The Secrets of the Acropolis in Athens
Immerse yourself in the fascinating world of ancient Greece, the Acropolis in Athens. The magnificent Parthenon which sits at the heart of the famous Acropolis hill is the most brilliant creation of Democratic Athens. The Acropolis perfectly illustrates all the splendor, power and abundance of Athens at the time of its peak, the “Golden Age” of Pericles.
What is the Acropolis?
The Acropolis was once an ancient fortification. After its destruction by the Persians, it was rebuilt by Pericles in the 5th century BC in honor of the goddess Athena and as a symbol for democracy. Today it is the “emblem” of the Greek capital and one of the most visited sites in Athens (nearly 3 million visitors a year). You can see the ruins of ancient temples dedicated to the various Greek deities.
The Acropolis of Athens is the most important Greek acropolis. The Acropolis was, literally, the “high city” and was present in most Greek cities, with a dual function: defensive and as the seat of the main places of worship. The Acropolis of Athens is located on a hill about 165 meters (541 ft) above the level of the city. It is also known as Cecropia in honor of the legendary snake man, Cecrops, king of Athens.
The entrance to the Acropolis is through a monumental gate called the Propylaeus. On the right and front side of the Propylaeus is the Temple of Nike Aptera. A large bronze statue of Athena, built by Phidias, was originally in the center. To the right of where this statue stood is the Parthenon or Temple of Athena Parthenos (the Virgin). To the left and at the end of the Acropolis is the Erechtheon, with its famous stoà or tribune supported by six caryatids . Also found on the Acropolis are the remains of a theater in the, where they premiered their tragedies Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus and the comedies of Aristophanes.
The Acropolis of Athens was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987 in Paris.
From the ancient Greek Παρθενος -Virgin-) is a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena Parthenos, whom the people of Athens consider their protector. It was built in the fifth century BC and is the oldest monument of those located on the Acropolis of Athens (Greece). Its architects were Iktinos and Callicrates, supervised by Phidias.
It is the most important building of those preserved from classical Greece ; it is generally regarded as the culmination of the development of the Ionic order . His decorative sculptures are considered one of the greatest exponents of Greek art . The Parthenon is conceived as an enduring symbol of ancient Greece and Athenian democracy , and one of the greatest monuments of the cultural world. The Greek Ministry of Culture is carrying out a program of restoration and reconstruction.
The Parthenon replaced an older temple of Athena, which historians call the Pre-Parthenon or Hekatómpedon, which was destroyed in the Persian invasion of 480 BC. Like most Greek temples, the Parthenon was used as a treasury, and for a time served as the treasury of the Delian League, which later became the Athenian Confederation.
In the sixth century AD, the Parthenon became a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. After the Turkish-Ottoman conquest , it became a mosqueat the beginning of the 1460s, and had a minaret. On September 26, 1687, a Turkish-Ottoman ammunition depot inside the building exploded due to a bombardment by the Venetians. The resulting explosion severely damaged the Parthenon and its sculptures. In 1806, Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin , took some of the surviving sculptures with him, with the permission of the Ottomans. These sculptures, now known as the Elgin Marbles or the Parthenon Marbles, were sold in 1816 to the British Museum in London, where they are currently exhibited. The Greek government has requested the return of the sculptures to Greece, so far without success.
The secrets of building the Parthenon, Optical illusion and geometry
The acropolis is a collection of buildings, including the Parthenon. It is the heart of the Acropolis. Of exceptional size, it was designed by the architects Ictinus and Callicrates. All its beauty lies in a secret, the optical illusion. It is a masterpiece of geometry and ingenuity. Its lines that intersect at right angles appear perfectly straight when in fact they are curved. As for the columns, if they appear straight, they are in fact convex. There is actually not a single straight line in the whole building. The ancient Greek architects had thus understood the great laws of optics and the way in which our brain can sometimes interpret what it sees.
The building also complied with very precise rules of proportions. It was long believed that the perfect proportions of the Parthenon were based on the golden ratio (1.61). Archaeologists have nevertheless discovered another ratio of proportion, 4 to 9, which is found between the columns and the facade. The discovery of the Stone of Salamis on the island of the same name revealed to archaeologists the different units of measurement used by the Greeks. They were inspired by the human body. The foot, for example, was a unit of measurement.
Assembly of marble blocks
Of course, the Parthenon would not be so majestic without the marble that composes it. This dazzling white stone, both flexible and resistant, makes the temple shine. The main marble deposit in ancient Greece was in the Cyclades. However, it would have been too expensive to bring so much marble from so far away. As a sign sent from the gods, a marble deposit was discovered just a few kilometers from Athens.
But how did the ancient Greeks go about assembling the huge blocks of marble? How did they assemble the huge drums that form the columns? These majestic columns were indeed not composed of a single block but of several sections embedded in each other. The technique of the ancient Greeks was revealed to archaeologists during restoration work. A piece of cedar was slipped in the heart of the two drums, making it possible to join them. Everything was so hermetic that the wood did not decompose and was recently unearthed by archaeologists. This material also has the advantage of being flexible, giving the necessary flexibility to resist earthquakes. The restorers used the same technique but with titanium.
Thus, an exceptional religious complex was born from the ruins of the ancient Acropolis. You have to imagine a building covered in resplendent colors, blue and red. After only 9 years, the temple was ready to welcome the gigantic statue of Athena, masterpiece of Phidias.
The Agony of the Acropolis, The End of the Golden Age of Athens
In 431 BC, the rivalry with Sparta degenerated into a war that would be fatal for Athens. This is the Peloponnesian War. In addition, Pericles died in 429 BC from an epidemic of plague which took away a good part of the Athenians. Consequently, the construction of the Propylaea (entrance to the acropolis) which had begun in 437 was never completed. Nevertheless, between 421 and 407 BC, other works will be carried out during the low moments of the conflict. The Odeon of Pericles and the Temple of Hephaestus located below the Acropolis were thus erected.
In 404 BC, Athens was defeated by Sparta. If this marks the end of the golden age of Athens, it is not the end of the city. The Athenians managed to recover from this failure. The strategists Conon and Timothys ushered Athens into its second phase of hegemony in 378 BCE. Finances are straightened out. However, no other monument will be built.
Soon, the Athenians would successively fall under the thumb of two new powers, Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire. The latter will not hesitate to take away the precious statues of the Acropolis. Thus will begin a looting that will continue until the 19th century. Moreover, in 267, the city was invaded and sacked by the Heruli, a Germanic people. But another, much more lasting power was to change the destiny of the Acropolis and Athens, Christianity.
Rise of Christianity
In the 4th century, the Roman emperor Theodore I decreed a ban on the worship of pagan gods. This marked the end of Athena’s reign. The Parthenon will now be a place of worship for the new virgin, Mary, and her son. The Parthenon was thus transformed into a church in the 6th century. As for the statues that had not been taken away by the Romans, they were taken to Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Greece is now part of the Byzantine Empire. But when Constantinople fell victim to the sack of the Franks during the IVth Crusade in 1204, Athens fell prey to successive invasions. Between 1204 and 1456, Catalans, Venetians and Florentines will thus leave the mark of their passage on the monuments of Athens.
The explosion of the Parthenon under the Turkish occupation
In the 15th century, Sultan Mehmet II of the Ottoman Empire seized Constantinople (learn more about the siege of Constantinople in 1453 by the Turks by clicking here). This conqueror would also occupy all of Greece. If the Sultan admired the splendor of the Acropolis, he also understood the military value it represented with its fortifications. Mehmet II thus made a garrison of it and imposed on the Parthenon his second change of religion. It became a mosque. The bell added to the Parthenon during the Christian era was transformed into a minaret. A harem was even installed in the ancient Erechthrum temple.
Despite all these transformations, the Parthenon still stood in all its splendor and was admired by travelers who ventured as far as Athens in the 17th century. But everything changed in 1687. A war between the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire would destroy this precious building which had managed to survive a thousand years of history.
In 1687 Venetian troops began the siege of Athens. Wrongly thinking that Christians would not dare to attack a building that was once a famous church, the Turks stored their supply of gunpowder in the Parthenon and sent women and children to take refuge there. It was a tragic mistake. The Venetian general, a Swede named Otto Wilhelm Königsmarck, subjected the Acropolis to a merciless bombardment. On the evening of September 26, 1687, an artillery shell pierced the roof of the Parthenon where the gunpowder was stored. The explosion was monstrous. 300 people were killed. As for the building, it offered a spectacle of desolation. The roof had collapsed, the central part and many statues were destroyed. The Venetians captured the city two days later, only to abandon it a few months later. It was indeed too costly to maintain the defense of Athens. The Venetians left the city but not without looting the Parthenon first and taking pieces of the temple to Venice.
Looting in the 19th century, the coup de grace
In the 19th century, a Scottish Lord, Thomas Bruce Elgin, undertook to plunder the monument. With the authorization of the Turkish power, he had the metopes of the Parthenon (relief plaques, they represented scenes from Greek mythology) torn down and sent them to England. They are still in the British Museum today.
The new breath of the Acropolis, The restoration of the Parthenon
It took the ancient Greeks less than 9 years to build the Parthenon. Today, restoration work has been going on for 30 years, despite modern technologies. The task facing the restorers was indeed a difficult one. Archaeologists first had to catalog and organize the thousands of stone fragments that littered the floor of the Acropolis. There were more than 100,000 of them, a monstrous puzzle with pieces that could weigh up to several tons.
In addition, the restorers had to face another difficulty. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Parthenon had already been restored. Unfortunately, the restorers of the time used iron clamps to assemble the pieces. By rusting, the iron ravaged the marble. The ancients also used iron, but they coated it with lead. This material helps fight against rust and is also very malleable and flexible. Also, the blocks were not properly assembled. However, no block is interchangeable, each fulfills a specific function.
The restorers therefore had to repair the damage before starting the work. They also had to deal with another problem. Some missing pieces were never found. Marble was therefore added for the missing parts. This marble is easy to spot since it is much whiter than other older pieces of marble.
Thanks to these restoration works, the Acropolis today revives the history of Athens and its golden age in the 5th century. This Athens of Pericles where the beginnings of our modern democracies were born. The city of Athens still extends to the feet of the Parthenon. A modern city, full of life that never loses sight of this fantastic monument to a glorious past.
• Discover Greece’s most renowned monument: the Acropolis and its world famous Parthenon.
• Enjoy spectacular views of the city. Plenty of time for the best photos.
• Visit the Acropolis Museum, one of the best museums in the world and an architectural attraction.
• Keep the experience of the visit alive with a souvenir offered by your guide.
Smart tips – Practical advice from your guide
• Take advantage of an early morning or late afternoon tour to avoid the summer heat and large crowds.
• Hat and comfortable shoes.
• Combine your visit with lunch at the famous restaurant in the Acropolis Museum.
FAQ: Some practical and interesting information!
In this “Frequently Asked Questions”, I answer all the questions that are regularly asked in the context of organizing a visit to the Acropolis. Do you have a question that you cannot find an answer to? Then just write a comment and I will update the article 🙂
Can you explore the Acropolis with a stroller?
Please note: pushchairs are not allowed on the Acropolis! I strongly recommend that you take a “baby carrier” to transport your child, taking it on your arms can quickly become tiring. If you come with a stroller, know that you can leave it at the stroller car parks at the entrances.
Are dogs allowed on the Acropolis?
Dogs and animals in general are not allowed on the Acropolis. Assistance dogs, especially for blind people, are of course excluded from this prohibition.
Is the Acropolis one of the Seven Wonders of the World?
Well no, the Acropolis is not one of the seven wonders of the world. However, it is one of the very little-known seven new wonders of the world (see here for the Wikipedia article).
How tall is the Acropolis?
The limestone plateau on which the Acropolis was built is 156 meters high. This means that the Acropolis is almost 80 meters above the city of Athens.
Parking at the Acropolis: Is there parking for visitors?
If you are traveling with a rental car or your own car, it is best to leave it at the hotel. There is indeed no visitor parking at the Acropolis.
You can try to park in the streets south of the Acropolis (around the Acropolis Museum), but honestly, you have to be really lucky to find a parking space. And you will be quite far from the entrances.
Our recommendation, if you absolutely want to get to the Acropolis by car: book a parking space or a private parking space via the Parclick platform. Just enter the address of the Acropolis, the desired time and date of parking, and the site will show you the places available nearby: I tested, it works very well!
Is the Acropolis a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
Yes, the Acropolis was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1986.
Is it necessary to book Acropolis tickets in advance?
No, but you do not have to book your tickets in advance. There are ticket offices where you can buy your tickets on site. However, it is very strongly recommended to buy your tickets in advance to avoid waiting in line indefinitely (sometimes up to 90 minutes). As explained above, tickets are available through online.
How big is the Acropolis? What is its area?
The Acropolis hill is 272 meters long and 136 meters wide. The area of the plateau is 3.04 hectares.
Is there a souvenir shop on the Acropolis?
There is no souvenir shop ON the Acropolis itself. If you want to buy a small souvenir, know that the official Acropolis shop is at the southern entrance, right next to the Acropolis Museum (it is housed in the old building of the Acropolis Museum) .
Disability: the Acropolis in a wheelchair
Attention: People with reduced mobility who want to use the lift must in any case contact the Acropolis before a visit! The employees will be able to tell you if the lift will be operational on such and such a date (which is unfortunately not always the case) and will give you all the necessary information. Telephone numbers for visitors with disabilities are: +30 210 3214172 or +30 210 9238470.
If you wish to visit the Acropolis in a wheelchair and use the elevator, you must use the main entrance (to the northwest). From the entrance, you have to drive for about 300 meters to the elevator. The path is very slightly uphill. The floor covering consists of large slabs smoothed over the centuries. Once at the end of the path, you will first need to take a stairlift suitable for wheelchairs to climb a few steps. Then you can take the elevator that will take you to the top of the plateau.
Once at the top, you can move freely. Please note that the ground is sometimes a bit uneven (bumps, holes in the ground). If you are accompanied, your “driver” should have no problem getting around and passing these obstacles. If you drive the wheelchair yourself, be careful.
You can explore around 40% of the Acropolis and see 70%. I base myself here on the information of the Sagetravelling page (the article on “the Acropolis in a wheelchair” with many useful photos), specialized in wheelchair trips – highly recommended, but in English.
On the Acropolis, you can only see the statues and palaces from a certain distance (whether you are in a wheelchair or not). If you want to see old stones up close, you can also visit the Agora of Athens, where you can really access everywhere in a wheelchair. The Acropolis Museum is also 100% accessible to people with reduced mobility.
Admission is free for people with a degree of disability greater than 80%. An accompanying person can then also visit the Acropolis for free.
Year of construction and age of the Acropolis
The Acropolis was built between the years 467 BC to 406 BC. So the age of the Acropolis is around 2450 years.
Is there an elevator that leads to the Acropolis?
Yes, there is an elevator. However, its use is only intended for people in wheelchairs / with reduced mobility.
Here is ! I hope this article will help you better plan your visit to the Acropolis! If you have any questions, leave me a little comment and if not, enjoy your visit! 😊