The terminology of Acropolis consists of the Greek words Akron (edge, or summit) and polis (city). Consequently the Acropolis means the highest point in the city.

The Acropolis rises 100 meters above Athens.

But not each Acropolis is the highest point, as is the case in Athens.  The Acropolis and surrounding old city walls were located on a hill with flowing potable water, necessary in times of siege. The “Holy Rock” of Athens’ Acropolis rises 100 meters above the metropolis and seemed to emerge with Western civilization intact, but it was occupied about 7,000 years B.C. during the Neolithic Age. The Mycenaean Empire erected a citadel on the spot in the 13th century B.C.  The Athens Acropolis was and is the center stone of the surrounding Attica Plain. Water gushes from its many shoulders and slopes, most prolific on the Hill of the Nymphs, so this is the reason it was picked for the walled city rather than the higher Lykavittos peak which is outside the old city gates. From atop the Acropolis I had a breezy vantage point of the white, shining city and the five peaks surrounding it; in the near distance was the Piraeus Harbor and Saronikos Bay.

The Athens’ Acropolis was not only a fortress, but also a sanctuary for the worship of Athena, the patron goddess of the city that bears her name. Even today there is an underground Athena cult in Greek society and it surreptitiously worships her on the Acropolis on special occasions.  The magnificent monuments now visited by tourists on the Acropolis were created in the 5th century B.C. to celebrate the rise of the city-state of Athens during the zenith of its power.  The combined talents of sculptors and architects, such as Phidias, Mnesicles, and Iktinos, produced the stunning tribute to the glorious classic period of Greece.

The Propylaia grand entrance (center) of the Acropolis.

The Propylaia (created 438-432 B.C.) is the impressive ancient entrance to the Acropolis, located on the western side of the mount, and the only accessible one. Below the Propylaia is a less impressive Roman entrance (Beule Gate), created hundreds of years later. The huge marble columns at the majestic Greek entrance were roped off and guarded by attendants and do not touch signs.  In the afternoon light the rocks seemed to glow from within with an inner fire, which is the nature of marble.

The Gallery at the Propylaia.

On the north side of the Propylaia was the Gallery (created from 438-432 B.C.), which once displayed magnificent statuary, some of which can be seen in the New Acropolis Museum at the foot of the mount. At the south end of the Propylaia lies the small, elegant Temple of the Apteros Nike (Wingless Victory — see the opening photo), the goddess who’s wings were clipped so she would never fly away from the city.  Presently, this is the only temple on the Acropolis that is fully restored to its original splendor, using its own marble material.  Behind the Temple of Nike and skirting the southwest edge of the natural cliff and hand hewn wall was the Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia (5th century B.C.). Artemis was a daughter of Zeus and a beautiful classically carved marble statue by the famed sculptor Leochares once stood in the sanctuary; a Roman copy exists today but not in the building, which is under reconstruction, as is the nearby Chalkotheke (4th century B.C.). The Chalkotheke (Greek for "bronze store") was a storehouse of some sort, or maybe another gallery for bronze ware and statues. The long, low building was 43 by 14 meters in dimension but was added to in ancient times, and it was also renovated during the Roman era.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus.

Below the Propylaia was the Roman-era Odeon of Herodes Atticus (160-174 A.D.). This is a smaller theater than an amphitheater and usually an Odeon had a wooden roof for better acoustics and seated only up to about 1,000.  It was used for short plays, mimes, oratory, and probably political debates. Near the Odeon was the long pillared and colonnaded Stoa of Eumenes II who ruled in Pergamon in Anatolia (Turkey) from 197-158 B.C., but he ruled for the Romans.

The Theatre of Dionysos below the Acropolis.

Also below the southern Acropolis walls was the Asclepeion (419-418 B.C., founded), which was a healing temple dedicated to the god Asclepius. It was a small building next to the huge Theatre of Dionysos Eleuthereus, which dates to the 6th century B.C., during the rule of Peisistratus. The site was located on a flat area in the Acropolis’ foothills and became a classic amphitheatre in the 5th century B.C.  The site is believed as the spot where Socrates made his final statement after the elders of Athens condemned him to death by drinking water hemlock in 399 B.C.  In 1838 the site of the amphitheater was excavated by the Greek Archaeological Society but it still under reconstruction.

Directly above the Theatre of Dionysos was the Theatre of Pericles (5th century B.C.), which was much smaller. The name Pericles is synonymous with democracy, but the true Greek meaning for the statesman was "surrounded by glory". The nascent Greek democratic movement began about the time the visionary of the Acropolis was born (495 – 429 BC), and he no doubt knew Socrates, who some claim was accused by the Athens aristocracy (arrhephoroi) as an instigator of the freedom movement.

It took ten years to build the Parthenon.

Pericles’ vision was a magnificent temple complex on the Acropolis. It took about ten years to create the Parthenon (447-438 B.C.) and according to the architects I spoke with, it will take another 100 years to reconstruct it with new marble jig-sawed into missing pieces.  In a few years the whiter, newer marble will blend to the shade of the old marble. Each new piece of marble has a date carved somewhere on it so future archaeologists and architects will know which portions were carved by Pericles’ sculptors and those added later.

It'll take 100 years to rebuild the Parthenon.

The largest temple on the Acropolis was dedicated to the goddess Athena Parthenos (virgin). Its impressive Doric order adheres to the architectural perfection of the Classic period.  It took an additional 15 years to complete the sculptures and decorate the temple, and I highly suggest a visit to the New Acropolis Museum to view many of the pieces.

The Parthenon was destroyed in 1687 A.D. by a bomb during the attempt by the Venetians to take the city from the Ottoman Turks.  Most of the damage seen today is from that bombardment.

The Erechthion (created from 421-405 B.C.) was north of the Parthenon and was dedicated to both the goddess Athena and the god Poseidon Erechitheus, the old patron of the city. 

The temple is famous for its six tall maidens, the Caryatids, who gracefully supported the portico roof on its south side.  The six statues seen at the temple today are copies of the originals, five of which are kept in the New Museum of the Acropolis, while the sixth was looted by Lord Elgin of the Elgin Marbles infamy, and now displayed in the British Museum. I stopped to observe a young student inking a beautiful colored drawing of the temple, but she could have been one of the Caryatids herself, or a model for the statue of Athena Promachos which once stood before this temple.

The Erechthion; the statue of Athena stood near here.

You need a special use permit to photograph with a tripod. Tickets are 12 Euros for the day, and include entrance to the Acropolis, Theatre of Dionysos, Kerameikos, the Temple of Olympian Zeus (which is located in the city but can be seen from the Acropolis), The Ancient Agora of Athens, the Roman Agora, and Hadrian’s Library.  Admission is free for those under 18 years; students from EU countries get a 50% discount; EU residents over 65 also receive the same discount. Bring your own bottled water, there is a water fountain on top though, and modern restrooms.  I don’t believe the Acropolis is suited for wheelchairs.  The uneven paving stones are worn smooth from the centuries so wear sneakers.

Copies of the Caryatids.

More information about the Acropolis:
Opening hours: Monday-Sunday
Winter Hours – October – March 8 a.m. to 16:30 p.m.
Summer Hours – April – September – 8 a.m. to 19:30 p.m.
Ph: 210-3214-172

An ancient Athens village is located
below the Museum's glass floor entrance.

The New Acropolis Museum is located 300 meters southeast of the Acropolis rock. The museum was designed by Bernard Tschumi and opened in 2009, with nearly 4,000 objects on display, on three levels, in an area of 14,000 square meters.  Most figurines were found on the Acropolis or surrounding city foundations, but there are also Greek Bronze Age and Roman and Byzantine Greece pieces as well..

The museum is located in the historic Makryianni district, conveniently located to the Acropolis metro station.  Marble corroding pollution was a big problem in Athens until the underground tube system was completed.  As you can see by the photos, the air is now clean and blue, making Athens one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

A figure from the past.

The main Museum entrance is on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, a pedestrian walkway that forms the central axis within the unified network of the city’s archaeological sites.  I stood on the glass covered entrance  panels above an archaeological site of a real ancient Athens neighborhood.  Clearly seen were the foundations of the cooking huts, sleeping quarters, and living quarters, all within the foundations of the Museum itself.  Eventually, visitors can stroll through time through the suburbs of the Acropolis when the digging is completed.

Located on the Museum’s ground floor is the “Gallery of the Slopes of the Acropolis”, which houses finds from the slopes of the Acropolis, as well as objects that the Athenians used in daily life throughout the historic periods.

The nine meter high naturally lit “Archaic Gallery” in the east and south sections of the first floor hosts magnificent sculptures that graced the first temples on the Acropolis; also displayed are the votive offerings dedicated to the worshipers, such as the beautiful archaic Korai (depicts young women), the Hippeis (horse riders), statues of the goddess Athena, sculptures of male figures, marble reliefs, and smaller bronze and clay offerings.

A stunning example of the Acropolis' classic era.

Racing horses in the Parthenon Gallery.

The Museum’s exhibits culminate on the third floor, in the glass-encased “Parthenon Gallery”, the most awesome gallery. I became a marble marveler! How did they do such stunning work?  The relief sculptures of the Parthenon frieze depict the Parthenaic procession of sculptured artistry in continuous sequence along the perimeter of the external surface of the rectangular concrete core of the Gallery. The metopes, the marble slabs with the relief representations from Greek mythology, are exhibited in between the stainless steel columns of the Gallery, which are the same in number as the columns of the Parthenon.  The colossal figures of the two pediments have been placed on pedestals on the east and west side of the Gallery.  The east pediment depicts the birth of the goddess Athena, emerging from the head of her father Zeus; the west pediment depicts the battle between Athena and Poseidon for the land of Attica.

On the first floor are also a series of works completed after the Parthenon was constructed, namely the Propylaia, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Erechtheion.  The north wing of the first floor displays striking Classical sculptures and their Roman copies, as well as votive and decree reliefs dating to the 5th and 4th century B.C., plus relief bases of sculptures and portraits, and finally, select works dating from the end of antiquity and the early Byzantine period.

Magnificent masterpieces at the New Museum of the Acropolis.

Walk into history at the Acropolis.

Many finds were discovered when the Museum was built and they are also on display.  Over coffee and a Greek spinach wrap in the Museum’s coffee shop I watch a gigantic crane on the Acropolis slowly lift a chunk of marble to fit somewhere in the architectural puzzle. Later, I observed staff workers bring a tarnished marble statue back to white crisp life using a laser that simply peeled away centuries of gunk.

More information about The New Museum of the Acropolis:

Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, closed Mondays;
last admission 7:30 p.m.
Galleries clear at 7:45 p.m.
Entrance fee: 5 Euros.
PH:  30 210 9000 900

A walking tour of the Acropolis and Museum is so fantastic I could not take it all in on one trip.  I self-guided myself on one spring day, but the educated way to experience the complex is on a guided Glories of Greece tour with Insight Vacations  My private Greek tour guide, Anna Zora, handed out whispering devices, small audio receivers worn around the neck with an ear plug, and I independently strolled away from the group as I received an expert account of the buildings and history of the Acropolis. 

Read Jetsetters Magazine feature stories about the Athens Agora and Roman Agora, and other exciting archaeological stops on Insight Vacations Glories of Greece Tour.

— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.