A bit of the history of the Acropolis


The Acropolis overlooks Athens on a limestone outcropping providing great views of the city and  inspiring views of the temples from below, the Parthenon being the most prominent.   Its defensive properties no doubt appealed to early inhabitants.  Evidence of their interest dates to the 4th millennium BCE.  The Mycenaean Megaron palace was probably built here during the late bronze age.  The temple to Athena Polias came circa 550 BCE, a bit after the Old Temple of Athena.  A structure called the Older Parthenon was started circa 500 BCE but sacked by the Persians, who destroyed and looted the city.  Elements of that structure were used to build the curtain wall still visible today.    Pericles (circa 495–429 BCE) built the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike.   


Parthenon at Dusk, pen and ink, 15 x 21 cm/ 6 x 8 “
During the Hellenistic and Roman periods there were significant repairs to the temples.  The Parthenon was used as a church during the Byzantine period.  During the Duchy of Athens, founded by Crusaders, the Acropolis was the administrative center.  The Propylaia,  the monumental entrance to the Acropolis, was part of the Ducal palace.  A large tower was added to the Propylaia but later demolished. 



The Propylaia
It was the Venetians who most seriously damaged the Parthenon.   In 1687 it was largely intact until gunpowder stored in the Parthenon exploded after it was struck by a cannonball.   Columns fell, the roof collapsed.   This accounts for its appearance before the renovations began in the 1990’s.  



The Parthenon
Temple of Erechtheion or Erechtheum
Caryatid at Temple of Erechtheion, pen and ink, at the Museum
In 1801 Thomas Bruce, the Earl of Elgin, transported sculptures to England with permission of the Ottomans.  These were later sold to the British Museum where they remain to this day, much to the chagrin of the Greeks, who call it a theft.  After the Greeks became independent from the Ottoman Empire in 1830, anything from the Byzantine, Duchy (124-1500) and Ottoman periods were removed.  
The columns of the Parthenon are now being restored and put in place.   Some of the 19th century restorations to the columns are being redone as the columns were incorrectly assembled.  Over 2000 tons of marble elements have been restored to date using new Pentelic, the same marble the ancients used.  It is white so you can distinguish it from the older marble, which has a yellow tint.  This marble comes from the region northeast of Athens. 
For further information visit the Acropolis Museum to watch the excellent videos.  Also click the links below. 



Acropolis in Greek literally means “the highest point of the town”

Great timeline history of Greece  Timeline

Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis

Oct 7, 2019 


We boarded the train for Athens in Thessaloniki a week ago for the 4 hour journey, waving to the gods as we passed Mount Olympus, ducking a lighting bolt chucked our way.  These gods dislike non-believers, apparently.   


Mount Olympus


The dry land between us and the gods supports cotton fields and olive groves.  White stucco houses populate the small villages sitting in the bright sun under cerulean blue skies.
From Athens surprisingly small central train station we took a taxi to our apartment, from whence it is a short walk to a lovely view of the Acropolis, with the Olympic stadium at our feet and at its original site.  Here terminated the run from a town called Marathon when, in 490 BCE,  a vastly outnumbered Athenian army defeated the Persians.  


The next day we walked the 2 kilometers to the Acropolis – acro meaning high point, polis meaning city.  The temples there evoke both vast appreciation for the skills of the ancient Greeks and a sadness for all that has been lost, much of it in fairly recent times with the explosion of stockpiled weapons and the removal  if not theft of sculptures and more by the British, whose impressive collection resides in the British Museum. 


Parthenon at Dusk, pen and ink, 15 x 21 cm/ 6 x 8 “


The Parthenon is the largest of the structures atop the outcropping. It dates to 447 BC when  Athens was at its zenith.  The temple is a superb example of Doric style that I speculate came from the invading Doric tribe who settled in a place called Sparta.  The temple gave home to a 13 meter, 40 foot wooden sculpture of Athena, clad with precious metals and accompanied by her snake and shield.  The goddess who gave her name to this city is no longer is with us, so I was spared the lightning bolt.  Per the video we know what she looked like and how she was adorned, an altogether impressive sight to greet those who climbed the steep hill to pay their respects.  


The sculptures and friezes that adorned the temples were legion. There were 92 elements to the frieze atop the Parthenon alone. An impressive number survive to this day.    Here a few examples: 


Multiple busts in the museum


My pen and ink sketch of one of the statues in the Acropoli Museum.  I was particularly impressed with the flowing robes.






The Parthenon as of the day we visited. There is one crane in operation currently.


My favorite temple is this small one, for the caryatids that support the roof.   Another fabulous view beyond.




The originals are in the museum:



These are the actual caryatids, in the museum
The reconstruction of the Parthenon continues, as well documented in the films shown in the Museum, located near the base of the outcropping upon which the temples rest.   In the films workers chisel on marble, showing also the templates they use to match the ancient designs.  The old stone has a yellow tinge compared to the bright white of the new so you can see what changes have been made. 


view of Acropolis from its museum
Modern cranes effortlessly lift the repaired columns with their older bits now joined with new stone.  There is a model of an ancient crane, hand cranked yet capable of raising the original columns as well.
Perhaps the most gorgeous piece in the museum is the floral decor that was on the pediment of the Parthenon:


floral decor on the pediment of the Parthenon
Below the temples is the Odeon Theater, still in use.  It is next to the Theater of Dionysus.  The black bags in the photo contain seat cushions wrapped for protection from the elements.  The acoustics are excellent.  I could hear Peg despite the noise of the crowd as I sat about half way up.   We wonder if the sound was even better in the days of Euripides and Sophocles when it was at its peak of completion.    Great views abound.  


== The Odeon
Dionysus Theater