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The Acropolis in Athens, Greece

The Acropolis in Athens, Greece, has served as a religious ritual center, fortress, harem, church, capitol and tourist-stop supreme over many centuries, and is a constant touchstone used for histories of Western Civilization, where it will often be enthusiastically called 'the zenith of classical civilization achievement'. The structure of the Parthenon atop the Acropolis was begun in 447 BC by Perikles and Phidias. The temple was dedicated in 338 BC and the outlying structures were finished in 432 BC.

The Acropolis mount rises 156 meters (512 feet) above sea level (for comparison, nearby Mount Lycabettus is 908 feet above sea level).

About the Acropolis Museum

View of Athens from the Acropolis

View of Athens from the Acropolis looking northward - on the left in the distance is the mountain called Mount Egaleo, sometimes spelled Aigaleo. In Greek αιγάλεω. In the further distance is the mountains Parnitha, also spelled as Parnetha. In Greek Πάρνηθα.

Seeing the Acropolis

The Acropolis is easily viewable from just about any location in Athens and the surrounding area, including the port of Piraeus. Likewise, from atop the Acropolis, one may see nearly all of Athens and out to the Saronic Gulf.

Brief History of the Acropolis, Athens, Greece

How the Acropolis / Parthenon was damaged

While being used as an armory by Turkish soldiers amid battle against the Venetian army during the war between the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Venice in 1687, explosives stored in the building were accidentally set off when an overhead exploding cannon shell ignited the stockpile. The Parthenon roof, which had managed to stay in structurally safe repair since 438 BC, blew to pieces. Except the west wall, the interior walls were wrecked, with only the eastern pediment surviving more or less in tact. The Venetian general Francesco Morosini then attempted to remove horse and chariot sculptures along the west pediment, but these fell to the ground and smashed into pieces.

Additional damage to the Acropolis

A violent thunderstorm in 1645 set off stored gunpowder with a lightning strike. In 1827, Turkish artillery hit the Erechtheion during the Greek War of Independence, wrecking some of the Caryatid statuary. An earthquake in 1894 caused further destruction.

Parthenon vs Hekatompedon

The central structure on the Acropolis is the large, ancient temple commonly referred to as The Parthenon (translation: "house of virgins"). Historical evidence suggests that a nearby structure, the Erechtheion, is in fact the structure called 'the Parthenon' in ancient texts, and the larger, central building that was dedicated to the cult of Athena is the "Hekatompedon" (translation: "hundred-foot temple"). (This information is based on the work of Dr van Rookhuijzen from Utrecht University, published in American Journal of Archaeology and the National Geographic Magazine, Dutch edition, 2019)

See Hekatompedon vs Parthenon

Caryatids at the Erechtheion on the Acropolis

Caryatids at the Acropolis - Parthenon Athens Greece

The Acropolis with Lycabettus Hill in background, Athens Greece

The Acropolis with Lycabettus Hill in background, Athens Greece

Removal of pieces from the Acropolis

The "Elgin Marbles" are the statuary and other pieces removed from the Acropolis in 1781 by Lord Elgin through an arrangement with the occupying Ottoman force. These pieces have been a source of contention for many decades as Greece has urged the British Museum in London to return the objects.

More on the "Elgin Marbles"

Pireas in distance, with Acropolis mount with Parthenon, Athens, Greece
Piraeus in distance, overlooking the Acropolis mount

Costs for building the Parthenon

"The Parthenon, the Propylaea , the temple miscalled the Theseion overlooking the Agora, friezed with sculptures in Parian marble (still in situ) - - how did Periclean Athens afford such buildings? We read that the solid gold of the gown of Athena Parthenos made the cost of this statue 1,000 talents. A talent was equivalent to roughly $6,000, so this Phidias statue alone cost $6,000,000 [in 2012 the cost equivalent would be $1.4 trillion]; and then the Parthenon building 700 talents ($4,200,000). Altogether, Athens spent some $57,600,000 on edifices, sculpture and war-painting during the Periclean years."

From page 18, Greece: The Unclouded Eye, by Colin Simpson, Published by Wm. Morrow & Co., 1968. Simpson's costs are based on the 1939 book The Life of Greece, Simon and Schuster.

Acropolis wall

Acropolis Wall in Athens Greece

Visiting the Acropolis

"After seeing the monuments and visiting the museum, one should pause to take in the view of the city below. The Acropolis is high enough so that one can clearly see all that remains of ancient Athens and yet it is low enough so that one can feel the pulse of the modern city. On a field below the northwestern edge of the 'Sacred Rock' lies the agora, the center of ancient Athens, where Socrates strolled and Saint Paul preached to crowds assembled in the marketplace.

Besides the many ruins, the agora is the site of the Stoa of Attalus, which was completely rebuilt by American archaeologists in the Pentelic marble of the original. It now serves as a museum of the agora. To the west , on higher ground, is the Temple of Hephaestus, better known as the Theseion because it was long mistaken for a temple dedicated to the legendary king of Athens. The Theseion is the best-preserved Doric temple in Greece, and is a half brother to the Parthenon because of its beauty and harmony."

Page 150, Hellas: A Portrait of Greece, by Nicholas Gage, published by Villard Books, 1971, 1986

Tree with Acropolis background Athens Greece

Next to the Acropolis, the ancient agora and the Stoa of Attalos

Containing many remains from the Acropolis the "Elgin Marbles"

About the Acropolis Museum

Important Dates in the history of the Acropolis

5000 BC

Approximate first indication of inhabitation of the Acropolis


The Mycenaean Period


The Dorian Invasion


The Dark Ages


Archaic Period


Geometric Pottery


Origination of the Olympic Games


Homer's Iliad and Odyssey


Kylon history of Athens (he died 632)


The kouros statuary appear


Black figure vases appear


The law code of Drakon


Solon and the Athenian Constitution


The Panathenaic festivals reorganized


Tyranny of Peisistratid in Athens


Drama begins to evolve from strictly choral presentation


Red-figure pottery begins in Athens


Assassination of Hipparkhos (by Tyrannicides, Harmodius and Aristogeiton)


Cleisthenes Reforms the constitution


The "classic" period


Ionian cities revolt against Persia


Persian invasion of Greece


Reforms of the power of the arkhons


Second invasion of Greece by Persia


Formation of the Delian League led by Athens


Parthenon construction


Propylaia gateway constructed


Peloponnesian War


Erechtheion constructed on North side of Acropolis


The rule of "The Thirty Tyrants" a pro-Spartan oligarchy


Macedonian invasion


Hellenistic Age


The Lamian War and end of democracy in Athens


Roman invasion


Roman General Sulla sacks Athens (and Piraeus)


Apostle Paul in Athens


Roman Emperor Hadrian invests heavily in Athens (Hadrian ruled Rome 117 to 138) and sponsors the rebuilding of the Parthenon


The Herulians, an East German tribal group also called Heruli and classified as 'Gothic', sack Athens. Excavations since 1931 have shown that the size of the assault and the damage was much greater than originally believed in older historical records, and indicates the size of the city was also larger than what was thought previously for that era.


Theodosius II, also called Theodosius the Younger, ruled the Eastern Roman Byzantine empire from 408 to 450 and married a Greek woman named Aelia Eudocia, aka Athenais, daughter of Greek scholar Leontios. She later sponsored the building of what is perhaps the very first Christian church in Athens, near the Hadrian Library. Theodosius, influenced by his older sister Pulcheria, converted to Christianity and subsequently outlawed pagan-faiths throughout Greece in 435. Pulcheria governed as regent prior to him, and ruled briefly after his death.

Snow on the Acropolis Athens Greece

Snow on the Acropolis

Read more about the Acropolis and the Parthenon pediments, metopes and freize art, and how Lord Elgin moved many of the pieces to London, here.

Tourists walking down from Acropolis

About the Acropolis Museum

Page updated October 20, 2020

View of Athens and the Saronic Gulf with Acropolis

View of Athens and the Saronic Gulf with Acropolis

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