Acropolis of Athens
The importance of Acropolis and its high worldwide symbolism is undisputable. It is maybe the most recognizable landmark globally and UNESCO has chosen it as its hallmark. Therefore, there is nothing that has not been written or narrated about Acropolis.
The information available is overwhelming, so I am sure I could not add anything more. Therefore, the main purpose of this article, besides giving some practical information, is to present the plethora of pictures I took recently on and around the "sacred rock".
The archeological site of Acropolis is vast area, which includes not only the 156m-high rock, but also the surrounding area. It has several entrances, but only two of them are functional throughout the year. Of these two, the first (the main entrance) is located at the western part and the second at the southeastern part of the hill, opposite the New Acropolis Museum (on the pedestrian Dyonisiou Areopagitou Ave). The entrance fee is 20€, so, I always check my calendar for the free entrance days throughout the year (some holidays and feasts) to go there.
The best way (or at least what I recommend) to explore the archeological site is to enter from the the southeastern entrance.
First, wander around the south slope, which hosts the most important sites outside the Acropolis fortification itself (aka "Ιερός βράχος" or "Sacred Rock"), and then head for a walk around the north hill slope. This walk brings you to the main entrance to the Acropolis sacred rock. The rest of your visit you can spend on the rock admiring not only the antiquities, but also the panoramic views of Athens.
The South Slope (Νότια Κλιτύς), the sunniest side of the Acropolis Hill played a significant role in the artistic, intellectual and religious activity of ancient Athens. It was here the Athenians built the theatre where the ancient Greek drama was born: the Theater of Dionysus (Θέατρο Διονύσου). Visitors can enter into the theater and sit at the cavea. Some centuries later, the Romans built Odeon of Herodes Atticus (Θέατρο Ηρώδη Αττικού, aka Ηρώδειο), which still lies at the heart of the city's cultural life. The Odeon can not be visited as part of the archeological site, but only during one of the shows held here during summer months. In any case one can see the full splendor of the Odeon from the above. The two theaters monopolize the interest of most visitors, but these are not the only buildings here. The Stoa of Eumenes II, king of Pergamon, was an imposing building running along the foot of the hill, the ruins of which can still be seen. Its counterpart is to be found in the stoa his brother Attalus erected in the ancient agora of Athens. Other buildings of interest in the south slope are the: Byzantine cistern (Βυζαντινό Υδραγωγείο), the Temple of Asclepios (Ναός του Ασκληπιού) and the Temple of Themis. The Choragic Monument of Thrasyllos (Χορηγικο Μνημείο Θρασύλλου, aka Παναγία η Σπηλιώτισσα, build at a high altitude just under the walls, has just been restored and looks impressive from the outside. Unfortunately, it is not open to the public, and the people I asked there did not have any idea if it will open to the public at some point.
The North slope of the Acropolis (Βόρεια Κλιτύς) was home to several sanctuaries, which played a vital role in the religious lives of the ancient Athenians, but much simpler in nature. These are places where divinities of nature, fertility, and healing were worshiped on a less monumental and more personal level. Because of the simplicity of these sanctuaries, some consider that the north slope is of no importance to the tourist! I totally disagree, but, even in this case, it is worth following the well-designed path, from which one has interesting views over Anafiotika and the rooftops of Plaka.
The most curious tourist, though, will discover many shrines nestled among the steep cliffs, caves, and pathways. The first sanctuary the visitor sees, just after leaving the south slope, is the Sanctuary of Aglauros, inside the largest cave in the city. According to the Herodotos, it was from here that the Persians invaded the Acropolis in 480 BC. Aglauros was the daughter of the mythical king Kekrops, and it was she who jumped from the Acropolis in order to save Athens from a extended siege, as the oracle of Delphi dictated. There is no access to the interior of the cave.
Further to the north, Eros and Aphrodite had an open-air sanctuary. Evidence for other shrines is provided by numerous rock-cut niches for the dedication and display of offerings to deities.
Below the Erechtheion lies the cave of the Mycenaean Fountain, which took its name from the fountain built by the Mycenaeans when they built the first fortification of the Acropolis. Most probably, here was the sanctuary of the goddess Ersis, daughter of the King Kekrops and sister of Aglauros. It was located within a natural crack and was only accessible through an invisible staircase.
At the northwest corner there are three caves, where Apollo, Pan and Zeus were worshiped respectivelly. Beneath the three caves, we see the slab-paved court of Klepsydra Spring, the most important of all the springs of Acropolis. The entrance to the spring is located on the sacred rock, behind the pedestal of Agrippas. From there a long stairway leads to the spring and the underground chapel of Agioi Apostoloi.
All these sacred spots were connected by an ancient path, called the Peripatos, that circled the Acropolis.
Here in the lush vegetation of the north slope, the visitor can also see the ruins of the church of Saint Nikolaos. The church, which was probably built in the first period of Turkish domination (1458-1687), was of the cross-in-square type with a dome supported on four monolithic columns with bases and capitals of the Ionic order in second use, while the floor was paved with stone slabs. Only part of its walls survive today and the recently restored marble entrance.
The sacred rock is a citadel, whose walls we see today were erected after the Persian Wars in the first half of the 5th century BC, under Themistokles (north wall) and Kimon (south wall). Alterations were made under Perikles and again in later times, when the Acropolis became the stronghold of the city. The sacred rock is approached from the West through the Beule gate.
The visitor then approaches the Propylaia (Προπύλαία), the monumental entrance to the fortified sanctuary, built in Classical times by architect Mnesikles. The very well-preserved Temple of Athena Nike (Ναός Αθηνάς Νίκης), built in 420 BC by Kallikrates, dominates the bastion to the south of the Propylaia. Opposite the north wing of the Propylaia stands the tall rectangular pedestal of Agrippas, which once supported an offering by the city of Athens to Marcus Agrippas, son-in-law of Augustus.
Through the Propylaia one enters the sanctuary itself proper with its great masterpieces of ancient Greek architecture built primarily in the fifth century under Perikles. The most important of them all is the Parthenon (Παρθενώνας), a temple dedicated to Athena Parthenos, which replacing two earlier temples dedicated to the same goddess.
On the north side of the hill is the Erechtheion (Ερέχθειο), the Ionic temple of Athena and Poseidon-Erechtheus with its famous porch of the Karyatides. This is the place where the olive tree offered Athens to the people of Athens used to be. Today, an olive tree is growing by the west wall of the temple, but do not believe that this is the original one (). From the tallest bastion, located on the east side of the rock, stands the pole with the Greek flag. From here you have the best views of the Athens basin. On a clear day you can see for ever!