Acropolis, Athens

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ACROPOLIS (Gr. akros, top, polis, city), literally the upper part of a town. For purposes of defence early settlers naturally chose elevated ground, frequently a hill with precipitous sides, and these early citadels became in many parts of the world the nuclei of large cities which grew up on the surrounding lower ground. The word Acropolis, though Greek in origin and associated primarily with Greek towns (Athens, Argos, Thebes, Corinth), may be applied generically to all such citadels (Rome, Jerusalem, many in Asia Minor, or even Castle Hill at Edinburgh). The most famous is that of Athens, which, by reason of its historical associations and the famous buildings erected upon it, is generally known without qualification as the Acropolis.

The Athenian Acropolis

The Acropolis of Athens is a flat-topped rock which rises 512 feet above sea level. During The Persian Wars, Xerxes' troops occupied the Acropolis and sacked and burned the major temples. 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.

Cultural Significance of the Acropolis

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 costly robe (peplos) was ceremoniously placed on Phidias' massive ivory and gold statue of Athena.

Art and Architecture Found on the Acropolis

The entrance to the Acropolis was a monumental gateway called the Propylaea. On the right and in front of the Propylaea is the Temple of Athena Nike. A large bronze statue of Athena, built by Phidias, was originally at the center. To the right of where that statue stood is the Parthenon or Temple of Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin). To the left and at the far end of the Acropolis is the Erectheum. There is also the remains of an outdoor theater called Theater of Dionysos.