March 2008 Newsletter: Special Feature
 This Month 
Return to March 2008 Newsletter Connect to
 Special Feature: Heritage Walks in Athens

Acropolis Station

Acropolis Station

This 1st walk takes the longest time and is the most important in terms of ancient history and art. The visitor should start early in the morning, especially during the summer. Another option, somewhat more costly, is to complete this walk in two installments on separate days.


This was the cultural center of ancient Athens, and the first example, whether in Greece or the world, of a complex of buildings dedicated to performances of the arts - (tel. 210 3224625).

Theater of Dionysus:
The cradle of tragedy and comedy, this first theater of the Western world was built on the grounds of the sanctuary of Dionysus. The archaic temple containing a wooden image of Dionysus dates from c. 540 BC. It was in the 4th century BC that the classical temple was built and the gold and ivory statue of the god by Alcamenes sculpted. The theater was formed at the end of the 6th century BC around an already existing circular orchestra, still (if barely) distinguishable among the stage ruins. It was on this stage that plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, which still inspires theater goers had their world premieres. The stone tiers were built in 333 BC by the orator and politician Lykourgos. The theater could hold a crowd of 17,000 spectators; 30,000 when the surrounding grounds were filled. The ancient walk or "peripatos" cut through and divided into two parts the theater proper and the higher "epitheater". Under the Emperor Nero (67 AD), the stage and the orchestra took on the Roman form they maintain to this day. The "Pulpitum" (`Bema or platform of Phaidros") was built in the 3" century AD.

East of the theater of Dionysus stood the renowned Odeion of Perikles, now in ruins. It was built in the 5th century BC with the masts of the Persian ships (booty from the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC), and used by the Athenians for performances of music. According to Vitruvius, the Odeion was destroyed by fire in the course of the war between Mithridates and Rome during the assault of the Roman general Sulla in 86 BC and rebuilt by the King of Cappadocia, Ariobarzanes. Above the theater stood the imposing Choregic Monument of Thrasyllus (319 BC). Sometime after Christianity prevailed, it was transformed into the Church of Panaghia Chrysospiliotissa. High above the monument you can still see two Corinthian columns, bases for choregic tripods of the Roman period.

The ruins of the ancient Asclepion can be seen west of the theater. This temple was built in 420 BC, was dedicated to Asclepios, the god of medicine, and was used as a sanctuary, a clinic, and a Medical School.

Other monuments in-between the Asclepion and the Herodion, but now in ruins, were Hippolytus' tomb, the archaic fountain, and the sanctuaries to Earth Kourotrofos, to Demetra-Chloe, and to Aphrodite Pandemos. Just under the Asclepion and the "Peripatos" lie the remains of Eumenes' Stoa, once used by the crowds who came here to see the performances in the theater of Dionysus, and later, in the Odeion. The long two-storied structure was built with a donation by Eumenes 11 (197-160 BC), King of Pergamum.

Odeion of Herodes Atticus: This building is adjacent to Eumenes' Stoa; and a perfect match for it, although built almost four centuries later (in 160-1 AD), by Herodes son of Atticus, in memory of his wife Regilla. The roof that once covered this monumental and luxurious structure was of cedar wood. The Odeion was burnt down by the Herules in 267 AD. During the period of Ottoman rule, it was incorporated along with Eumenes Stoa, into the city walls built by Hasekis (1778), and formed the impregna ble "Serpenze". The Odeion seats 5,000 people and still hosts musical and theatrical performances today.

The Sacred Rock of the Athenians (2)
(tel.: 210 3214172, 3210219)

Propylaea: One of the masterpieces of classical architecture. This imposing entrance was designed by the architect Mnesicles and built in 437-432 BC, on earlier propylaea. Mnesicles designed an entrance of no less magnificence than that of temples and other monuments on the Sacred Rock. The Propylaea consist of a main hall and two side wings. The north wing was to house a display of paintings and was named "Pinakotheke" (Gallery). The outer columns both to east and west are of the Doric order; the internal entrance way is flanked by two high inner colonnades of the Ionic order. The brilliant idea of combining the Doric and Ionic orders lifts the emotions of those who enter the Propylaea, giving them a rare esthetic experience. In the 12th century the Propylaea became the residence of the Metropolitan Michael Choniatis. During Frankish rule, the whole structure was used as a palace. Additions by the Franks included an extra floor and a high watchtower that was demolished in 1874.

(Photo above: Parthenon before 1834, (Liberated Greece and the Morea Scientific Expedition. The Peytier Album in the Stephen Vagliano Collection, published by the National Bank of Greece, 1971.)

Temple of Athena Nike: A small, elegant, Ionian, amphiprostyle temple, built by the architect Callicrates in 426-421, on an earlier tower of the Mycenaean walls. It was dedicated both to the patron goddess Athena and to the prehistoric goddess Nike, protector of the entrance. In 1686 it had been demolished by the Ottomans in view of the forthcoming Venetian attack and the marble pieces were reassembled after 1835. The temple is best viewed from the Propylaea.

Temple of Brauronian Artemis: Situated to the southeast of the Propylaea, it once formed a II-shaped stoa with ten Doric columns. The temple was used for the cult of goddess Artemis, a cult that originated from Brauron, homeland of Peisistratus, in the mid 6" century BC. Today only traces of its foundations remain.

Chalkotheke: East of the Temple of Brauronian Artemis lies just the base of a lengthy structure that dates from the 5 " century BC, which is believed to have been the Chalkotheke, used for storing precious votive gifts, mostly made of metal.

Erechtheion: This temple, begun in Ionian style in 421 BC, dominates the north side of the Sacred Rock. It is complex and elaborate in its structure, and equally complex in its symbolism. The temple was named after the mythical king Erechtheus, often identified with the chthonic deity Erichthonius, and later with Poseidon. Athena and Poseidon played the leading role among the other deities associated with the temple, followed by Hephaistus, the father of Erichthonius, and Voutis, Erechtheus' brother, chthonic deities. Here also were the "signs" of the gods: a well-hole shaped opening that contained sea-water offered by Poseidon; and an opening in the roof of the north stoa, made by the god's trident. The ancient wooden image of Athena was kept in the Erechthion, while her sacred olive tree was on its western side. Particularly interesting is the northern porch with its magnificent entrance and more generally its outstanding Ionic decoration, from the bases of the columns up to the ceiling itself. On the east side there is an impressive series of six Ionic columns crowned by a pediment.

On the south side of the temple lies the porch of the "Korai" (the original statues are exhibited in the Acropolis Museum). The six "Korai" (female figures) that support the entablature represent an eternal symbol of the perfection of the female form; they recall a ceremonial procession. The overwhelming charm and ethereal lyricism of the Korai are typical of the "elaborate style" in sculpture of the last quarter of the 5th century BC. These Korai of the Erechtheion were later named "caryatids". The most likely interpretation is that the Korai were identified with the young Caryatids, the ceremonial dancers who bore baskets on their heads in rituals honouring the Caryatid Artemis.
Probably during the invasion by Sulla (86 BC), the Erechtheion was badly damaged by fire. Later, in the seventh century AD, it was transformed into a three-aisled basilica, dedicated to the Mother of God. Under Frankish rule it became the seat of administration, and in the period of Ottoman rule ... a harem! At the beginning of the 19''' century it suffered the attentions of Lord Elgin's men. The recent restoration of the monument was honored by the award of a special medal by Europa Nostra in 1987. On the west side of the Erechtheion stood the Pandroseion, dedicated to Pandrosos, daughter of Cecrops.

Archaic temple: In front of the porch of the Korai, between the Erechtheion and the Parthenon, you can see the ruins of the archaic temple, built in the 6th century BC and dedicated to Athena Polias (Athena guardian of the City). Little is known about the temple; the archeological finds are sparse. Perhaps there was an earlier temple of the Geometric period on this location, exactly where the Mycenaean palace had once stood. Most probably, the pedimental sculptures depicting battles between gods and giants (525 BC; now exhibited in the Acropolis Museum) originated from this temple.

Nearby were the Arrheforio, the altar of Athena, and the inscription of the earth, followed by the sanctuary to Zeus Polieus and the temple of Rome and Augustus (27 BC).

Parthenon: A "Public Dedication", offered by the Athenians to their patron goddess Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin), for the city's salvation and Athenian victories in the Persian Wars as part of Pericles great construction program. The ultimate expression of this achievement of the program it represents the Athenian people at their zenith. It was built between 447 and 438 BC.
It is the largest temple of classical antiquity - surrounded by a colonnade of 8 columns on the short and 17 on the long side. It represents the culmination of the development of the Doric order, although here Doric columns are combined with an Ionic frieze around the cella or central part of the temple. A ratio of `4-to-9' is repeated in various parts of the temple. The columns embody the principles of "meiosis" (diminution) and "entasis". Meiosis is the gradual upward thinning of the diameter of each column. By contrast, "entasis" is the thickening, again of each column, at about two fifths of its height; thus indicating the strengthening of the column so as to hold the weight of the entablature.

By the use of these architectural refinements, the great masters of the Parthenon gave life and mobility to the marble, and displayed how weight can be held in place by the power of construction.
The ancient Greeks were familiar with the optical effect by which, when seen under the light, a straight line gives the impression of a concave curve. Wanting to counteract this optical illusion, Ictinus and Callicrates applied a slight convex curvature to the center of all horizontal lines on the Parthenon. The curvature ranges from 6 to 17 cm (on the long sides); it begins from the foundations of the temple, and is repeated in the krepis, the entablature, the ceiling, the roof and the ceramic tiling.

On the horizontal, delicately curved lines, stand the columns with their entablature slightly curved towards the interior of the temple, thus binding the structure together. The comer columns join in the curvature of both colonnades. The result is that all forces counterbalance each other, thus achieving perfect harmony and symmetry. The convexity and all other deviations, known as "refinements", contribute to the monument's high aesthetic appeal.
Inside the temple stood the gold and ivory statue of Athena by the sculpture Pheidias, unfortunately lost. The patron goddess of Athens was depicted in full armor, yet peaceful, and at the same time both supernatural yet human.

The metopes represented, on the east side, a battle between gods and giants; on the south, between Greeks and centaurs; on the west, between Greeks and Amazons; and on the north, the capture of Troy. The pediment on the east is the earlier and shows the birth of Athena. The central figures were lost in the early Christian period. The west pediment is technically more advanced; it shows Athena's contest with Poseidon. When Morosini attempted to remove the marvelous central figures and take them to Venice, they were broken into fragments. The best preserved parts of the pediments can be seen today in the British Museum in London. Some fragments and a unique complex (probably, Cecrops and Pandrosos) are displayed in the Acropolis Museum. The pedimental sculptures were sculpted in the round and represent among the finest works ever created by the human hand.
The outer wall of the calla was decorated with an Ionian frieze of unparalled quality that represented the magnificent Panathenaic procession: mortals and immortals together as, idealized figures, process on horse or on foot honouring the city and hymning democratic Athens. The frieze of the Parthenon is considered one of the greatest moments in the history of art and of human civilization.
In late antiquity the Parthenon suffered damage by fire, probably from the Herules (267 AD). In the 6" century it was transformed into a Christian church. During Frankish rule (1205-1456) it became the Catholic church of the Virgin and later it was converted into a mosque, until the great explosion caused by Morosini (1687). At the beginning of the 19" century it was denuded of its sculptures by the British diplomat Lord Elgin. The restoration of the Parthenon which began in the 1980s, is proceeding in accordance with the highest international standards, appropriate to an unique monument of the world's cultural heritage.

Acropolis Museum: Situated where the Sanctuary of Pandion once stood. Many of the objects on display had been buried in the earth after the Persians captured the Acropolis in 480 BC, hence traces of the original colors remain. Among the many brilliant works of art the following stand out:
• Pediment depicting a she-lion battling a calf (600 BC), probably part of the original Parthenon {No. 4}.
• Man bearing a calf (570 BC), a masterpiece of Archaic sculpture that depicts a man carrying a young calf on his shoulders as a votive offering to the goddess Athena. Note the remarkably vivid expression of his eyes {No. 624}.
• Rampin's Horseman (550 BC). Marble figure of a horseman, once part of the Rampin Collection. The original head is displayed in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Typical work from the years when the tyrants were on power {No. 590}.
• “Kore" (female figure) wearing a peplos (530 BC), probably by the same artist who made Rampin's Horseman. An offering to the goddess Athena {No. 679}.
• Marble figure of a dog, displaying the vivid movement of a living creature from the sanctuary of Artemis of Brauron. It dates from c. 520 BC {No. 143}
• “Kore” from Chios (510 BC), small in size yet full of charm, in Ionian style. By an unknown artist from the island of Chios {No. 675}.
• “Kore" (500 BC); one of the finest works, that dates from a transitional period, when the archaic style was being replaced by the severe style The head displays an intense nobility, that recalls the contemporary birth of Democracy and Tragedy {No. 674}. "Blonde Boy" (485-480 BC), who has tasted triumph at Marathon, and is ready to meet the Persians again at Salamis. A young man's head, which when discovered had deep yellow-colored hair {No. 6891.
• “Critias' son" (480 BC). This statue of a young man is liberated from archaic immobility and moves into action. The careful modeling has given us a perfectly balanced body {No. 698}.
• Torso of Poseidon from the west pediment (c. 435 BC), a titanic work b Pheidias. The front of the torso is an original; the back of the torso is a replica (the original is displayed in the British Museum in London) {No. 885}.
• Horsemen (c. 440 BC). Excellent work by Pheidias, from the frieze of the north side of the Parthenon {No. 8681. Nike putting on her sandal (c. 415 BC). Frieze with a representation o Nike, a masterpiece of the "elaborate style", believed to be a work of Cal limachus {No. 973}.
"• Caryatids" from the Erechtheion (420-415 BC), probably by Alcam enes, a disciple of Phidias. There are four Korai in total, preserve, under special conditions, each one different from the other in postu re, in the treatment of the draperies, and in hairstyle. The best preser ved Caryatid, once part of the Elgin Collection, is exhibited in the Bri tish Museum in London; the sixth Caryatid was dismembered durin the Greek Revolution (1827) and is currently under re-construction.
• Head of Alexander (338 BC); a splendid portrait, believed to be the work of the sculptor Leochares. {No. 13311}.

PERIPATOS: The Northern Slope of the Acropolis (3)

Since antiquity, the name for the path that runs around the Acropolis Hill has been known as "Peripatos". It is "five stadia and eight feet" (900-930 meters) long. The beginning of the path was set on the junction with the Panathenai Way. The path continued through the ancient shrines on the slopes of the Sacred Rock, cut the theater of Dionysus into two parts (the theater and the "epitheater"), passed in front of the Asclepion, and ended on the uphill paht that led to the Acropolis. Nowadays, we reach the starting point of the Peripatos by climbing down the Acropolis and turning right towards the north slope.

Clepsydra: On the west side of the Acropolis, and inside a cave, lies the spring Clepsydra. Its earlier name was Empedho, but it was changed to Clepsydra, (which means "water clock") since the water was sometimes there but sometimes not. In the first half of the 5''' century BC, Kimon transformed the spring into a fountain. In the 10" century AD, rocks fell on the fountain, and special works had to be carried out in order to make it possible for the Athenians to draw water. In Christian times, the Clepsydra was sanctified and a small church built on the now moss-grown ruins, bearing the name of Aghioi Apostoloi "on the marbles". In later times, the spring was buried under the rocks and gradually forgotten. In 1822, Athens was temporarily liberated from the Turks, and the spring was discovered again by the fighter for independence and first Modern Greek archeologist, Kyriakos Pittakis, by referring to the ancient sources. He revealed the exact location of the spring to the chieftains of the Greek revolution and it proved an important factor in the Ottoman siege of the Acropolis (1826-1827.

Cave shine of Apollo: Near the Clepsydra, we find a cave that once housed the Shrine of Apollo. After their appointment, the nine archons (senior officials) of Athens, took a first oath on the altar of Apollo Patroos in the Agora, and then came here to take a second oath. In this second oath they swore - among other things - that, if they did not rule the city in the proper manner, or embezzled public funds, they would set up a golden statue of Apollo Pythios-Patroos in the sacred cave. At the end of their service, they offered a marble plaque bearing sculpted laurel and myrtle wreaths, which served as a reminder of their successful service. Many such plaques were found inside the cave and the surrounding area.

Cave of Zeus Astrapeos (Zeus, bearer of lightning): Next to the cave of Apollo, opens a second equally imposing cave dedicated to Zeus. The father of gods and humans was worshipped as "Olympios" (of Olympus), "Astrapeos", or "Keravnios" (bearer of thunder). Written documents state that each spring the "Pythaists" gathered in the cave and awaited the sign of Zeus, a lightning from the "Arma" peak on Mount Parnes, in order to start their procession to Delphi. "Pythaists" were members of the Athenian elite who represented the city at the Delphic Pythean festivals. On their return from the Delphic sanctuary, the Pythaists brought back the "new light", the immaculate fire that purified the sanctuaries in Athens.

Cave of Pan: Nearby and a little to the east, there is another small cave dedicated to Pan, god of forests and shepherds. The cult of Pan came late to Athens, that is after the victory at Marathon in 490 BC. According to Herodotus, tradition told that Pan appeared himself on the battleground of Marathon, spread "panic" among the Persians, and helped the seriously outnumbered Athenians to crush them. Every year afterwards, the grateful Athenians held a torchlight procession here in honor of Pan. They carved small niches on the rock where they laid their votive gifts: statuettes, flutes, even delicacies. The cave of Pan is also known to us from Aristophanes' play Lysistrata; the great comic playwright placed here the unfulfilled - erotic conversation between Myrrhine and Kinesias. In later, Christian, times the sacred cave of the goat-footed god was transformed into a small church, dedicated to Saint Athanasios.

Mycenaean Fountain - Cave of Ersi: Further to the east there is an impressive cave, until recently believed to have been dedicated to Aglauros, daughter of Cecrops. Recent studies have concluded this was a sanctuary to Ersi; Aglauros was worshipped in the big cave found on the east slope. The cave actually consists of a fountain, that was formed when in the Mycenaean period (second half of the 13th century) a wall was being built around the Acropolis. The passageway opened on the Acropolis near today's Erechtheion. The Mycenaean fountain was used for a very limited time, probably for some thirty years, as evidenced by the pottery sherds discovered. Probably, at some point rocks shifted and buried the fountain, and the lower part was thus forgotten. The upper part was not forgotten, and remained in use as a secret passage to and from the Acropolis. This passage is connected with a great moment in contemporary Greek history, in the first year of the Nazi occupation. Late at night, on May 30, 1941 two young students, Manolis Glezos and Apostolos Santas, crept through the passage and evaded the guards. They approached the flagpole in silence and took down the Nazi flag bearing the swastika. On their way back, they passed through the cave again, and threw the much-hated symbol in the muddy waters of the fountain. Following the liberation of Athens, the two youngsters were acknowledged as the first partisans in Europe.
Sanctuary of Aphrodite en Kipois (Aphrodite in the Gardens): The cult of Aphrodite here replaced an older cult of the Mycenaean dove goddess, who was worshipped as a fertility goddess at a location near the Mycenaean entrances to the Acropolis. It was in this temple of the love and fertility goddess, that the "Arrheforoi" came on a summer's night. The "Arrheforoi' ceremony revived an ancient rural rite, intended to promote fertility in the land. On the sanctuary wall, one can still see the carved four-sided niches where the ancient worshippers laid their votive gifts. Other findings in the area include votive inscriptions to Aphrodite and Eros.

Continuing on the "Peripatos', and on the northeastern side of the Acropolis, one can see over the fence the Anafiotika, a unique residential quarter of small white-plastered houses set around tiny alleys, very much like a typical Cycladic village. It is a picturesque quarter built on the early years of the newly-formed Greek State, by craftsmen born in the island of Anafi.


Cave of Agraulos: By pure chance, an inscription was found in front of the cave on the east slope. The inscription was a resolution of the Athenian popular assembly that dates from 247 BC, when Polyeuctus' was archon, in honour of Timocrate, the priestess of the sanctuary of Agraulos. The final words on the inscription state the assembly's decision: the resolution was to be "written" on a stone shaft and mounted in front of the sanctuary of Agraulos. It is as a result of this precious finding that we know for certain this is indeed the cave of Agraulos.

Agraulos, daughter of Cecrops, was a beloved Athenian princess who later became an important deity. 18-year-old Athenians stood in front of her imposing sanctuary, to take the oath and assume their weapons, a shield and a spear.

There are two possible routes for the visitor who wishes to follow the Peripatos route down to the city. If one wishes to make a full circle around the Acropolis, one should walk down back to the starting point, the Theatre of Dionysus. The 1st walk has been designed with this in mind. In case a visitor is tired, however it is possible to climb down the north slope, follow the route that leads to the ruined church of Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas), and then take the exit that leads to the Kanellopoulos Museum (in Theorias St). One would then follow the 3rd walk, from the Kanellopoulos Museum onwards (seep. 48). Ascend THRASYLLOU ST - and continue to the right on VAKCHOU, then VYRONOS, SHELLEY - and TRIPODON STS that lie exactly over the ancient Tripodon Street.
VYRONOS (BYRON) ST: Named after the great English poet and Philhellene, Lord Byron (1788-1824) who died in Misolonghi during the War of Independence.


The only choregic monument that remains intact today, and acts as an emblem for the whole Plaka district. It was built by the choregos (sponsor) Lysicrates (334 BC) in a style resembling the Corinthian order. The bronze choregic tripod (bearing a cauldron) was awarded to the sponsor of the winning plays in the theatrical contest, who then gilded the tripod and mounted it on a monument, to commemorate his victory. From 1669 until Kioutachi's siege of the Acropolis (1826- 1827), the monument adorned the Monastery of the French Capuchins, initially as a chapel, and later as a library. SHELLEY ST: Named in memory of the great English romantic poet and Philhellene (1792-1822). TRIPODON ST Pausanias in the second century BC names the street "Tripodes" and informs us that this was a very popular street for the ancient Athenians, since it was here they took their walks, in the shadow of the Acropolis. Tripodon Street was 6-8 meters wide and 800 meters long. It joined the Prytanion - whose position has not yet been established - with the Theatre of Dionysus, forming a rough semicircle. The street owed its name to the choregic tripods with mounted cauldrons that stood on miniscule temples or on columns, along the sides of the street. An important part of the ancient Tripodon Street coincides with the modern street of the same name and the Lysikratous Square in Plaka.

ELLINIKI ETAIRIA (6): On 28 Tripodon St lies the neoclassical building that houses Elliniki Etairia - the Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Environment and the Cultural Heritage. It was built during King Otho's reign (1833-1862) and some decorative ceiling paintings survive. Restoration work which won an Europa Nostra award in 1991, revealed important antiquities: a 4m-high stone retaining wall of the Classical period, that protected the monuments on Tripodon Street; two big clay "pithoi" that date from the Roman period; a part of the original ancient paved surface, with its ceramic drainage channel, part of the base of one of the biggest choregic monuments in the street; and an olive press of a later date. The two lower floors host environmental and cultural events, a shop and a cafe for members and friends. (28 Tripodon St, tel.: 210 3225245, 210 3226693)


Excerpt from: "Heritage Walks in Athens" by the Municipality of Athens Cultural Organization,
and by the Elliniki Etairia Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Environment and the Cultural Heritage

Next Month's Article:
Heritage Walk #2 - Hills and Demes (Municipalities) of Ancient Athens

Return to March 2008 Newsletter Connect to