The Acropolis of Athens and its monuments are universal symbols of the classical spirit and civilization and form the greatest architectural and artistic complex bequeathed by Greek Antiquity to the world. In the second half of the fifth century bc, Athens, following the victory against the Persians and the establishment of democracy, took a leading position amongst the other city-states of the ancient world.
Greece Holidays – Acropolis of Athens
In the age that followed, as thought and art flourished, an exceptional group of artists put into effect the ambitious plans of Athenian statesman Pericles and, under the inspired guidance of the sculptor Pheidias, transformed the rocky hill into a unique monument of thought and the arts. The most important monuments were built during that time: the Parthenon, built by Ictinus, the Erechtheon, the Propylaea, the monumental entrance to the Acropolis, designed by Mnesicles and the small temple Athena Nike.
An `acropolis’ is any citadel or complex built on a high hill. The name derives from the Greek Akro, high or extreme/extremity or edge, and Polis, city, translated as ‘High City’, ‘City on the Edge’ or ‘City in the Air’, the most famous being the Acropolis of Athens, Greece, built in the 5th century BCE. Though the word is Greek in origin, it has come to designate any such structure built on a high elevation anywhere in the world.
The Castle Rock in Edinburgh, Scotland, for example, upon which looms the famous castle, was fortified as early as 850 BCE and would be known as an acropolis, as would be those cities of the Maya Civilization which fit that definition, even if they were not built on a natural elevation. Although there were other city-states in ancient Greece boasting an impressive acropolis (such as Thebes, Corinth and, most notably, at Kolona on the Island of Aegina), and the designation ‘acropolis’ was also used in Ancient Rome for a series of buildings set on a higher elevation than the surrounding geography, in modern times the word ‘acropolis’ is synonymous with the ancient site at Athens.
The Acropolis of Athens was planned, and construction begun, under the guidance of the great general and statesman Pericles of Athens. Over two years of detailed planning went into the specifications and contracting the labour for the Parthenon alone, and the first stone was laid on 28 July 447 BCE, during the Panathenaic festival. Wishing to create a lasting monument which would both honour the goddess Athena (who presided over Athens) and proclaim the glory of the city to the world, Pericles spared no expense in the construction of the Acropolis and, especially, the Parthenon, hiring the skilled architects Callicrates, Mnesikles, and Iktinos and the sculptor Phidias (recognized as the finest sculptor in the ancient world who created the statue of Zeus at Olympia, one of The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) to work on the project. According to the historian Pedley, “the work…was carried out under the supervision of Phidias. In fact, Plutarch says that Phidias was in charge of the whole of Pericles’ scheme” (251). Hundreds of artisans, metal workers, craftspeople, painters, woodcarvers, and literally thousands of unskilled labourers worked on the Acropolis. Phidias created a gold and ivory statue of Athena which stood either in the Parthenon, known as the Temple of Athena Parthenos (‘Athena the Virgin’ in Greek), or in the centre of the Acropolis near the smaller temple of Athena. During the Panathenaic festival, celebrants would carry a new robe to the ancient wooden cult statue of Athena, housed in the Erechtheion.
The UNESCO site claims:
The Athenian Acropolis is the supreme expression of the adaptation of architecture to a natural site. This grand composition of perfectly balanced massive structures creates a monumental landscape of unique beauty consisting of a complete series of masterpieces of the 5th century BC. The monuments of the Acropolis have exerted an exceptional influence, not only in Graeco-Roman antiquity, a time when in the Mediterranean world they were considered exemplary models, but in contemporary times as well.
The Acropolis rises 490 feet (150 metres) into the sky above the city of Athens and has a surface area of approximately 7 acres (3 hectares). The site was a natural choice for a fortification and was inhabited at least as early as the Mycenaean Period in Greece (1900-1100 BCE) if not earlier.
There was already a complex built on the hill, and a temple to Athena in progress, which was destroyed by the Persians under Xerxes in 480 BCE when they sacked Athens. The later structures, famous today, were built as a testament to the resilience of the Athenians following the defeat of Xerxes’ forces at the Battle of Salamis (480 BCE) and to exemplify the glory of the city. The four main buildings in the original plan for the Acropolis were the Propylaia, the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Athena Nike. The Propylaia was the ornate entranceway into the temple complex, while the Parthenon was the central attraction.