The Acropolis Essay, Research Paper
02 November 2000
The Athenian Acropolis
The Acropolis of Athens has stood as a monument of triumph to the people of Athens for centuries past. The temples within its walls were used to worship Greek gods like Athena and Poseidon. Rising over three hundred feet above the city of Athens, it can clearly be seen why it is called the Acropolis, which loosely translated means “top of city”. It isn’t the only acropolis in Greece, but it is revered more than the others because of its almost flawless planning in where each building is placed. It took two hundred years of experimenting to get it right. Each building is placed specifically to be pleasing to the viewer’s eye. From the viewer’s point of view every building is seen in perspective, and at no point from the entrance is one building seen from only one facade. This is what made the Acropolis at Athens so amazing. What makes the Acropolis even more amazing is the buildings within its walls. There is the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion, the temple of Athena Nike, and more.
After ascending nearly three hundred feet up the hill you come to what is called the “Propylaia”. The Propylaia is the entrance to the Acropolis and was used to prepare worshipers before entering the gates to the temples within. Construction began on the Propylaia in 437 B.C. and was completed in 432 B.C. The architect of the Propylaia was Mnesikles, and the project was anything but easy with the narrowness of space and the irregular terrain. Despite these obstacles he was successful in creating a harmonious entrance. Asymmetrically arranged buildings created the propylaia. The most important of these buildings was the Pinakotheke on the north side with contained the art gallery. The Propylaia has an outer and inner facade, both supported by six Doric columns with five doors between them, the largest door was located in the middle. Further within the Propylaia, there are Ionic columns, which helped support the roof. These columns were used rather than the Doric columns similar to the outer columns because of space restraints. Also constructed of load bearing walls the Propylaia was entirely constructed out of white marble. These load-bearing walls were the walls of the Pinakotheke and were covered with painted panels or wall paintings. This propylaia wasn’t the first on that site. The original entrance gate was smaller and was destroyed in the Persian fire in 480 B.C. After being prepared in the propylaia, you would enter a central courtyard overlooking the immense bronze statue of,”the Champion”, Athena Promachos. This statue was so large that the sun could be seen glimmering off the tip of its spear from out at sea.
To the left you would see the Erechtheion in its white marble glory, whose site lay north of the Parthenon. This building too, like the Propylaia dealt with irregular terrain, but took it in a different perspective. Instead of leveling the land, which was too sacred to touch, they built the Erechtheion in levels to accommodate the steep change in elevation. Built sometime between 421 B.C. and 405 B.C., the Erechtheion housed shrines to several gods, local deities, and heroes. It was also the site of several sacred spots, including the mark of Poseidon’s trident spear, the graves of the legendary Erechtheus and Kekrops, but most importantly it housed the temple of Athena Polias, protectress of the city and goddess of the hearth. Each level of the Erechtheion had a specific purpose. To the east, from higher terrain is a six-column Ionic porch that housed the ancient wooden image of Athena. At the north is another Ionic porch that leads to the chamber of Erechtheus. The sacred olive tree of Athena is located in an open courtyard in the west of the Erechtheion. And finally to the south is the resting place of the legendary King Kekrops. “The Porch of the Caryatids” covers this gravesite. This porch is what makes the building stand out other than its unusual land layout. The porch is supported by six maiden figures used as columns with the crowns on their heads being the capitals. Also within the frieze of the Erechtheion is to be believed a relief carving of the birth of Erechtheus. The Erechtheion is most definitely not the largest building in the Acropolis, but for what it lacks in size it gains in well thought out planning and decoration.
The temple Athena Nike was created by the architect Kallikrates. This temple built in Ionic order is the smallest of all the temple buildings within the walls of the Acropolis. Made of once again, white marble it sits on an ancient bastion, and was rebuilt once in 435 B.C. to 420 B.C. to its present day form. It details four ionic columns on each end and the rest is load-bearing walls. On the east end, the relief frieze depicts the conference of the gods, while the other sides show scenes from battles. The temple was built to commemorate the victory over the Persians. The temple’s placement is to represent the guarding of the entrance of the Acropolis, or the Propylaia. Even though nearly fifteen hundred years have passed since it construction, the temple of Athena Nike still stands intact, other than having no roof structure, like the other temples. This is because all the temples’ roofs were made of wood, and of course over the years have now deteriorated. Nonetheless, the temple, Athena Nike will stand to let viewers appreciate the tireless work of the Greek architects for years to come.
The final, and most majestic temple of the acropolis is the Parthenon. It is the most important and characteristic monument of the ancient Greek civilization and still remains its international symbol. It was dedicated to Athena Parthenos, the patron goddess of Athens. It was built between 447 and 438 B.C. and its sculptural decoration was completed in 432 B.C. The construction of the monument was initiated by Perikles; the supervisor of the whole work was Pheidias, the famous Athenian sculptor, while Iktinos and Kallikrates were the architects of the building. The temple is built in the Doric order and almost exclusively of Pentelic marble. It is peripteral, with eight columns on each of the narrow sides and seventeen columns on each of the long ones. The central part of the temple, called the cella, sheltered the famous chryselephantine cult statue of Athena, made by Pheidias. The sculptural decoration of the Parthenon is a unique combination of the Doric metopes and triglyphs on the entablature, and the Ionic frieze on the walls of the cella. The metopes depict the Gigantomachy on the east side, the Amazonomachy on the west, the Centauromachy on the south, and scenes from the Trojan War on the north.
The relief frieze depicts the Procession of the Panathenaea, the most formal religious festival of ancient Athens. The scene runs along all the four sides of the building and includes the figures of gods, beasts and of some 360 humans.
The two pediments of the temple are decorated with mythological scenes: the east, above the building’s main entrance, shows the birth of Athena, and the west, the fight between Athena and Poseidon for the name of the city of Athens. The Parthenon retained its religious character in the following centuries and was converted into a Byzantine church, a Latin church and a Muslim mosque.
The Turks used the Parthenon as a powder magazine when the Venetians, under Admiral Morosini, sieged the Acropolis in 1687. One of the Venetian bombs fell on the Parthenon and caused a tremendous explosion that destroyed a great part of the monument, which had been preserved in a good condition until then.
The disaster was completed in the beginning of the 19th century, when the British ambassador in Constantinople, Lord Elgin, stole the greatest part of the sculptural decoration of the monument (frieze, metopes, pediments), transferred them to England
and sold them to the British Museum, where they are still exhibited, being one of the most significant collections of the museum.
Throughout the years the Acropolis has been viewed as a masterpiece of Greek architecture. Even though the Acropolis is not in its pristine condition, it still is bueatiful in its white marble glory, raising three hundred feet above the city of Athens. The Acropolis’ glory is all due to the impeccable designing created by the greek architrects of that time. They planned the Acropolis out with great detail, portaited in the artwork. It was successful. They were able to create the wonder of the Greek world, the Athenian Acropolis. Their timeless effort is appreciated by architects and enthuasists throughtout the world. Even today, architects use the basic elements of the Acropolis to complete their own works. Whether they use the ionic style columns or the carved friezes, they tie their building to the basic construction of the greek Atheian Acropolis.
The Propylaia, http://www.divnet.org/propylaia.html
“Acropolis,” Microsoft? Encarta? Online Encyclopedia 2000, http://encarta.msn.com ? 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Understanding Architecture, Leland M. Roth, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, ? 1993.