The naturally fortified hill of the Acropolis of Athens has been inhabited since the Neolithic era; in the 13th century BCE, during the Mycenaean period, it was fortified and became the seat of the local ruler. As the most important sanctuary of the city, it was dedicated primarily to goddess Athena. In the 6th century BCE Acropolis was embellished with the first monumental temples and other buildings, while worshippers dedicated numerous votive offerings such as marble statues of Korai, horsemen, as well as an abundance of clay and metal vases and figurines. The construction of buildings and the dedication of votive offerings continued until the Roman period.
The buildings that dominate the sacred hill today, the monumental Propylaia, the Parthenon, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike, were erected in the 5th century BCE on the initiative of Pericles, the inspired political leader who made Athens the leading power among the other Greek city states. The monuments erected in the context of his building programme represent a perfect adaptation of the architectural types in the natural environment and symbolize the political, economic and artistic peak of classical Athens.
excerpts from the on-site descriptions of the buildings:
The Propylaia, the monumental entrance of the sanctuary of the Acropolis. was built at the west edge of the hill in the frame of the building programme of Perikles. The building’s architect was Mnesikles, who applied ingenious and innovative architectural solutions. The construction of the Propylaia (437-432 BCE) was interrupted by the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, and as a result the original plan remained incomplete.
The Propylaia comprise a central building with an east-west direction and similar hexastyle (6 columns) Doric pedimental facades. A cross-wall with five doorways divides the central building into two parts. The longer western one is divided into three aisles by two Ionic colonnades, each of three columns. which support the ceiling. The marble ceilings comprised beams and coffered slabs which had rich painted decoration. The central building of the Propylaia is flanked on the south and the north by two wings with a similar prostyle Doric porch. In the north wing the hall lying behind the porch might have served as a banquet and recreation hall for the worshippers. According to the traveler Pausanias (2nd cent. CE) the hall was decorated with paintings and for this reason is conventionally known as the “Pinakotheke” (picture gallery). The south wing consists only of a porch through which the sanctuary of Athena Nike was accessed.
In the 6th cent. A.D., the south wing of the Propylaia was transformed into a single-aisle Christian basilica. In the Medieval times, Frankish and Florentine rulers converted the Propylaia into a palace and a tall tower was built at the south wing. During Ottoman Occupation, in 1640. the building was struck by a lightning or a cannonball which blew up the gunpowder stored there and caused extensive damage to the monument. The Medieval and later remains were removed during the excavations of the Acropolis in the 19th cent.. in order to reveal the Propylaia of the Classical period.
The Parthenon was a temple dedicated to Athena Parthenos (Virgin). It is bulk in the Doric order and made of white Pentelic marble with a width of 30.86 m., a length of 69.51 m. and a height of 15 m. It has an outer colonnade (pteron) of 8 columns on the short and 17 columns on the long sides, as well as an inner colonnade (prostasis) of 6 columns on the short sides. The interior of the temple was divided into the pronaos, the sekos (cella), the opisthodomos and the opisthonaos.
The Parthenon was rebuilt after the sacking by the Persians (480 BCE). The restauration was implemented at the initiative of Perikles, the renowned politician of Athens. The funding for the programme came from the treasury of the Athenian League that was kept in the opisthodomos of the Parthenon.
The temple was built between 447 and 438 BCE and its sculptural decoration was completed in 432 BCE. Iktinos and Kallikrates were the architects of the temple. Its architectural sculptures were designed and partly sculpted in collaboration with his colleagues by the famous Athenian sculptor and friend of Perikles, Pheidias, who also had the general supervision of the construction of the temple. Pheidias also created the chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue of the goddess with an imposing formal appearance and of a total height of 12 m, which stood in the cella. The statue is not preserved. but its appearance is known from ancient writers and later copies.
the odeion of herodes atticus
The Odeion of Herodes Atticus (160-169 CE) was built on the southern slopes of the acropolis. It was donated to the city of Athens by the famous orator, sophist and great benefactor of the city, Herodes Atticus, in memory of his wife Rhegilla. It was used for musical events and philosophical lectures.
Its semicircular cavea has a diameter of 76m and contained 39 rows of marble seats that could host up to 6,000 spectators. The marble paved orchestra is also semicircular and has a diameter of 19m, while the huge rectangular proskenion had a wooden floor 1.5m above the orchestra. It is 35m long and its façade projects 8m in front of the south wall of the concert hall. Further to the south, was the stage with a luxurious mosaic floor. Unfortunately. the external walls of the stage are the ones least preserved. Towards the proskenion. pilasters and columns framed the three doors of the stage and the doors of the side walls. The monument had a roof of cedar wood, without intermediate braces. This was a great achievement. commemorated with admiration by ancient writers like Pausanias and Philostratos. To the east. the Odeion was so perfectly connected to the Stoa of Eumenes. that one would assume that the Stoa was built to serve the Odeion, while. in reality the Stoa had been built three centuries earlier. for the spectators of the theatre of Dionysos.
The Odeion was burned down by the Herulians in 267 CE. Later it was incorporated in the Roman fortification wall of the slopes of the Acropolis, which remained in use with various modifications until 1877. In this way the monument survived demolition and stone pillaging so that its southern wall still stands to a height of almost 29m.
Archaeological excavations (1847 — 1858 ) conducted by Kyriakos Pittakis freed the Odeion of Herodes Atticus of medieval deposits 10m high and shed light to its history. The reuse of the Odeion for musical events and theatrical performances started in the 1930’s and became regular after 1957. For this purpose the marble seats of the cavea and the staircases were reconstructed under the direction of Anastasios Orlandos (1960-1964).