The Acropolis

The Acropolis (6)

In 1987, this complex, which is the most famous of all Greece, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This gesture, however, was not necessary to confirm the fact that the Acropolis symbolizes one of the highlights of the history of world culture and civilization.

All visitors arriving in Athens look up to see the profile of the ruins of the radiant architectural site that stands on the sacred rock of the Acropolis. An image to remember, which is in the collective imagination as a milestone in the history of mankind, its myths and legends.

Acropolis literally means "high city", which it is, as it stands 156 metres above the plains of Athens. Its name can also be translated as "citadel", and it covers an area 270 metres wide and over 150 at its peak.

The history of the Acropolis even dates back to 3000 BC, the time of the first archaeological remains found in the area consisting of pottery shards. It also forms part of the walls from the Mycenaean era, and it is known that, until the 6th century BC, the mountain was not so sacred because it housed palatial residences. However, the myth says that the Delphic oracle declared the Acropolis as a sacred place where only the gods and not humans could dwell.

The monuments that certainly attract the attention of visitors to the Acropolis are those falling within the age of Pericles, in the 5th century BC. In order to praise the city and to proclaim their political and cultural achievements, this great democratic leader created the Greek navy and convinced the Athenians to promote a program of major works in the city, based primarily on the Acropolis temples.

The commitment of Pericles with regards to this mammoth task arose in around 480 BC after the Persians destroyed all of the buildings of the Archaic period that were in the area. The remains from the Persian siege were piled in heaps and were not excavated practically until this century, when they were found and transferred to the Acropolis Museum.

Although the crown jewels of this area were built - or at least promoted - during the time of Pericles, work continued to progress after his time and other buildings were constructed, such as the Roman Tholos, a circular temple from the 1st century BC.

To say that the classical splendour of the Acropolis remains intact today would be deceiving. Despite preserving its essence, the site has been seriously damaged over history and has been a victim of plundering, first by Constantinople, which took much of the sculptural decoration to beautify its buildings.

Over the years, other factors have contributed towards spoiling the Acropolis as a whole. This is the case of the Turks who used it as a as gunpowder magazine when defending themselves from the siege of the Venetians, who bombed it in the 17th century. Furthermore the heavy pollution from the city, despite declined over recent years, caused in the past what is known as "stone sickness", a kind of woodworm for building structures. The passage of man, making pilgrimages to the Acropolis for centuries, invaded its paths and rested on its ancient stones. Access to the temples has therefore been restricted for years and many areas are cordoned off. This may seem an exaggeration, but respecting the archaeological remains is essential for their preservation. 

Visible from almost everywhere in Athens, the Acropolis combines most of the masterpieces of Classical Greece: the Parthenon, the Propylaea, the Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion are just some of the buildings that stood here, the ruins of which can be visited today. The Porch of the Caryatids, the first entrance to the Acropolis (the Beule gate) certain small temples, monuments, and chapel cut out of the rock are just some attractions at the site, although not the most famous. The Acropolis Museum, which is also on premises, preserves some sculptures more carefully, as well as part of the Parthenon frieze.

There is a must if you visit Athens in August. On the nights of a full moon, the Acropolis remains open and music groups perform concerts and recitals among the ruins. The sight of the Acropolis lit up from the plains of Athens is impressive, as is that of the city from this high rock. Far from the crowds of tourist restaurants and shops, it is at least worth the time.

It is difficult to walk over this sacred land and look up over Athens without imagining the past splendour of this city. With every step you will remember the faithful, dressed in their robes, worshipping the gods, and the verses of the classics that were set here will come to mind.

Just close your eyes and you will be able to rebuild, as if by magic, what you have read in thousands of guides and books or seen in films: stone by stone, the glittering, multi-coloured Parthenon will rise up along with the giant statues of the gods or the beautiful caryatids supporting the temples. When up close, the Acropolis will look like heaven on earth.

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