Athens City Greece Guide

SIGHTSEEINGS in Athens

ACROPOLIS

ACROPOLIS
Theorias, Athens
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ACROPOLIS

Propylaea: One of the masterpieces of classical architecture. This imposing entrance was designed by the architect Mnesicles and built in 437-432 BC over an earlier propylaea. Mnesicles designed an entrance no less magnificent than that of the temples and other monuments on the Sacred Rock. The Propylaea consists of a main hall and two side wings. The north wing was to house a display of paintings and was named Pinakotheke (Gallery). The outer columns to both east and west are of the Doric order; the internal entrance way is flanked by two high inner colonnades of the Ionic order. The brilliant idea of combining the Doric and Ionic orders lifts the emotions those who enter the Propylaea, giving them a rare aesthetic experience.

In the 12th century, the Propylaea became the residence of the Metropolitan Michael Choniatis. During Frankish rule, the whole structure was used as a palace. Additions by the Franks included an extra floor and a high watchtower that was demolished in 1874.

Temple of Athena Nike: A small, elegant, Ionian, amphiprostyle temple, built by the architect Callicrates in 426-421, on an earlier tower of the Mycenaean walls. It was dedicated both to the patron goddess Athena and to the prehistoric goddess Nike, protector of the entrance. In 1686 it was demolished by the Ottomans in view of the forthcoming Venetian attack and the marble pieces were reassembled after 1835. The temple is best viewed from the Propylaea.

Temple of Brauronian Artemis: Situated to the southeast of the Propylaea, this once formed a -shaped stoa with ten Doric columns. The temple was used for the cult of goddess Artemis, a cult that originated from Brauron, homeland of Peisistratus, in the mid 6th century BC. Today only traces of its foundations remain.

Chalkotheke: East of the Temple of Brauronian Artemis lies just the base of a lengthy structure that dates to the 5th century BC, and is believed to have been the Chalkotheke, used for storing precious votive gifts, mostly made of metal.

Erechtheum: This temple, begun in Ionian style in 421 BC, dominates the north side of the Sacred Rock. It is complex and elaborate in its structure, and equally complex in its symbolism.

The temple was named after the mythical king Erechtheus, and is often identified with the chthonic deity Erichthonius, and later with Poseidon. Athena and Poseidon played the leading role among the other deities associated with the temple, followed by Hephaestus, Erichthonius' father, and Voutis, Erechtheus' brother, both chthonic deities.

This was also where the "symbols" of the gods were: a well-shaped opening that contained sea-water offered by Poseidon; and an opening in the roof of the north stoa, made by the god's trident. The ancient wooden image of Athena was kept in the Erechtheum, while her sacred olive tree was on its western side.

Particularly interesting is the northern porch with its magnificent entrance and, more generally, its outstanding Ionic decoration from the bases of the columns right up to the ceiling. On the east side there is an impressive series of six Ionic columns crowned by a pediment.

On the south side of the temple lies the porch of the Korai (the original statues are exhibited in the Acropolis Museum). The six Korai (female figures) that support the entablature represent an eternal symbol of the perfection of the female form; they recall a ceremonial procession. The overwhelming charm and ethereal lyricism of the Korai are typical of the elaborate style in sculpture of the last quarter of the 5th century BC. These Korai of the Erechtheum were later named Caryatids. The most likely interpretation is that the Korai were identified with the young Caryatids, the ceremonial dancers who bore baskets on their heads in rituals honouring the Caryatid Artemis.

The Erechtheum was badly damaged by fire, probably during the invasion by Sulla (86 BC). Later, in the seventh century AD, it was transformed into a three-aisled basilica, dedicated to the Mother of God. Under Frankish rule it became the seat of administration, and in the period of Ottoman rule, a harem! At the beginning of the 19th century it suffered the attentions of Lord Elgin's men. The recent restoration of the monument was honoured by the award of a special medal by Europa Nostra in 1987.

On the west side of the Erechtheum stood the Pandroseion, dedicated to Pandrosos, daughter of Cecrops.

Parthenon: A public dedication, offered by the Athenians to their patron goddess Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin), in thanks for for the city's salvation and Athenian victories in the Persian Wars. It was built as part of Pericles' great construction program and was the ultimate expression of this achievement, showing the Athenian people at their zenith. It was built between 447 and 438 BC.

It is the largest temple of classical antiquity - surrounded by a colonnade with 8 columns on the short sides, and 17 columns on the long sides. It represents the culmination of the development of the Doric order, although here Doric columns are combined with an Ionic frieze around the cella, or central part of the temple. A ratio of 4:9 is repeated in various parts of the temple.

The columns embody the principles of meiosis (diminution) and entasis. Meiosis is the gradual thinning of the diameter of each column as it gets higher. By contrast, entasis is the thickening of each column at about two fifths of its height; thus strengthening of the column so as to hold the weight of the entablature. By using these architectural refinements, the great masters of the Parthenon gave life and mobility to the marble, and displayed how a considerable weight can be held in place by the power of construction.

The ancient Greeks were familiar with the optical effect by which, when seen under the light, a straight line gives the impression of a concave curve. Wanting to counteract this optical illusion, Ictinus and Callicrates applied a slight convex curvature to the center of all horizontal lines on the Parthenon. The curvature ranges from 6 to 17 cm (on the long sides); it begins from the foundations of the temple, and is repeated in the krepis, the entablature, the ceiling, the roof and the ceramic tiling.

The columns, with their entablature slightly curved towards the interior of the temple, stand on the delicately curved horizontal lines, binding the structure together. The corner columns complete the curvature of both colonnades, with the result that all forces counterbalance each other, thus achieving perfect harmony and symmetry. The convexity and all other deviations, known as "refinements", contribute to the monument's high aesthetic appeal.

Inside the temple stood the gold and ivory statue of Athena by the sculptor Pheidias, which has unfortunately been lost. The patron goddess of Athens was depicted in full armor, yet peaceful, and at the same time both supernatural and human.

The metopes depicted battles: between gods and giants on the east side; between Greeks and centaurs on the south; between Greeks and Amazons on the west; and the capture of Troy on the north. The pediment on the east side is the earlier and shows the birth of Athena. The central figures were lost in the early Christian period. The western pediment is technically more advanced; it shows Athena's contest with Poseidon. When Morosini attempted to remove the marvelous central figures and take them to Venice, they were broken into fragments. The best preserved parts of the pediments can be seen today in the British Museum in London. Some fragments and a unique complex (probably of Cecrops and Pandrosos) are displayed in the Acropolis Museum. The pedimental sculptures were sculpted in the round, and represent some of the finest works ever created by the human hand.

The outer wall of the calla was decorated with an Ionian frieze of unparalleled quality that represented the magnificent Panathenaic procession: mortals and immortals together as idealized figures, processing on horse or on foot, honoring the city and lauding democratic Athens. The frieze of the Parthenon is considered to be one of the greatest moments in the history of art and of human civilization.

In late antiquity the Parthenon was damaged by fire, probably from the Heruli (267 AD). In the 6th century it was transformed into a Christian church. During Frankish rule (1205-1456) it became the Catholic church of the Virgin and later it was converted into a mosque, until the great explosion caused by Morosini (1687). At the beginning of the 19th century it was divested of its sculptures by the British diplomat Lord Elgin. The restoration of the Parthenon, which began in the 1980s, is proceeding in accordance with the highest international standards, as is appropriate to a unique monument of the world's cultural heritage.

Peripatos: Since antiquity, this has been the name for the path that runs around the Acropolis Hill. It was five stadia and eight feet (900-930 meters) long.

The beginning of the path was at the junction with the Panathenaic Way. The path continued through the ancient shrines on the slopes of the Sacred Rock, cut the Theater of Dionysus into two parts (the theater and the epitheater), passed in front of the Asclepion, and ended on the uphill path that led to the Acropolis.