Acropolis of Athens facts for kids

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20101024 Acropolis panoramic view from Areopagus hill Athens Greece
The Acropolis

The Acropolis of Athens is the best known acropolis (high city) in Greece. Although there are many other acropolises in Greece, the significance of the Acropolis of Athens is such that it is commonly known as The Acropolis. The Acropolis is a flat-topped rock which rises 150 m (512 ft) above sea level in the city of Athens, Greece. It was also known as Cecropia, after the legendary serpent-man, Kekrops or Cecrops, the first Athenian king.

Geology of the rock

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 formed by a layer of blue-greyuhgjtrydhcngrtfrhg limestone, which is very hard but water-permeable. This rests on a layer of schist-sandstone marl, softer than the limestone but water-impermeable. This arrangement leads to the ready formation of artesian springs, as well as sheltered caves at the hill's feet, which was also a factor that attracted human habitation on and around the rock.

Early human presence

View of the Acropolis Athens (
The Acropolis of Athens, seen from Philopappou hill

The earliest artifacts from the area point to the Middle Neolithic era, although there have been documented habitations in Attica from the Early Neolithic (6th millennium BC).

Once into the Bronze Age a Mycenaean megaron must have stood on top of the hill, housing the local potentate and his household, guards, the local cult facilities and a number of workshops and ordinary habitations.

Homer British Museum
Idealized portrayal of Homer dating to the Hellenistic period. British Museum.

The compound was surrounded by a thick Cyclopean circuit wall, possibly between 4.5 m and 6 m in height, consisting of two parapets built with large stone blocks and cemented with an earth mortar called emplekton. The wall follows typical Mycenaean convention in that its gate was arranged obliquely, with a parapet and tower overhanging the incomers' right-hand side, thus facilitating defense. There were two lesser approaches up the hill on its north side, consisting of steep, narrow flights of steps cut in the rock.

Homer must refer to this state of affairs when he mentions the "strong-built House of Erechtheus" (Odyssey 7.81). It was during that time that an earthquake caused a fissure near the northeastern edge, one that ran all the way down to the marl layer and in which water duly collected. An elaborate set of stairs was built and the well was used as a protected source of drinking water during some portion of the Mycenaean period, as it was invaluable in times of siege.

The Dark Ages

Venetian siege of Acropolis
Depiction of the Venetian siege of the Acropolis of Athens in 1687.

The Acropolis might have been spared the violent destruction of other Mycenaean palaces, as there are no signs of fire or other large-scale destruction in what few artifacts of that time survive.

Not much is known as to the precise state of building on the rock leading up to the archaic era, except that the Acropolis was taken over by Kylon in the Kylonian revolt, and twice by Pisistratus.

Nevertheless it seems that a nine-gate wall, the Enneapylon, had been built around the biggest water spring, the "Clepsydra", at the northwestern foot. It was Pisistratus who initially established a precinct for Artemis Brauronia, the cult of his home town, Brauron, on the southwestern side of the rock, next to the circuit wall.

Archaic Acropolis

It is known with some certainty that a sizeable temple sacred to Athena Polias (Protectress of the City) was erected by mid-6th century BC. This Doric limestone building, from which many relics survive, is referred to as the "Bluebeard" temple, named after the pedimental three-bodied man-serpent sculpture, whose beards were painted dark blue.

The Parthenon was caught unfinished by invading Persians in 480 BC, and was razed to the ground and burnt, along with the Archaios Neos and practically everything else on the rock. Once the Persian Wars were over, the Athenians brought some order to the location, firstly by ceremonially burying objects of worship and art that were rendered unsuitable for further use.

This "Persian debris" is the richest archaeological treasure excavated on the Acropolis, as its burial had protected it from further destruction through the ages.

The Periclean building program

The Erechtheum

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.

Monuments that have left almost nothing visible to the present day are the Chalkotheke, the Pandroseion, Pandion's sanctuary, Athena's altar, Zeus Polieus's sanctuary and, from Roman times, the circular temple of Augustus and Rome.

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 Parthenon in Athens

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 sculpted as figures of women.

Dionisov teatar u Akropolju
Remains of the Theatre of Dionysus as of 2007

There are also the remains of an outdoor theatre called Theatre of Dionysus in which all the extraordinary plays of the Greek dramatists were first performed.

A few hundred metres away, there is the partially reconstructed Theatre of Herodes Atticus, giving a clear picture of how the Theatre of Dionysos must have looked, although both would have had roofs and very elaborate and substantial backdrops to their stages; the Odeum (theatre) of Herodes has a majestic and towering set of arches and pillars with a huge marbled walk-way leading to the stage and the arches would probably have been higher still. This theatre is used every summer for modern productions of the early plays. Seating an audience of several thousand, the acoustics were, and are, perfect, allowing the Greek audiences to marvel at the early plays of playwrights such as Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.

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