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October 11, 2016

The construction and destruction of the Acropolis


The Acropolis of Athens, proclaimed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, is is a universal symbol of the classical spirit of the Greek civilization. The finest sanctuary of ancient Athens dominates the center of the modern city from the craggy rock known as the Acropolis. This sacred temple complex is connected to the most celebrated myths of ancient Athens, its religious festivals and sophisticated rituals. The monuments of the Acropolis stand in harmony with their natural setting, as unique masterpieces of classical architecture that have influenced art and culture for many centuries. The Acropolis, made on the 5th century BC, is the most accurate reflection of the wealth of Athens at its greatest glory, the Golden Age of Pericles. Pottery objects found close to the Erectheion show that the hill of Acropolis has been inhabited since the Neolithic era. In the 13th century BC, traces of a fortification wall show that the citadel was the center of a Mycenaean Kingdom. The Acropolis became a sacred zone in the 8th century BC, with the establishment of the worship of Athena Polias whose temple stood on the northeast part of the hill. When the greatest religious festival of Athens, the Panathenaia, was established, the temple of Athena Polia flourished in the mid 6th century BC. At the same period, the monumental building of the Acropolis, known as the Old Temple and the Hekatompedos, Parthenon’s predecessor, were erected. Following the win of the Athenians against the Persians at Marathon in 490 BC, the Athenians began the construction of a huge temple, the renowned Pre-Parthenon. In 480 BC, when the Persians invaded Attica, the temple was still unfinished and the Persians pillaged the monuments of the Acropolis. Then, the Athenians decided to bury the surviving sculptures inside natural cavities of the sacred rock, forming artificial terraces and fortifying the Acropolis with the Wall of Themistocles and Wall of Cimon. In the 5th century BC, the Acropolis became the seat of the Athenian League and Athens the greatest cultural center during the Golden Age of Pericles. It was then that Pericles initiated the ambitious building project that lasted the second half of the 5th century BC.

Today, the most important monuments of the Acropolis that were erected under the supervision of great architects include the Parthenon, the Propylaea, the Erectheion and the Temple of Athena Nike. The temples of the north side housed the Athenian rituals dedicated to the Olympian Gods while the temples of the south side housed the rituals dedicated to the cult of Athena. Although other Greek temples were damaged and pillaged in the Roman Empire, the Acropolis retained its prestige. Following the establishment of Christianity in the 7th century AD, the temples were converted into Christian churches while the Parthenon served as the cathedral of the city in the 11th century AD. Under the Frankish occupation, the Acropolis became the fortress of the medieval city while it served as the Turkish headquarters in the Ottoman rule. However, the Parthenon was bombarded and destroyed from the Venetians in 1687 and Lord Elgin caused further damage (1801) by looting the sculptural decoration of the Athena Nike temple, the Erectheion and the Parthenon. In 1822, the Acropolis was given to the Greeks during the Greek War of Independence with Odysseys Androutsos being the first garrison commander. After the liberation of Greece, the monuments of the Acropolis were systematically excavated from P. Kavvadias and the restoration project was assigned to N. Balanos. The Committee for the Conservation of the Monuments on the Acropolis was established in 1975 for the conservation and restoration on the Acropolis. Work is still in progress. The most important monuments of the Acropolis include the Parthenon, the Erectheion, the Propylaea, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Brauronion, the Temple of Augustus and Rome, the Pedestal of Agrippa, the Beule Gate, the Acropolis Fortification Wall, the Chalkotheke and the Old Temple of Athena. Important findings are exhibited in the Acropolis Museum.

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