Athens is one of le sette più sette (7×7), i.e. towns built on 7 hills. The capital of Hellas is definitely, one of the most notable ancient cities built on 7 hills whose citizens are the pioneers of arts, philosophy and theatre. As a matter of fact, even today’s capital of Greece is situated on and around hills (as far as I know, nowadays they are more than seven, i.e. 15 -twelve inside the town and 3 surrounding ones) but in ancient times we know the following 7 seven historical hills it covered: Acropolis, Areopagus, the Hill of Philopappus, the Observatory Hill (Muses Hill), Pnyx, Lykavittos (Lycabettus) and Tourkovounia (Anchesmus). After this brief “ancient” and “7-hill” description of Athens, we shall start our walk in the city and of course, our starting point will be the must of all must visits here, namely …
A C R O P O L I S
The Acropolis (from “akros”/”the highest” and “polis”/city) is well visible form almost everywhere in Athens, especially at night when it is naturally and artificially illuminated. It was initially inhabited in the Neolithic times, i.e. around 4000-3000 BC. The first temples dedicated to Gods and Goddesses were built during the Mycenaean period of time and everything started with one contest between Goddess Athena (the Goddess of fertility and nature) and Poseidon (the God of the sea and of earthquakes) both of them wanting to become a patron of the town. And what happened exactly?
The contest was held on the Acropolis where both of the Gods had to present their gifts. Poseidon lifted his three pointed spear, called a trident, and struck the rock. Immediately a spring of salty water burst out from that exact place and with the blow the first horse jumped out from there. The inhabitants liked the gift but not that much as the spring water was too salty. Then Athena’s turn came. She knelt and buried something in the ground which grew into a beautiful olive tree. People immediately liked her present because it was more useful than that of Poseidon. And since then Athena Polias has been the protector and patron of the city and an olive has been one of the greatest national symbols of Hellas (Greece).
Apart from this contest several mythical kings are thought to have ruled Athens – Cecrops, Pandion, Erechtheus, Aegeus and Theseus, the latter being considered the founder of the city. All of them lived at the place where Erechteion was built and constructed later. At that period of time Attica comprised twelve smaller towns and namely Theseus managed to unify them under Athens and to relieve the town from the death toll which locals paid to King Minos of Crete.
I will open a bracket here to briefly explain to you what this death toll was. Sooo … Many, many thousand years ago Androgeo (son of King Minos) was killed by the Athenians. The King wanted revenge and declared war on Athens. And guess who won it … Definitely … Unfortunately, King Minos didn’t stop himself after having won the war but he forced Athens to sacrifice 7 Athenian maidens and 7 Athenian lads every nine years. They were to be sent to the mythical Minotaur of Crete that swallowed them up. That strange creature was half-man, half-bull and lived in a Labyrinth. Thiseas, the son of Aigeas was determined to set sail to Crete and slaughter that mythical creature. Before his departure the father asked his son upon return to hoist black sails as a sign of mourning, and white sails if he had managed to kill the Minotaur. The young man promised and sailed off to Crete as one of the 7 sacrificed lads. And thus the beautiful myth about Ariadne continues in the sweet hug of the Aegean Sea. Bracket closed.
After having passed fast through the ancient Greek mythology we should get to know what the Acropolis was used for. After the Battle of Salamis of 400BC, most of the buildings and palaces of the mythical kings of Athens were demolished by the Persians. And later this place was rebuilt but this time it was decided that the Acropolis would transform into the city of temples and culture.
Today’s visitors are lucky enough to have the chance to enter this amazing ancient highest town through the ruins of the Propylaia (or also written as Propylaea or Propylea). Principally, Propylaea’s an ancient Greek architectural and monumental gateway which is like a building (imagine a gateway-building, in fact) and for sure, the best known example of the Propylaia-style entrance is the imposing gateway of the Acropolis. Mnesicles built it in the west side of the hill between 437 and 432 BC.
Once entering the Acropolis from the gateway-building, we should go to the right, to the south-west edge where a tiny marble temple stands on a platform. This is the Temple of Athena Nike. Once it housed a wooden statue of the Athena Nike (“Nike” means “Victory”) as well as it had several exterior friezes illustrating Athenian battle triumphs of Nikai celebrating the victory and making sacrifices to their Goddess – Athena Victory. The temple was built by Kallicrates around 425 BC and it is the first temple fully designed with Ionic columns.
If we continue our stroll, we will inevitably stumble upon the Dorian temple – the Parthenon (by the way, Parthenos means a Virgin and Parthenon – “The house of the Virgin”), which is situated on the highest, the most prominent and the most sacred point of the Acropolis. Surely, you know it is dedicated to Athena Parthenos and it symbolizes the glory of Ancient Greece. It is thought to have been the largest Doric temple ever completed in Greece and the only one built entirely from Pentelic marble. The Parthenon was built under the supervision of Pheidias between 447 and 438 BC. He himself created the decorating mythological sculptures on most of the 92 metopes (relief panels). Nowadays most of the original metopes, pediments and friezes are stored in the British Museum and only few of them are on display in the new Acropolis museum which is situated at the foot of the hill. As to the purpose of the Parthenon, it was home to the giant Statue of Athena Promachos (the statue was a chryselephantine sculpture which means it was made of gold and ivory) and as a treasury of the Delian league
One of our last stops on the Acropolis will be at the Erechtheion. It was built just opposite of the Parthenon and it was a temple dedicated to one of the mythical kings of Athens – Erechthes. Its construction took about 15 years (between 421 and 406 BC). The most amazing part of the temple is its porch of the Caryatidis – six maidens who play the role of columns in the southern portico. The ones we see are, actually, plaster casts because the five originals are kept in the Acropolis Museum while the sixth one was taken away by Lord Elgin and now it’s housed in the British Museum.
These are only few ancient places that can be seen in the Acropolis. I can assure you that antiquity is all around in the region of Attica, the Greek capital having the most important role there. And which are the other major ancient Greek sites in Athens …?