Perched atop a rocky limestone hill overlooking the vibrant city of Athens, Greece, stands the magnificent Acropolis. This ancient flat-topped stronghold beckons visitors to experience the mysteries of its rich and storied past—as the seat of kings, a powerful fortress, a religious center, and more recently, a UNESCO World Heritage site and popular tourist attraction that draws some two million visitors a year.
Literally meaning “high city” in Greek, the term acropolis is not limited to this location. There are many limestone hills in Greece that resemble the Acropolis, but this is by far the most prominent. Standing slightly over 500 feet above sea level, this famous landmark showcases amazingly preserved ruins, buildings, and artifacts. Developed in the fifth century BC by the Athenian statesman Pericles, the Acropolis was intended to be the undeniable crown jewel of the city.
The summit of the Acropolis is chiefly comprised of four structures: the iconic Parthenon—the temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, the namesake of the city of Athens—as well as the Erechtheion, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Propylaia.
Designed by architects Ictinus and Callicrates, the Parthenon is the first of Pericles’ builds, and it exemplifies the elegance of Doric architecture. As you behold the Parthenon’s graceful columns and intricate friezes, you can not help but marvel at the skill and precision of ancient Greek builders.
Just north of the Parthenon stands the remnant of the Erechtheion. The final temple of Pericles, it was devoted to both Athena and Poseidon. But what makes the Erechtheion distinctive is the porch of the maidens, also called the Caryatids. These beautifully carved female figures serve as columns to support the temple’s roof. Five of the original columns are preserved in the Acropolis Museum.
Temple of Athena Nike
Overlooking the Saronic Gulf, the Temple of Athena Nike has only recently reemerged after having been sacked by the Turks in the 17th century.
Considered the gateway to the Acropolis, the Propylaia was considered by the ancient Athenians to be their most celebrated monument and is the last of the ceremonial gatehouses built on the site.
Visitors also should not miss the spectacular south slope of the Acropolis—a site comprised of several theatres and colonnades undergoing restoration and excavation— including the Theatre of Dionysos, the original performance home of the masterpieces of Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, and Sophocles; the second-century Roman Herodes Atticus Theatre; the Monument of Thrasyllos, a once-sacred cave that was converted to a chapel.
The Acropolis would later see many changes after several sackings of the city of Athens by the Persians and the Turks, and after several centuries would see many of its temples converted to centers of Christian worship during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.
Over the centuries, the Acropolis has faced numerous invasions, natural disasters, and pollution. However, continuous efforts have been made to preserve and restore this cultural gem. The Acropolis Restoration Project, launched in the 1970s, aims to revive and protect the site’s original glory. With diligent research and meticulous restoration work, the project has been successful in bringing back much of the Acropolis’ splendor.
A visit to the Acropolis—depending on how much you plan to take in—will take a few hours, especially guided tours, which can take up to four hours. You can walk the circumference of the Acropolis via the streets that surround it, providing spectacular views. Barring any national holidays, the site is open year-round. It is important to note that summers can be quite hot in Greece, and the Acropolis will close if the temperature goes above 104 degrees.
Be sure not to miss the chance to explore the magnificent Acropolis Museum, which displays a vast collection of artifacts and sculptures found on site. The museum provides valuable insights into the Acropolis’ history and its cultural significance.
The Acropolis—despite the destruction of countless wars, earthquakes, and the passage of centuries—is not merely a vestige of a bygone era. Restoration efforts have painstakingly preserved its magnificence, ensuring that future generations can marvel at its splendor.
Step through the gates of time at the Acropolis and glimpse into a world long past. Walk in the footsteps of the ancient Greeks who shaped Western civilization!