Greek Guide

The Acropolis and Parthenon Greece Greek Ancient Historical Sites Acropolis Athens

The Acropolis (Athens) and Parthenon Greece Ancient Historical Sites

The Acropolis is one of the most famous landmarks in the world, towering over smog filled Athens and impelling millions of visitors each year to climb to its summit and marvel at its ancient ruins. The sacred rock's star attraction is the Parthenon, built in the 5th century BC in honour of the goddess Athena who gave her name to the city.

This once magnificent home of the gods has been ravaged by time, earthquakes and most of all by the barbarism of man. When all's said and done, it's little more now than a fairly impressive collection of crumbling monuments. But understand the history of the Acropolis and use a little imagination and you can't fail to be awestruck by the tattered remnants of one of the greatest wonders of the ancient world.

It's a common mistake to confuse the Acropolis, one of the eight hills of Athens, with the Parthenon which is the main temple dominating the skyline for miles around. The place takes its name from the words "acro" meaning high point and "polis" meaning city. Prehistoric man naturally made a beeline for high places with steep slopes which afforded an ideal defence against invasion. The Acropolis of Athens was inhabited as far back as 3000 BC and by the year 1400 BC had become a powerful Mycenaean city.

In the year 510 BC an oracle from the priestess of Delphi (whose job was to issue utterances on behalf of the god Apollo) decreed that the Acropolis should no longer be inhabited by man and should remain the province of the gods forever more.

The 5th century BC was the golden era of the Acropolis when the ruler of the city state Pericles set about transforming his domain into one of the most spectacular cities the world had ever seen. Using taxes levied from all the other city states of ancient Greece, Pericles embarked on a no expense spared building programme, creating a truly monumental home of the gods. Marble temples were erected, lavishly painted and adorned with jewels, gargantuan statues and elaborate friezes.

The showpiece was the Parthenon, the temple of the virgin Athena who according to Greek legend won the city in a contest against the god Poseidon, gave her name to Athens and was subsequently revered by the people of ancient Greece. The magnificent temple had eight fluted columns at either end and 17 on each side (these days often clad in scaffolding). The ceiling was painted blue and decorated with stars and a spectacular statue of the goddess, clad in a gold dress and bedecked with jewels, was erected on a pedestal in the inner sanctuary. The statue was lost after being taken to Constantinople in the year 426 AD.

The Acropolis Museum, alongside the Parthenon, houses an impressive collection of sculptures, statues and intricately carved reliefs salvaged from the site. But some of the most prized treasures, the controversial Elgin Marbles, remain in the British Museum in London much to the distress and fury of the Greeks. The marbles were pilfered from the site by British ambassador Lord Elgin in the early 19th century and have never been returned to their rightful home despite fierce campaigning both in Greece and the UK.

A word of warning before you scramble your way through the scrum of tourists to reach the top of the Acropolis. The well trodden rocks are perilously smooth and have caused many a visitor to take an ungainly tumble. Wear sturdy shoes and take a bottle of water with you if you're visiting in the summer because the trek to the summit is extremely hot and thirsty work. Visit early in the morning to avoid the worst of the crowds.