Petit Futé's opinion on ACROPOLE
The Acropolis is a naturally fortified site on three of its slopes, forcing the visitor to access it from the west. This privileged position encouraged man to settle there as early as the Neolithic period: traces of dwellings have been found on the north-western slope. The city developed significantly up to the Mycenaean period, and at the beginning of the 13th century B.C. the top of the hill was developed to build the king's palace. It was at this time that the Acropolis built its first ramparts, which completely surrounded the rock and were reinforced by a bastion, of which some remains remain under the small temple of Athena Nikè. Similarly, a secret underground cistern was built to provide the city with water in the event of a siege. The Mycenaean remains that have been found on the Acropolis are rare because of the large number of buildings that were built there afterwards.
Crossing the entrance to the site of the Theatre of Dionysus, you enter the cradle of the ancient theatre on the south-eastern slope of the Acropolis of Athens. It obviously owes its name to Dionysus, god of wine. The great festivals of the Dionysies were held there every year in his honour (ritual songs, dances, ritual sacrifices and other theatrical performances). The greatest tragedians and comedians began there. At the origin of the dramatic art, festivals were organized in the theatre in honour of the god Dionysus (god of wine and drunkenness) and gave rise to mimed, sung and spoken scenes. The first theatre built on the site had to be crude and simply leaned on a few earthen embankments. It was not until the5thcentury BC that the theatre took on the appearance it retains today. Authors such as Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes walked the "boards" of this theatre. Completed around 330, it later hosted the games of the Romans, which significantly modified the monument: it is from this period that the bas-reliefs that decorate the back of the stage, representing the birth of Dionysus, date back. The theater hosted gladiators and even water games, with a stage transformed into a pool for the occasion. It could accommodate from 14,000 to 17,000 spectators, the seats with backrests in the first row were reserved by right for the notables and patrons of the theatre. The most important place, the middle seat in the front row, was reserved for the priest of Dionysus.
Odeon of Herod Atticus.Going up from the theatre to the entrance to the Acropolis site, you will find yourself at the top of the Odeon of Herod Atticus. This monument, probably completed around AD 161, has all the characteristics of a Roman odeon, with the columns at the back of the stage framing niches housing statues. Its exceptional state of conservation makes it one of the most interesting monuments on the site, and cultural events still take place within its walls. Herod Atticus, a native of Marathon and heir to a large fortune, spent a great deal of money to build several public buildings throughout Greece. This one was intended for music and drama competitions. It could accommodate 5,000 people, its walls were covered with marble slabs as was the floor, which also included mosaics. The roof was probably made of cedar wood.
The temple of Athena Nikéis on your right as you go up the steps of the grand staircase. It was built under Pericles on the ruins of the Mycenaean bastion. The work was begun in 437 BC, but interrupted by the Peloponnesian War and completed in 427-424 BC. The temple consists of a secos (residence of the god) and two Ionic colonnades on the east and west façades. The Ionic friezes on the west side represented the assembly of the twelve gods. The one in the east, with the Athenians fighting the Persians and the Greeks, is in the British Museum.
The Propylæa.This colonnade was built between 437 and 432 BC under Pericles to signify that the Acropolis belonged to the people of Athens. The building is revolutionary for its time: it is the first propylaea to have a façade in the form of a temple. The central part of the Propylæa consists of two porticoes with six columns, one opening onto the inside of the sanctuary and the other onto the outside. The spaces between the columns were used as a place of access for the faithful, while the central passage allowed the passage of animals during the sacrifices.
The Parthenoncontains some architectural originalities used by the builders to give it the grandiose appearance it has today. The horizontal surfaces of the temple are not flat but convex, the columns taper upwards and the corner columns have a slightly larger diameter than the others. All this to correct the natural deformations of the human eye and thus give the building all its majesty! The exterior Doric frieze consisted of no less than 92 metopes, all carved. To the east was represented a gigantomachy, that is to say a fight between the gods of Olympus and the giants. In the west, there was an amazonomachy, that is to say a fight between the Greeks and the Amazons. In the south were represented fights against the centaurs and in the north scenes of the Trojan War. Some metopes are still in place, others are on display in the Louvre, the British Museum or the Acropolis Museum. The Parthenon was also decorated with two pediments (east and west) which represented, in the west, the dispute between Poseidon and Athena for possession of Attica and, in the east, the birth of Athena. But the most famous carved piece of the Parthenon is certainly the interior frieze, the work of Phidias. It was 160 m long and represented the most famous religious manifestation of Greece at that time: the great Panathenaeans. These celebrations, which lasted a week, included musical and athletic competitions, their highlight being of course the great procession that followed the Sacred Way from the Ceramics to the great wooden statue of Athena Polias of the Erechtheion in order to present her with a new Peplos (tunic). The handing over of the Peplos was followed by the sacrifice of about a hundred animals and a feast in which all the citizens took part. The frieze of Phidias represents 360 characters and a crowd of animals all heading eastward where the ceremony took place.
With the exception of a few plaques, most of the frieze is scattered between the British Museum, the Louvre and the Acropolis Museum.
The Erechtheion, a mythical temple on the famous Acropolis of Athens, is one of the holiest on the hill and in the whole city. To the north of the Acropolis, a jewel and masterpiece of Ionic art, the very elegant Erechtheion was erected in the5th century B.C. on the very spot where, according to legend, Athena and Poseidon fought for possession of Athens. Next to this temple would have grown Athena's sacred olive tree and the salt water well, a gift from Poseidon whose trident would have left a mark on the north wall of the building. The architect of the Erechtheion remained unknown, but he was able to exploit the irregularities of the ground to build a complex of several buildings on different levels. In this temple were worshipped several deities: Athena Polias, but also Poseidon and others still linked to the legendary history of Athens, such as Erechtheus to whom the temple owes its name. The temple is decorated with four porticoes on each of its sides: the one on the south-east side, certainly the most famous, is the Caryatid portico. The Doric columns are replaced there by female figures of perfect grace when one knows the weight that weighs on their heads. In fact, it is their thick hair and the numerous folds of their clothing that reinforce the structure and allow the whole to remain standing. The ones you see in place on the monument are only casts: of the six korês, five are visible in the Acropolis Museum, the sixth being in the British Museum.
Information on ACROPOLE
Every day from 8am to 8pm in summer and 3pm in winter. Ticket: 20 € (or 30 € with other sites, valid for 5 days)
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