While most towns of any size in the ancient Greek world had an acropolis, the acropolis of Athens has come to define the word. In general, an acropolis is the high place of a city and a center for important religious and civic activities.
Most of what stands on the Athens acropolis today was built under the great Athenian leader Pericles in the last half of the 5th century BCE, a Golden Age of ancient Greece. Earlier buildings succumbed to the hands of time, natural disaster, and invading hoards. The Parthenon stands on an artificial hill made up of acropolis debris left over after the Persians sacked Athens in 480 BCE.
Click to see Greece tours that include a visit to the Athens Acropolis.
By far the most famous building on the Athens acropolis is the Parthenon. Although not technically a temple, the building was dedicated to the patron goddess of Athens, Athena. The Parthenon is perhaps the most architecturally influential structure ever built in the Western world.
The Erechtheum is a temple dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon and named for either a legendary King of Athens or a legendary Greek hero. It’s easily recognized by the Porch of Caryatids, where six draped maidens (Caryatids) casually support the roof of a small porch on the south side of the temple.
The Propylaia is the monumental entrance to the acropolis. Originally, some of the ceiling coffers were painted blue with gold stars.
I love the proportions of the little Temple of Athena Nike (Athena the Victorious).
It stands on a high bastion just outside the Propylaia.
The ruins of the Theater of Dionysus spill down the south slope of the acropolis. The theater hosted the annual City Dionysia Festival, which included theater competitions. Many of the plays known to us by dramatists such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes were introduced in this theater.
About 1/2 of the sculptures from the Parthenon are displayed in the beautiful new Acropolis Museum, others are held by museums around Europe, the bulk at the British Museum in London. Included in the Athens collection is about 165 feet of the Parthenon frieze. In its entirety, the frieze is over 500 feet long and depicts the procession through Athens during the Panathenaea Festival, a religious festival similar to the ancient Olympics, with athletic competitions, music and theater performances and religious rites. The British Museum holds about 260 feet of the frieze, that portion being part of the controversial “Elgin Marbles,” taken from Athens (some would say looted) by the Earl of Elgin, British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the 19th century.