The word Acropolis in the ancient times actually meant the highest point of the town. The ancient Greeks used to build their towns in plains near or around a rocky hill that could enable them to fortify and defend it during invasion or wars. The word Acropolis refers to both the hill and the construction built on it. It served in many cases as the residential place of the ruler, a religious centre, the centre of public life and also a place of refuge for the citizens.
The Acropolis of Athens Greece, also known as the Sacred Rock, is one of the oldest monuments in Europe. This rock was first inhabited in the Neolithic Era, as archaeologists have found some remains of its early inhabitants. However, it is during the 5th century B.C., also known as the Golden Age of Athens, that Acropolis flourished and sacred monuments were built on it. Pericles, who was a famous Athenian statesman at that time, had the original idea for these constructions. He put Phedias, a talented sculptor, and Ictinus and Callicrates, who were architects, in charge to make Athens Acropolis the best monument in Greece, as he had imagined it.
Acropolis was built on a limestone hill that rises about 150 meters above sea level. It consisted of the Parthenon, a magnificent temple dedicated to Goddess Athena, the protector of the town; Propylaea, a monumental marble gateway and entrance to the Acropolis; Erechtheum, a temple famous for the perfection of its details; and the Temple of Athena Nike, built to honor the goddess who brought so many victories to the town.
The Propylaea was designed by the Greek architect, Mnesicles. It is a monumental gateway and the main entrance to the Acropolis, made up of white marble. It has a central section with wide openings and two wings. The central section consists of six columns.
The Temple of Athena Nike was designed by Greek architect Callicrates. It is located just outside Propylaea and constitutes the first building which the visitors come across as they make their way to the Acropolis. There are four Ionic columns that stand in a row at the front and back of the temple. A carved frieze just below the roof depicts the conference of the Gods on the east side and battle scenes from Greek mythology on the other sides.
Parthenon is a large temple built entirely of marble from mount Pentelikon by architects Ictinus and Callicrates. This temple is considered as the greatest masterpiece of ancient Greek architecture. It was built in the Doric and Ionic styles with eight columns along each end and seventeen columns along each side. It once housed the thirty-three feet tall statue of Athena made of ivory and gold by sculptor Phedias. The friezes around the roof of Parthenon used to depict various scenes of Greek mythology, such as the birth of goddess Athena and the contest between Athena and Poseidon for the rule over the city, as well as scenes from Panathinea festival, the greatest festival in ancient Athens. These friezes are now hosted in the British Museum and the Greek government is doing much effort to get them back.
The Erechtheum was designed by Mnesicles. This temple got its name from Erechtheus, who was considered as a hero in Greek mythology. On the southern side of the temple, the statues of Kariatides are seen, used as columns and carved in the shape of female figures.
With the passage of time, natural degradation along with human interference affected the Acropolis. When Christianity was introduced in ancient Greece, many of these monuments were converted to churches. In the Medieval period, these structures were turned into headquarters of foreign rulers. Athens was ravaged by many wars and invasions and attacks on monumental structures like the Acropolis led to tragic damages.
In September 1687, the Acropolis suffered its greatest damage. A siege was led by the Venetians towards the Turks for the conquest of the town. The Turks had turned Parthenon into gunpowder storage and a Venetian bomb that hit directly Parthenon caused the gunpowder to explode and to destroy most part of the temple.
Moreover, in the early 19th century, Parthenon lost its amazing friezes when lord Elgin took them, with the permission of the then Turkish government. These friezes are known since then as the Elgin Marbles and the Greek government has started a great effort to get these friezes back and host them in the New Acropolis Museum that is being built right across the ancient site.
In the 20th century, a building program started so that all monuments of the Rock of the Acropolis will be restored. Restoration works are carried on till today. The high goal of this effort is to make the Acropolis as glorious as it was in the ancient times.