Acropolis of Athens

       
Acropolis of Athens

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The Acropolis of Athens (Greek: Ακρόπολη Αθηνών) is an ancient citadel located on a high rocky outcrop above the city of Athens and containing the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the most famous being the Parthenon. The word acropolis comes from the Greek words ἄκρον (akron, "edge, extremity") and πόλις (polis, "city"). Although there are many other acropoleis in Greece, the significance of the Acropolis of Athens is such that it is commonly known as "The Acropolis" without qualification.
The Acropolis was formally proclaimed as the preeminent monument on the European Cultural Heritage list of monuments on 26 March 2007.
The Acropolis is located on a flat-topped rock that rises 150 m (490 ft) above sea level in the city of Athens, with a surface area of about 3 hectares. It was also known as Cecropia, after the legendary serpent-man, Cecrops, the first Athenian king. While the earliest artifacts date to the Middle Neolithic era, there have been documented habitations in Attica from the Early Neolithic (6th millennium BC). There is little doubt that a Mycenaean megaron stood upon the hill during the late Bronze Age.[citation needed] Nothing of this megaron survives except, probably, a single limestone column-base and pieces of several sandstone steps. Soon after the palace was constructed, a Cyclopean massive circuit wall was built, 760 meters long, up to 10 meters high, and ranging from 3.5 to 6 meters thick. This wall would serve as the main defense for the acropolis until the 5th century. The wall consisted of two parapets built with large stone blocks and cemented with an earth mortar called emplekton (Greek: ἔμπλεκτον). The wall follows typical Mycenaean convention in that it followed the natural contour of the terrain and its gate was arranged obliquely, with a parapet and tower overhanging the incomers' right-hand side, thus facilitating defense. There were two lesser approaches up the hill on its north side, consisting of steep, narrow flights of steps cut in the rock. Homer is assumed to refer to this fortification when he mentions the "strong-built House of Erechtheus" (Odyssey 7.81). At some point before the 13th century an earthquake caused a fissure near the northeastern edge of the acropolis. This fissure extended some thirty five meters to a bed of soft marl in which a well was dug. An elaborate set of stairs were built and the well served as an invaluable, protected source of drinking water during times of siege for some portion of the Mycenaean period.
A temple sacred to Athena Polias (Protectress of the City) was erected around 570–550 BC. This Doric limestone building, from which many relics survive, is referred to as the hekatompedon (Greek for "hundred–footed"), Ur-Parthenon (German for "primitive Parthenon"), H–Architecture or Bluebeard temple, after the pedimental three-bodied man-serpent sculpture, whose beards were painted dark blue. Whether this temple replaced an older one, or a mere sacred precinct or altar, is not known. Probably, the hekatompedon was built where the Parthenon now stands.
Between 529–520 BC yet another temple was built by the Peisistratids, the Old Temple of Athena, usually referred to as the arkhaios neōs (ἀρχαῖος νεώς, "ancient temple"). This temple of Athena Polias was built upon the Doerpfeld foundations, between the Erechtheion and the still–standing Parthenon. Arkhaios neōs was destroyed by the Persian invasion in 480 BC. However, the temple was probably reconstructed since in 454 BC the treasury of the Delian League was transferred in its opisthodomos. The temple may have been burnt down in 406/405 BC as Xenophon mentions that the old temple of Athena was set on fire. Pausanias does not mention it in his 2nd century AD Description of Greece.
Around 500 BC the Ur-Parthenon was dismantled to make place for a newer and grander building, the "Older Parthenon" (often called Pro-Parthenon, "early Parthenon"). Athenians decided to stop the construction of the Olympieion which was related with the tyrant Peisistratus and his sons and instead used the Piraeus limestone destined for the Olympieion to build the Older Parthenon. To accommodate it, the south part of the summit was cleared, made level by adding some 8,000 two-ton blocks of limestone, a foundation 11 m (36 ft) deep at some points, and the rest filled with earth kept in place by the retaining wall. However, after the victorious Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, they decided to revise the plan and use marble instead. The limestone phase of the building is referred to as Pro-Parthenon I while the marble phase of the building as Pro-Parthenon II. In 485 BC, construction stalled to save recources as Xerxes took the throne.
The Older Parthenon was still under construction when the Persians sacked the city in 480 BC. The building was burned and looted, along with the Ancient Temple and practically everything else on the rock. After the Persian crisis had subsided, the Athenians incorporated many of the unfinished temple's architectural members (unfluted column drums, triglyphs, metopes, etc.) into the newly built northern curtain wall of the Acropolis, where they serve as a prominent "war memorial" and can still be seen today. The devastated site was cleared of debris. Statuary, cult objects, religious offerings and unsalvageable architectural members were buried ceremoniously in several deeply dug pits on the hill, serving conveniently as a fill for the artificial plateau created around the classic Parthenon. This "Persian debris" is the richest archaeological deposit excavated on the Acropolis and is well known throughout Greece.
Most of the major temples, including the Parthenon, were rebuilt under the leadership of Pericles during the Golden Age of Athens (460–430 BC). Phidias, a great Athenian sculptor, and Ictinus and Callicrates, two famous architects, were responsible for the reconstruction. During the 5th century BC, the Acropolis gained its final shape. After winning at Eurymedon in 468 BC, Cimon and Themistocles ordered the reconstruction of its southern and northern walls, and Pericles entrusted the building of the Parthenon to Ictinus and Callicrates, under the general direction of Phidias.
In 437 BC, Mnesicles started building the Propylaea, monumental gates with columns of Pentelic marble, partly built upon the old propylaea of Pisistratus. These colonnades were almost finished in 432 BC and had two wings, the northern one serving as picture gallery. At the same time, south of the propylaea, building of the small Ionic Temple of Athena Nike commenced. After an interruption caused by the Peloponnesian War, the temple was finished in the time of Nicias' peace, between 421 BC and 415 BC.
During the same period as the building of the Erechtheum, a combination of sacred precincts including the temples of Athena Polias, Poseidon, Erechtheus, Cecrops, Herse, Pandrosos and Aglauros, with its so-called the Kore Porch (or Caryatids' balcony), was begun.
Between the temple of Athena Nike and the Parthenon, there was the temenos of Artemis Brauronia or Brauroneion, the goddess represented as a bear and worshipped in the deme of Brauron. The archaic xoanon of the goddess and a statue made by Praxiteles in the 4th century BC were both in the sanctuary.
Behind the Propylaea, Phidias' gigantic bronze statue of Athena Promachos ("she who fights in the front line"), built between 450 BC and 448 BC, dominated. The base was 1.50 m (4 ft 11 in) high, while the total height of the statue was 9 m (30 ft). The goddess held a lance whose gilt tip could be seen as a reflection by crews on ships rounding Cape Sounion, and a giant shield on the left side, decorated by Mys with images of the fight between the Centaurs and the Lapiths. Other monuments that have left almost nothing visible to the present day are the Chalkotheke, the Pandroseion, Pandion's sanctuary, Athena's altar, Zeus Polieus's sanctuary and, from Roman times, the circular temple of Augustus and Rome.
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