The Acropolis

Athens

The Athens Acropolis has the city's most iconic building, the Parthenon, along with other historic buildings and is where the Elgin Marbles were removed from.

The Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Akro poli means 'upper city', and many Greek towns and cities have an acropolis. Athens has the most famous, topped as it is by the Parthenon. Whether you see it in daylight when approaching from the airport, at night from your hotel balcony, or up close when you visit, the Parthenon dominates the Athens skyline, a constant reminder of the Golden Age of ancient Greece.

The Parthenon at Night

Sometimes people get confused with the names. The Acropolis is the whole area of the upper city, and the rock on which all the buildings at the top stand. The Parthenon is the name of the main temple, the one that you can see from everywhere.

How to Get to the Acropolis

You can reach the entrance to the Acropolis by walking up one of the two approaches to the western end. The more atmospheric of the two is on the north side through the Plaka district where you will spot occasional hand-written signs directing you up through the steep and winding streets. Local shopkeepers are also used to being asked directions, as the route is not always obvious. The approach from the pedestrianised Dionysiou Areopagitou street to the south of the Acropolis is perfectly straightforward.

Direction sign to the Acropolis in Athens

Evidence of a settlement on the southern slopes of the Acropolis dates the first habitation in Athens to about 3000 BC. The buildings that remain date mainly from the 5th century BC, when ancient Athens reached its pinnacle during the period that is referred to as the Golden Age of Pericles.

The Golden Age of Pericles

Pericles hired the finest workers of the day, including the master sculptor Phidias. He was the main artistic director of the Parthenon, which was the first building to be raised on the site. The great architect Iktinos (or Ictinus) was probably responsible for its overall design and construction.

Artist Reproduction of what the Acropolis in Athens used to look like

It's now one of the well-known facts about the Parthenon that it has no straight lines in its construction, the apparent symmetry being created by gently tapering columns and steps. The building is designed using repeated ratios of 9:4, for such aspects as the gap between columns in relation to the width of a single column, or the width of the building in relation to its height.

The Goddess Athena

Originally, the focus of the building was a 40-foot-high (12 m) golden statue of the goddess Athena, after whom the city is named. A model of the Parthenon as it would have looked then, complete with golden statue, can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum.

The building took nine years to construct, was finished in 438 BC, and is made from marble quarried locally. To see how the marble was transported up to the top of the Acropolis, visit the Acropolis Museum. Flecks of iron in the chosen marble give the building its wonderfully warm golden glow in the evening light.

The Parthenon at night

Several other buildings on top of the Acropolis are worth a closer look. To the right, soon after you enter, is the small temple of Athena Nike, added in 427-424 BC to celebrate victories by the Athenians in their wars with the Persians. Athena Nike means Athene of Victory, and yes, that's where the name of the trainers comes from.

The Parthenon was dedicated to a different aspect of the goddess, Athena Promachos, Athena the Champion. In 1686 the temple was destroyed by the Turks who were then occupying Greece. It has been reconstructed twice since then, most recently in 1936-1940.

The Parthenon and Acropolis in Athens, Greece

The Turks wreaked havoc on the Acropolis, including building a mosque inside the Parthenon, which was left to fall into ruin before parts of it were sold off to Lord Elgin (see box below on the Elgin Marbles). The Turks also used the building as a weaponry store, which resulted in further damage when the arsenal exploded after being fired upon. This happened in 1687 and removed the roof of the Parthenon.

The Parthenon and Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Other Buildings

Over to your left as you approach the Parthenon from the entrance is the Erechtheion, added between 421 and 395 BC and partially reconstructed in 1827. It is said that the first olive tree in Athens sprouted on this spot when the goddess Athena touched the ground with her spear. An olive tree has been kept growing here since 1917 as a symbol of this legend.

This building includes the Porch of the Caryatids, where the supporting columns have been sculpted in the shapes of six maidens. Those you see today on the site are copies. Five of the originals are in the Acropolis Museum. The sixth was carried off by Lord Elgin. 

The Caryatids at the Acropolis in Athens, GreeceThe Porch of the Caryatids

The Elgin Marbles

In 1801 Thomas Bruce, the Earl of Elgin, was the British Ambassador to the Porte, which was the name of the Turkish government that was then in control in Athens. The Turks were using antiquities from the crumbling Acropolis as building materials. Lord Elgin was allowed to save some stones and sculptures, which he ended up selling to the British government, who handed them to the British Museum in 1816. The most famous of these, the friezes from the Parthenon, became known as the Elgin Marbles, although the Greeks refer to them more appropriately as the Parthenon Marbles.

The Elgin MarblesThe Parthenon Friezes in London's British Museum

The Greeks have wanted the friezes back virtually ever since they gained their independence in 1832. Pressure was increased in the 1980s by the Greek Minister of Culture, Melina Mercouri, and the campaign continues. When the new Acropolis Museum opened in 2009, it had a special viewing area giving terrific views of the Acropolis and the Parthenon, and showing how wonderful the building would look if the friezes were returned. The British Museum had always argued that the friezes could not be returned because there was no suitable place in Athens where they could be safely displayed. That argument is no longer valid, but the friezes remain in London.

The Parthenon at night

Where to Stay in Athens

Don't miss this visual tour of Athens with photos by Donna Dailey of Greece Travel Secrets.

You might like these other Athens pages...

  • Athens Culinary Tours

    Athens culinary tours are among the food walking tours offered by an unusual company, Culinary Backstreets.

  • Piraeus

    Piraeus is the port of Athens from where many ferries to the Greek islands depart, and it also has an Archaeological Museum and the Hellenic Maritime Museum.

  • Artistic Athens

    This extract of Artistic Athens in the Lonely Planet book Culture Trails takes visitors on a journey through the artistic side of Athens..

  • Athens International Airport

    Athens International Airport is east of Athens city centre with its own Metro train station, buses to Athens and Piraeus, taxis and car rental offices.

  • The Best Things to Do in Athens

    The best things to do in Athens, Greece, include top archaeological sites like the Acropolis and must-see attractions such as the National Archaeological Museum

  • Ten Fun Things to Do in Athens

    Ten Fun Things to Do in Athens include eating in the Central Market, watching the sun set over the Acropolis and seeing one of the world's oldest theatres.

  • Monastiraki Flea Market

    Greece Travel Secrets visits the Monastiraki Flea Market, followed by Sunday lunch at Sigalas on Monastiraki Square

  • Monastiraki and Around

    Around Monastiraki is the flea market, Athens cathedral, Kerameikos Cemetery, the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art and the Psirri and Gazi nightlife districts.

  • Where to Eat in Athens and Piraeus

    If you're wondering where to eat in Athens and Piraeus we have a few suggestions including some favorites around the Acropolis, Omonia Square, and Syntagma.

  • Cape Sounion and the East Coast

    The beach resorts of Athens are easily reached from the city and also close are Cape Sounion with the Temple of Poseidon, ancient Marathon and Rafina's port.

  • Marathon

    The ancient site of Marathon and the site of the Battle of Marathon are in Attica and naturally about 26 miles or 42 kilometres from the centre of Athens.

  • A Drive around Attica

    This drive around Attica offers visitors high hills, beach resorts, small villages and classical sites like Marathon and the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion.

  • Athens Walking Tours and Other Experiences

    Athens walking tours and other experiences like cookery lessons, ceramics workshops, dining with a family, and street art are available from Alternative Athens

  • Athens in the Rain

    Athens in the rain isn’t something you’re likely to experience but here are suggestions for things to do in the rain in Athens including museums and shopping

  • Athens Food Tours

    Athens Food Tours are being introduced by new company The Greek Fork, and will include tours of the Central Market, and the best street food.

  • Athens Events and Public Holidays

    If visiting Athens it helps to know when major events and public holidays take place, as some shops and attractions may be closed, but to be there at times like Easter can make for a magical trip.

  • Athens Eaters Guide

    Athens, an Eater's Guide to the City, is published by Culinary Backstreets, who do walking food tours in Athens and the book recommends the best places to eat.

  • Athens Dining Guide

    This Athens dining guide doesn't list restaurants but gives practical advice on types of eating places, tipping, hotel breakfasts and picnics.

  • Athens Car Rental

    Athens car rental options include almost all of the major international car hire firms such as Avis, Budget, Hertz, and Europcar.

  • Athens Airport Car Rental

    Athens Airport car rentals include Alamo/National Car Rental, Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt, all with offices at the airport.

  • Athens: Travel Information and Advice about Athens, Greece

    Athens is a top vacation destination. The Greece Travel Secrets Athensguide has information on hotels, museums, Athens airport and all the best things to do.

  • Pictures of Athens

    Pictures of Athens from the Greece Travel Secrets website

  • National Archaeological Museum

    The National Archaeological Museum is one of the best things to see in Athens, and the best museum in the world for seeing Greece's archaeological treasures.

  • My Athens: a Portrait by Travel Writer Mike Gerrard

    In My Athens on Greece Travel Secrets award-winning travel writer Mike Gerrard describes what he loves about Athens including the Acropolis, the National Archaeological Museum and eating!

  • Greek Architecture

    This beginner's guide to Greek architecture explains how to tell your Ionic from your Doric columns, and what to look for in temples and Byzantine churches.

Latest Posts

  1. Covid-19: PM Mitsotakis Appeals to Greeks to Follow Rules to Help Avoid Lockdown

    Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called on the Greeks to be vigilant and respect the current health and safety measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19), as confirmed cases cont…

    Read More

  2. Athens to Celebrate European Day of Languages 2020 with Digital Treasure Hunt

    The Municipality of Athens on Saturday, September 26, will join the celebrations for the European Day of Languages ​​2020 with an online treasure hunt. Organized in collaboration with the EU National…

    Read More

  3. Greece Revises Law on Vouchers for Canceled Travel Due to Covid-19

    The Greek government has revised regulations to the law on refund claims regarding bookings of airlines, ferries, yachts, hotels and travel packages that were canceled due to the coronavirus (Covid-19…

    Read More

  4. Czech Republic Passengers Need Negative Covid-19 Test to Enter Greece

    All travelers entering Greece from the Czech Republic from Monday, September 28, will be obliged to present a negative molecular test result (PCR) for coronavirus (Covid-19) upon arrival to the countr…

    Read More

  5. Greece to Launch Online Map with Latest Covid-19 Restrictions Per Area

    Greek Civil Protection Deputy Minister Nikos Hardalias on Tuesday announced that the government is preparing to introduce a platform to provide citizens with the latest coronavirus (Covid-19) restrict…

    Read More

  6. Ministry’s Tourist Guide Schools Attract 2,880 Applications

    Greece’s five tourist guide schools this year have accepted a total of 2,880 applications, which shows the increasing demand for tourism education in the country, the Greek Tourism Ministry said in an…

    Read More

  7. Covid-19 Hits Greek Accommodation & Food Services in Q2

    Greece’s accommodation and food services activities in July suffered the biggest blow to turnover, down by 71.4 percent as a result of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, according to the latest data…

    Read More

  8. 24-hour Ferry Strike at Piraeus Port on Thursday

    Five seamen’s unions have announced a 24-hour strike on Thursday, September 24, at the Piraeus Port, which is expected to cause disruption to ferry transport in Greece.

    Read More

  9. Cruise Companies Submit Plan for Healthy Sailing in Covid-19 Era

    In efforts to ensure safe journeys at sea in the Covid-19 era, cruise companies have tabled a comprehensive plan that includes heightened health protocols aimed at safeguarding crew, passengers, and c…

    Read More

  10. Greece Suspends Outdoor Theatrical Performances Due to Covid-19

    Greek Civil Protection Deputy Minister Nikos Hardalias on Tuesday said that all outdoor theatrical performances in Greece will be suspended as of Thursday, September 24. The measure has been added to…

    Read More