At the height of Athens’ power, Pericles built on the Acropolis the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to Athena the Virgin (Parthena). Numerous other temples were built later on as well. Processions leading to the Parthenon used an inclined road which started in Thission.
Over the next two thousand years all the buildings, roads and dwellings vanished, buried under the earth. Only the Acropolis and the Parthenon withstood the ravages of time and wars, until 1687, when the Venitian Morozini bombarded it to dislodge the occupying force of the Turks, causing severe damage to the structures.
In 1821, during the Greek war of independence, the Turks stored their ammunition in the Parthenon, which blew up and destroyed the northern side of the temple.
Herakleidon Street is aligned with the Acropolis and from its balconies one can see the Parthenon. Today it is a quaint pedestrian street lined with old buildings and cafes.
As you exit the Acropolis site you follow a pedestrian cobblestone street on your right. This street will lead you to the temple of Thission, one of the most well preserved Greek temples. As you stroll down this street named Apostolou Pavlou (Apostle Paul), you eventually see Herakleidon Street on your left, easily recognized by the busy cafes. The museum is one hundred meters into the street. A little further down on Apostolou Pavlou you enter Monastiraki quarter, better known as Plaka.
In the south-eastern corner of Plaka, the Monument of Lysikratos dominates a small, triangular open area with a couple of quiet tavernas. It’s near the end of Tripodon str.(Odos Tripodon), a relic of the ancient Street of the Tripods, where winners of dramatic competitions erected monuments to dedicate their trophies (in the front of tripod caudrons) to Dionysos.
The Monument of Lysikratos, a tall and graceful stone and marble structure from 335 BC, is the only survivor of these triumphal memorials. A four-marble structure from the 335 BC, is the only survivor of these triumphal memorials. A four-metre-high stone base supports six Corinthian columns rising up to marble dome on which, in a flourish of acanthus-leaf carvings, the winning tripod was placed.
The inscription on its architrave tells us that ‘Lysikratos of Kikyna, son of Lysitheides was choregos (sponsor); the tribe of Akamantis won the victory with a chorus; Evairetos was archintrs’. The monument was incorporated into a French Capuchin convent in 1667, and trandition assets Byron used the convent as a study, writing part of Childe Harold here; at the time Athens had no inn, and the convent was a regular lodging for European travelers.
The street beyond, Vyronos is named after the poet who also participated in the greek struggle for Independence. As its far end, facing you across starts the area of Makriyianni called after the general Yiannis Makriyiannis (1797-1864) a General for the war of Independence and one of the protagonists in the movement of the 3rd of September 1843 for the first greek Constitution.
On the same location is the Acropolis Study Centre (daily 8:30- 3 pm; free), flanked by the metro entrances and contaning little beyond plaster casts of the Marbes of Acropolis ( ripped off the Acropolis by lord Elgin , also called Elgin Marbles) and models of the winning designs for the Acropolis Museum.
It is situated beside the main entrance of the Acropolis on the south slope. One of the most evocative locations in the city, it was here that the masterpieces of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristofanes were first performed. It was also the venue for the annual festival of tragic drama, where each Greek citizen would take his turn as member of the chorus.
The ruins are impressive. Rebuilt in the 4th century BC, the theatre could hold 17000 spectators. Most notable are the great marble thrones on the front row, each inscribed with the name of an official of the festival or of an important priest; in the middle sat the priest of Dionysos and on his right the representative of the Delphic Oracle.
At the rear of the stage along the Roman bema (rostrum) are reliefs of episodes in the life of Dionysos flanked by two squatting Sileni, devotees of the satyrs. Sadly, all this is roped off to protect the stage floor mosaic- itself a magnificent diamond of multicoloured marble best seen from above.
Above the theatre in the rock is curved the chapel of Panayia Khrysospiliotissa possibily turned into a chapel 1000 years ago; its worth a look for the setting rather than its kitsch iconography. To the west of the theatre extend the ruins of the Asklepion, a sanctuary devoted to the healing god Asclepios and built around a sacred spring.
The curative centre was probably incorporated into a Byzantine church of the doctor saints Kosmas and Damian, of which there are prominent remains. Nearer to the road lie the foundations of the Roman Stoa of Eumenes, a colonnade of stalls that stretched to the Herodes Atticus Theatre.
Following the road or path over the flank of the Acropolis, you come out in to Dionysiou Aeropagitou a pedestrian Road by the Herodes Atticus Theatre. It was built by Herod Atticus, a Roman noble, in 160 A.D in memory of his dead wife. The faηade of the building was 28 m high and had curves that hosted beautiful statues.
The theatre was made to host musical performances therefore it was named Odeon. The scene behind the stage had 3 floors from which 2 are still excisting. The Odeon was renovated in the 1950 s and 1960s with Greek Imitos marbles and hosts the Greek Festival (www.greekfestival.gr) an international event lightened with the participations of artists such us Maria Callas and Rudolf Nurejiev.
On the same time with the Odeon the stoa of Evmenes was built that was the refugee for the spectators in case of bad weather. The Turks destroyed the Stoa to turn it into a wall for the Acropolis, that they had turned into an arsenal. However the visitor can still see the big walls on the sides of the Acropolis.
Turning right, 100 m or so down and across the avenue, a network of paths leads up to Filopapapou Hill also known as the Hill of the Muses ( Loffos Musson). This strategic height has played an important, if generally sorry, role in the city’s history. It was from here that the shell that destroyed the roof of the Parthenon was lobbed; more recently, the colonels placed tanks on the slopes during their coup of 1967.
The hill is capped by the grandiose monument to the Roman senator and consul, Philopappus, who is depicted driving his chariot on its frieze. Again it is a place above all for views. To the west is the Dora Stratou theatre (or Philopappou Theatre) where Greek music and dance performances are held.
Northwest, along the main path, and following a line of truncated ancient walls, is the church of Ayios Dimitrios, an unsung gem, which has kept its original Byzantine Frescoes. In the cliff-face across from this to the south you can make out a kind of cave dwelling, known (more from imagination than evidence) as the prison of Socrates.
Further to the north , above the church, rises the Hill of the Pnyx, an area used in Classical Athens as the meeting place for the democratic assembly, which gathered more than forty times a year. All except the most serious political issues, such as ostracism, were aired here, the hill on the north side providing a convenient semicircular terrace from which to address the crowd. The arena is today used for the son et lumiere of the Acropolis, which takes place on most summer evenings.
Continuing southwest from the Kydathineon-Adrianou intersection, up to the Thespidos str., you can reach the edge of the Acropolis precinct. Up to the right, the whitewashed cubist houses of Anafiotica cheerfully proclame an architect-free zone amid the higher slopes of the Acropolis rock.
The pleasingly haphazard buildings here were erected by workers from the island of Anafi in the southern Aegean, who were employed in the mid19th century construction of Athens. Unable to afford land, they took advantage of a customary low to the effect that if the roof and four walls could be thrown up overnight, the premises were yours at sunrise. The houses, and the two churches that serve them, are the image of those the Cycladic islanders had left behind.
The Areios Pagos is the rock across the street from Dionyssiou Areopagitou from the Acropolis. This is where the first courts of the Athenian democracy were based, and is named after Aris (Mars), the god of war. According to legend, Orestis, haunted by the Furies, came here after killing his mother, Clytaemnystra, and was tried by court, at the behest of godess Athena.
The Areios Pagos, among other things, delivered opinions on the suitability of new religions brought to Athens from the outside. This is where Apostle Paul preached Christianity to the Athenians in 52 AD.
Propylaea: One of the masterpieces of classical architecture. This imposing entrance was designed by the architect Mnesicles and built in 437-432 BC over an earlier propylaea. Mnesicles designed an entrance no less magnificent than that of the temples and other monuments on the Sacred Rock. The Propylaea consists of a main hall and two side wings.
The north wing was to house a display of paintings and was named Pinakotheke (Gallery). The outer columns to both east and west are of the Doric order; the internal entrance way is flanked by two high inner colonnades of the Ionic order. The brilliant idea of combining the Doric and Ionic orders lifts the emotions those who enter the Propylaea, giving them a rare aesthetic experience.
In the 12th century, the Propylaea became the residence of the Metropolitan Michael Choniatis. During Frankish rule, the whole structure was used as a palace. Additions by the Franks included an extra floor and a high watchtower that was demolished in 1874.
Temple of Athena Nike: A small, elegant, Ionian, amphiprostyle temple, built by the architect Callicrates in 426-421, on an earlier tower of the Mycenaean walls. It was dedicated both to the patron goddess Athena and to the prehistoric goddess Nike, protector of the entrance. In 1686 it was demolished by the Ottomans in view of the forthcoming Venetian attack and the marble pieces were reassembled after 1835. The temple is best viewed from the Propylaea.
Temple of Brauronian Artemis: Situated to the southeast of the Propylaea, this once formed a Π-shaped stoa with ten Doric columns. The temple was used for the cult of goddess Artemis, a cult that originated from Brauron, homeland of Peisistratus, in the mid 6th century BC. Today only traces of its foundations remain.
Chalkotheke: East of the Temple of Brauronian Artemis lies just the base of a lengthy structure that dates to the 5th century BC, and is believed to have been the Chalkotheke, used for storing precious votive gifts, mostly made of metal.
Erechtheum: This temple, begun in Ionian style in 421 BC, dominates the north side of the Sacred Rock. It is complex and elaborate in its structure, and equally complex in its symbolism.
The temple was named after the mythical king Erechtheus, and is often identified with the chthonic deity Erichthonius, and later with Poseidon. Athena and Poseidon played the leading role among the other deities associated with the temple, followed by Hephaestus, Erichthonius’ father, and Voutis, Erechtheus’ brother, both chthonic deities.
This was also where the “symbols” of the gods were: a well-shaped opening that contained sea-water offered by Poseidon; and an opening in the roof of the north stoa, made by the god’s trident. The ancient wooden image of Athena was kept in the Erechtheum, while her sacred olive tree was on its western side.
Particularly interesting is the northern porch with its magnificent entrance and, more generally, its outstanding Ionic decoration from the bases of the columns right up to the ceiling. On the east side there is an impressive series of six Ionic columns crowned by a pediment.
On the south side of the temple lies the porch of the Korai (the original statues are exhibited in the Acropolis Museum). The six Korai (female figures) that support the entablature represent an eternal symbol of the perfection of the female form; they recall a ceremonial procession.
The overwhelming charm and ethereal lyricism of the Korai are typical of the elaborate style in sculpture of the last quarter of the 5th century BC. These Korai of the Erechtheum were later named Caryatids. The most likely interpretation is that the Korai were identified with the young Caryatids, the ceremonial dancers who bore baskets on their heads in rituals honouring the Caryatid Artemis.
The Erechtheum was badly damaged by fire, probably during the invasion by Sulla (86 BC). Later, in the seventh century AD, it was transformed into a three-aisled basilica, dedicated to the Mother of God. Under Frankish rule it became the seat of administration, and in the period of Ottoman rule, a harem! At the beginning of the 19th century it suffered the attentions of Lord Elgin’s men. The recent restoration of the monument was honoured by the award of a special medal by Europa Nostra in 1987.
On the west side of the Erechtheum stood the Pandroseion, dedicated to Pandrosos, daughter of Cecrops.
Parthenon: A public dedication, offered by the Athenians to their patron goddess Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin), in thanks for for the city’s salvation and Athenian victories in the Persian Wars. It was built as part of Pericles’ great construction program and was the ultimate expression of this achievement, showing the Athenian people at their zenith. It was built between 447 and 438 BC.
It is the largest temple of classical antiquity – surrounded by a colonnade with 8 columns on the short sides, and 17 columns on the long sides. It represents the culmination of the development of the Doric order, although here Doric columns are combined with an Ionic frieze around the cella, or central part of the temple. A ratio of 4:9 is repeated in various parts of the temple.
The columns embody the principles of meiosis (diminution) and entasis. Meiosis is the gradual thinning of the diameter of each column as it gets higher. By contrast, entasis is the thickening of each column at about two fifths of its height; thus strengthening of the column so as to hold the weight of the entablature. By using these architectural refinements, the great masters of the Parthenon gave life and mobility to the marble, and displayed how a considerable weight can be held in place by the power of construction.
The ancient Greeks were familiar with the optical effect by which, when seen under the light, a straight line gives the impression of a concave curve. Wanting to counteract this optical illusion, Ictinus and Callicrates applied a slight convex curvature to the center of all horizontal lines on the Parthenon. The curvature ranges from 6 to 17 cm (on the long sides); it begins from the foundations of the temple, and is repeated in the krepis, the entablature, the ceiling, the roof and the ceramic tiling.
The columns, with their entablature slightly curved towards the interior of the temple, stand on the delicately curved horizontal lines, binding the structure together. The corner columns complete the curvature of both colonnades, with the result that all forces counterbalance each other, thus achieving perfect harmony and symmetry. The convexity and all other deviations, known as “refinements”, contribute to the monument’s high aesthetic appeal.
Inside the temple stood the gold and ivory statue of Athena by the sculptor Pheidias, which has unfortunately been lost. The patron goddess of Athens was depicted in full armor, yet peaceful, and at the same time both supernatural and human.
The metopes depicted battles: between gods and giants on the east side; between Greeks and centaurs on the south; between Greeks and Amazons on the west; and the capture of Troy on the north. The pediment on the east side is the earlier and shows the birth of Athena. The central figures were lost in the early Christian period.
The western pediment is technically more advanced; it shows Athena’s contest with Poseidon. When Morosini attempted to remove the marvelous central figures and take them to Venice, they were broken into fragments. The best preserved parts of the pediments can be seen today in the British Museum in London. Some fragments and a unique complex (probably of Cecrops and Pandrosos) are displayed in the Acropolis Museum. The pedimental sculptures were sculpted in the round, and represent some of the finest works ever created by the human hand.
The outer wall of the calla was decorated with an Ionian frieze of unparalleled quality that represented the magnificent Panathenaic procession: mortals and immortals together as idealized figures, processing on horse or on foot, honoring the city and lauding democratic Athens. The frieze of the Parthenon is considered to be one of the greatest moments in the history of art and of human civilization.
In late antiquity the Parthenon was damaged by fire, probably from the Heruli (267 AD). In the 6th century it was transformed into a Christian church. During Frankish rule (1205-1456) it became the Catholic church of the Virgin and later it was converted into a mosque, until the great explosion caused by Morosini (1687).
At the beginning of the 19th century it was divested of its sculptures by the British diplomat Lord Elgin. The restoration of the Parthenon, which began in the 1980s, is proceeding in accordance with the highest international standards, as is appropriate to a unique monument of the world’s cultural heritage.
Peripatos: Since antiquity, this has been the name for the path that runs around the Acropolis Hill. It was five stadia and eight feet (900-930 meters) long.
The beginning of the path was at the junction with the Panathenaic Way. The path continued through the ancient shrines on the slopes of the Sacred Rock, cut the Theater of Dionysus into two parts (the theater and the epitheater), passed in front of the Asclepion, and ended on the uphill path that led to the Acropolis.
Acropolis – Southern Slope: This was the cultural center of ancient Athens, and is considered to be the first example of a complex of buildings dedicated to performances of the arts, whether in Greece or the world.
Theater of Dionysus: The birthplace of tragedy and comedy: this first theater of the Western world was built on the site of a sanctuary of Dionysus. The archaic temple, containing a wooden image of Dionysus, dates from around 540 BC. The classical temple was built and the gold and ivory statue of the god by Alcamenes, sculpted in the 4th century BC.
The theater was built at the end of the 6th century BC around an already existing circular orchestra, which is still (albeit barely) distinguishable among the ruins of the stage. It was on this stage that plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes, which still inspire theatergoers today, had their world premieres.
The stone tiers were built in 333 BC by the orator and politician Lycurgus. The theater could hold a crowd of 17,000 spectators; or 30,000 when the surrounding grounds were filled. The ancient walk, or “peripatos“, divided the theater into two parts: the theater proper and the higher “epitheater“. Under the Emperor Nero (67 AD), the stage and the orchestra took on the Roman form they maintain to this day. The Phaidros Bema “pulpitum” (platform) was built in the 3rd century AD.
East of the Theater of Dionysus stood the renowned Odeion of Pericles, which is now in ruins. It was built in the 5th century BC using the masts of Persian ships (booty from the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC), and used by the Athenians for musical performances. According to Vitruvius, the Odeion was destroyed by fire in the course of the war between Mithridates and Rome during the assault by Roman general Sulla in 86 BC, and later rebuilt by Ariobarzanes, the King of Cappadocia.
Above the theater, stood the imposing Choregic Monument of Thrasyllus (319 BC). Sometime after Christianity became prevalent, this was transformed into the Church of Panagia Chrysospiliotissa. High above the monument you can still see two Corinthian columns, which were bases for choragic tripods from the Roman period.
The ruins of the ancient Asclepion can be seen west of the theater. This temple was built in 420 BC, dedicated to Asclepios, the god of medicine, and was used as a sanctuary, a clinic, and a medical school.
There were other monuments between the Asclepion and the Herodion but these are now in ruins. They were Hippolytus’ tomb, the archaic fountain, and the sanctuaries to Earth Kourotrofos, to Demetra-Chloe, and to Aphrodite Pandemos.
Just under the Asclepion and the Peripatos lie the remains of Eumenes’ Stoa, once used by the crowds who came here to see the performances in the theater of Dionysus and, later, in the Odeion. The long two-storey structure was built with a donation by Eumenes II (197-160 BC), King of Pergamum.
Odeion of Herodes Atticus: This building is adjacent to Eumenes’ Stoa, and a perfect match for it, although it was built almost four centuries later (in 160-1 AD), by Herodes son of Atticus, in memory of his wife Regilla. The roof that once covered this monumental and luxurious structure was made of cedar wood. The Odeion was burnt down by the Heruli in 267 AD. During the period of Ottoman rule, it was incorporated into the city walls built by Hasekis (1778), along with the Eumenes’ Stoa, and formed the impregnable “Serpenze”. The Odeion seats 5,000 people and still hosts musical and theatrical performances today.