In the Greek language “acropolis” means “highest point”. The Acropolis of Athens is located on a hilltop of a rocky outcrop and since archaic times it was an important part of the city fortification system and was a place of worship. Earlier buildings were destroyed during the Persian wars and the ones we can see now, we owe to Pericles. He initiated building a complex of sanctuaries that these days are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Acropolis of Athens: How to Start Your Visit
The Acropolis is not only the famous Parthenon, just to clear things up. You should reserve two or three hours for a visit or if you do not want to venture yourself, then get a guided tour. It will be a perfect time to explore this site without rushing through anything and getting a chance to walk around the entire complex.
Entrance tickets for the Acropolis and its North and South Slopes cost €20 (reduced to €10 for students with valid ID). You can buy it on site in the ticket office near the entrance gate. If you are planning to get most out of Athens I strongly suggest to buy a package that includes the Acropolis and the Slopes plus 8 other sites in Athens for €30 (reduced €15 for students with valid ID) and is valid for 5 days. It is just a better deal and how we visited Athens. Keep in mind that reduced fare is only valid in a winter season from November 1st till March 31st. More information about entrance you can find here.
The visiting hours of 8am-5pm in the winter months are until March 31st. Starting from April 1st hours change to 8am-7pm.
Order of How to Visit the Acropolis
Odeon of Herodes Attica is actually first, may as well be the last place to visit. For us was both😊 Herodes Attica conducted building this theatre structure in a memory of his wife in 161 AD. This stone theatre was designed as a venue for music concerts with a capacity of 5000 people. In 267 AD it was destroyed and renovated in the 1950s. Till these days it is used as a main venue during Athens Festival, which runs yearly from May through October.
Beulé Gate is a massive 8-meter tall gate which is also the first entrance to the Acropolis and it is located just in front of Propylaea. The name is given after Ernest Beulé, French archeologist that discovered this gate in 1852.
Propylaea is nothing else but an entrance. Massive and breathtaking building that leads you to the complex of sanctuaries placed on Acropolis. It mesmerizes you with its size and gives you a glimpse of what to expect to see after crossing the passage.
The monument of Marcus Agrippa is the only pedestal left on the west wall of Propylaea. It used to support a bronze statue of Agrippa who was a son-in-law and general of Roman Emperor Octavian Augustus.
Temple of Athena Nike is the best-preserved sanctuary located on the Acropolis. It is dedicated to Athena Nike, which in Greek means “victory”. It was built in the 5th century BC after finishing the Parthenon and Propylaea. The temple is located on the right of the entrance, in a south west corner of the Acropolis.
With the first sight of the Parthenon you will be amazed and mesmerized. This majestic structure was dedicated to Athena Partenos (Athena the Virgin), goddess of wisdom and military victory, as well as the patron of Athens. It is located on the highest point of the plateau and despite its size, the Parthenon gives off the feeling of order and harmony. The temple is built from 136 fluted Doric columns placed in exact rows. The Parthenon interior is excluded to visitors as it is an active archeological site, but the exterior views do not disappoint one bit. Detailing that is placed on the Parthenon’s walls is exquisite. Pediments on the west end show the Birth of Athena from the head of Zeus. Pediments on the east side illustrate the conflict between Athena and Poseidon for the land of Attica. Although the Parthenon is under restoration work so the view is limited.
The Erechteion is complex of few ancient sanctuaries dedicated to Athena and Poseidon. From the eastern part we see the Old Temple of Athena Polias. From the western part – the Tomb of King Erechtheus. One of the most famous features is Porch of Caryatids and under it was located the Tomb of Kekrops. The Erechteion is built entirely on the slope and thanks to that it became the greatest achievement of Ionic architecture. Legend about creating this sanctuary says that it was because the argument between Athena and Poseidon about Attica. People were meant to decide who will become their patron. Gods gave gifts to people, Poseidon created a spring with salt water and Athena gave them an olive. People decided that goddess gift was better and to honor this event the Erechteion was built.
The Porch of Caryatids instead of having columns has six women shaped figures carrying the weight of the structure on theirs head. I found two explanations concerning its name. First one stated that caryatid means girl from Greek village Karyai, that was sold to slavery and forced into hard work. Second, more pleasant, says that during the festival for the goddess Artemis, girls were supposed to perform a warfare dance called Caryatis, which was extremely difficult. Any of them who succeeded were honored with name Caryatid.
The North Slope of the Acropolis
The North Slope of the Acropolis unlike the South Slope is much simpler in its nature. They both were places of worship, but the South was more expanded. On the north side sanctuaries were located in caves, pathways or steep slope of the Sacred Hill.
Peripatos, the ancient road, will lead you to the Klepsydra – the Acropolis most important spring which was located on the intersection of Peripatos and Panathenaic Way. The Monument of Klepsydra contains two buildings: a fountain and paved court.
Panathenaic Way gained its name from the processions that took place every year on Athena’s birthday and on the anniversary of the war between gods and giants.
Above Klepsydra are located caves that were sanctuaries of Apollo Hypoakraios, Zeus Olympios and Pan and his Nimphs.
Next one is Aglaureion dedicated to Aglauros, daughter of Kekrops – a mythical king of Athens.
Sanctuary of Aphrodite and Eros is the last one on the north side and is connected with the worship of the goddess of beauty and her winged son.
The South Slope of the Acropolis
The South Slope of the Acropolis was chosen by ancient Greeks as a place to build their more important temples, theatres or arcades.
Therefor between the Acropolis and Peripatos, Asklepieion, The Temple of Asklepios and his daughter Hygieia, personification of “Health” were located.
The Sanctuary of Dionysos Eleuthereus – god of fertility and wine (my personal favorite), Odeon (building meant for art performances) of Perikles or Stoa of Eumenes are just few examples that are to be found on the south side.
One of most important to me was Theatre of Dionysos Eleuthereus. Everyone has a dream and mine was to be able to sit on this site and feel the magic of it.
I would recommend starting at the hilltop of the Acropolis then taking the North Slope making your way through to the South Slope. We found out that was the correct way after doing the exact opposite route 😊