Saturday, December 22, 2007


Acropolis, Athens

Acropolis of AthensAcropolis at Athens image courtsey:

The most invaluable monuments of the Western World

The word ‘Acropolis simply means high city, ancient settlements were generally made on the top of hills due to security concerns and Acropolis was no exception. In that sense there are many acropoleis in the world. Rome, Jerusalem, Athens, Thebes, Corinth etc all have acropoleis, but the word if plainly used; means the Acropolis of Athens; because it is that much associated to decisive historical events that shaped the destiny of Europe. The Acropolis complex was the epicenter of social, cultural and religious activities of a bygone era 3,000 years back is a flat topped hill in the center of the city of Athens that houses several monuments including the Parthenon the temple of Athena -the Greek Goddess and other rare and valuable monuments of the history of Greece.


Acropolis of AthensTthe Erechtheum at the Acropolis at Athens

The Acropolis is also known as Cecropia after the legendary King Cecrops -with a man’s head and a snake’s body - who is believed to have established the Athenian Empire. There are evidences that these people who lived here from 10th century BC knew the techniques of making bronze. Pottery pieces retrieved from this place prove that this hill was inhabited from the late Stone Age. There are remnants of a 13th century BC fortification made of cyclopean wall (made of lime-stone without using mortar) built around the complex. It was the establishment of the cult of Athena Polias in the 8th century BC that made this place the status of a pilgrim spot for the Greeks. A temple of Athena Polias is located in the north eastern side of the hill.

Acropolis of Athens

Cecrops a mythical king of Athens

Artemis; the fem-fatale!

Even though Greek folklores say that the Athenian Empire was established by Cecrops; the first human king who ruled the empire was Actaeus of Allica. (There is one Actaeus who while on hunting in the woods happened to watch Goddess Artemis (daughter of Zeus and sister of Apollo, she also used to go on hunting spree) taking bath in a stream and was discovered by the Goddess. The enraged Artemis cursed Actaeus and he became a stag and got killed by his own hunts).

Athena her beauty was not just skin deep

Acropolis of AthensAthena

Athena the daughter of Zeus was the sum total of all a man expected from womanhood. And there is seldom any woman in history; a woman remained in the fantasies of a community for so many generations. She was the protectress of Acropolis and her temple (made in 5th century BC; still remains as the best of the monuments of this complex. Athena Parthenon (Athena the virgin) was to the Greeks far more than being a goddess. She was goddess of wisdom, art of weaving (as Athena Ergane), she was goddess to battle (Athena Promachos) and victory (Athena Nike) education and was everything a person wished to attain.

Several Gods; Several Portfolios

Poseidon, Aries, Artemis, Hephaestus, Apollo, Hermes, Aphrodite, Herse, Festia, Demeter were her brothers; all with their own duties as Olympians (the twelve gods who live on the Olympus Mountain).

Xerxes and his revenge!

Acropolis of AthensThe Propylaea at Acropolis at Athens

The Acropolis had the fortune of evading the mass destruction several times but once. It was Xerxes the son of Darius a Persian king who captured Athens (in 480 BC) and entered Acropolis; he ‘succeeded’ in burning it in to ashes before being driven out by the combined army of Greeks. For Xerxes it was a sweet revenge for the defeat Persians suffered in Marathon. In the dark ages that followed numerous monuments were ruthlessly destroyed by the tribals. The remnants of these destroyed structures were dumped in a pit for new constructions, archaeologists recovered numerous materials from this site, these debris turned out to be a gold mine for them! These are known as the Persian debris.

Too good to resist!

The Acropolis has lured surrounding tribes and numerous wars were fought for its acquisition. The Kylonians conquered and took control of it during the Kylonian revolt. Peristratus conquered it twice and took it over; but he only played a creative role by adding structures to it. Propylaea the monumental colonnaded gate made of marbles; is his addition to the monuments. The temple of Artemis (daughter of Zeus who later came to be identified with moon and got adopted by Romans as Diana) was also a Peristratus creation.

Pericles and the golden age

Acropolis of AthensThe western side of the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens

The time when Pericles ruled is considered as the golden age for the Acropolis; as most of the constructions were made during his time. Phidias; the great Athenian sculptor, Ictinus, Kallikrates were all involved in the reconstruction works of the Acropolis. Erechtheum; a complex of temples of Athena, Poseidon, Erechtheus, Cecrops, Pandrosos, Herse etc all were made during this golden period.

The sacred temple for the Athena Parthenon was constructed after the Greek victory over the Persians on the banks of Eurymedon River, Propylaea; is a tetra-style Ionic structure with colonnaded porticos. Its facade was designed by Kallikrates with monumental gates in front and rear with marble columns originally built by Peristratus was rebuilt on its remnants.

A Greek Tragedy

The Greek Gods represented in these temples are related by the myths as follows, Hephaestus once unsuccessfully tried to rape Athena Parthenon; in his vain attempt his semen spilled on her legs. She wiped it by a piece of wool and threw on the earth. This impregnated the Mother Earth (Gaia in Greek) and a child was born by name Erichthonius. Athena wanted to make this child immortal and gave it to her three sisters (Herse. Pandrosus and Aglaulus); packing it in a basket. Athena told them not to open it at any events! But Herse could not withstand her curiosity and one day opened it; what she found was a horrible half-snake child. Seeing such a horrible sight Herse and Aglaulus ran mad and jumped off the Acropolis to death.

Acropolis now

Acropolis of Athens Site plan of the Acropolis at Athens showing the major archaeological remains

The Acropolis being in the middle of the modern city of Athens; access is easy and there are large walkways with shopping arcades and restaurants in the southern and western sides of the site. After the climb the first monument that appears is the Propylae and then the Pinacotheca and Hellenistic Pedestal that stands beside the Athena Nike. There is yet another pedestal that carries the statue of Athena which was destroyed by the Turks in 1686 during their occupation. There they destroyed the statue and placed a huge cannon it Athena’s pedestal, real connoisseurs they must be! Later the statue was rebuilt in 1842 and a second time in 1936.

A visit that is worth

The Acropolis a World Heritage Site is a crowd puller of tourists from all over the world, even to people who are accustomed of seeing the photographs of the temple of Athena several times the real vision; would definitely a marvelous surprise. It took more than 15 years for its construction and has served as a temple, church and a mosque in its long history. The best time to visit this site is either in winter or in spring when there will be a grass and other plants may be all around and the rocks may not be terribly hot.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You have very nice articles so far. Best wishes!!