Athens is the best known acropolis (high city) in Greece. Although there are many other acropoleis in Greece, the Acropolis of Athens is commonly known as "the Acropolis" without qualification. The Acropolis is a flat-topped rock which rises 150 metres (512 feet) above sea level in the city of Athens, Greece. It was also known as Cecropia in honor of the legendary serpent-man, Cecrops, the first Athenian king.

The Acropolis rises sharply from the plain of Attica with steep cliffs on three sides. It is accessible by foot only to the west, where it is linked by a low ridge to the hill of the Areopagus. It is thus a natural fortress, and is the reason for the existence of the city of Athens, which began as an iron-age fort on top of the Acropolis. It was not until after the Persian Wars that the Acropolis ceased to function primarily as a fortress.

There is archaeological evidence of habitation and use in the Mycenaean period when a palace stood there. During that time, it was surrounded by a thick wall (between 4.50 and 6 metres) consisting of two parapets built with large blocks made of stones cemented with an earth mortar called emplekton. The main entrance was facing west. To the north-east there was a secondary entrance, reachable through a stair of about fifteen steps carved in stone. This secondary entrance was located close to the royal palace. To the north-west a small gate and a stair lead to the spring known as the "Clepsydra".

After the Dark Age the Acropolis ceased to be a residence and became the cult-center of Athens, center of worship for the city. Following the Dorian invasion of the 10th century, a new building named Enneapylon ("nine gates") enclosed the spring. Traces of Mycenaean houses prove that the acropolis was permanently inhabited during that age and continued to be so during the dark periods that preceded the birth of the Athenian polis in the 8th century BC. At that date there existed a small temple dedicated to Athena and mentioned by Homer. The fortified acropolis served as a citadel for Pisistratus. In 510 BC, when he was defeated by a popular revolt supported by the Spartans, the walls were demolished. On the same spot, the old people of Athens took refuge during the Persian Wars around 480 BC. For that purpose, damaged portions of the wall were replaced by a wooden fence, but this did not stop the Persian king Xerxes' invading troops from conquering the Acropolis and sacking and burning the major temples.

Most of the major temples were rebuilt under the leadership of Pericles during the Golden Age of Athens (460-430 BC). Phidias, a great Athenian sculptor, and Ictinus and Callicrates, two famous architects, were responsible for the reconstruction.

During the 5th century BC, the acropolis gained its final shape. After winning at Eurymedon in 468 BC, Cimon and Themistocles ordered the reconstruction of southern and northern walls, and Pericles entrusted the building of the Parthenon to Ictinus and Phidias. In 437 BC Mnesicles started building the Propylaea, monumental gates with columns of Penteli marble, partly built upon the old propylaea of Pisistratus. These colonnades were almost finished in the year 432 BC and had two wings, the northern one serving as picture gallery. At the same time, south of the propylaea, the building of the small Ionic temple of Athena Nike started. After an interruption caused by the Peloponnesian War, the temple was finished in the time of Nicias' peace, between 421 BC and 415 BC.

At the same period they started the building of the Erechtheum, a combination of sacred precincts including the temples of Athena Polias, Poseidon, Erechtheus, Cecrops, Erse, Pandrosos and Aglauros, with its so-called the Kore Porch (or Caryatids' balcony). Between the temple of Athena Nike and the Parthenon there was the temenos of Artemis Brauronia, the goddess represented as a bear and worshipped in the deme of Brauron. The archaic xoanon of the goddess and a statue made by Praxiteles in the 4th century BC were both in the sanctuary. Behind the Propylaea, Phidias' gigantic bronze statue of Athena Promachos ("she who fights in the front line"), built between 450 BC and 448 BC, dominated the ensemble. The base was 1.50 meters high, while the total height of the statue was 9 meters. The goddess held a lance whose gilt tip could be seen as a reflection by crews on ships rounding Cape Sounion, and a giant shield on the left side, decorated by Mys with images of the fight between the Centaurs and the Lapiths. Other monuments that have left almost nothing visible to the present day are the Chalcotheke, Pandroseion, Pandion's sanctuary, Athena's altar, Zeus Polieus's sanctuary and, from the Roman times, the circular temple of Augustus and Roma.

Cultural significance

Every four years the Athenians held a festival called the Panathenaea that rivalled the Olympic Games in popularity. During the festival, a procession moved through Athens up to the Acropolis and into the Parthenon (as depicted in the frieze on the inside of the Parthenon). There, a vast robe of woven wool (peplos) was ceremoniously placed on Phidias' massive ivory and gold statue of Athena.

Art and architecture

The entrance to the Acropolis was a monumental gateway called the Propylaea. At the near right of the Propylaea is the tiny Temple of Athena Nike. A bronze statue of Athena, sculpted by Phidias, originally stood at its center. At the center of the acropolis is the Parthenon or Temple of Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin). To the left of the Propylaea is the Erechtheum with columns known as caryatids scultped as figures of women . There is also the remains of an outdoor theater called Theatre of Dionysus.

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