Monday, November 19, 2012

The Acropolis

The most famous landmark in Athens, if not in all of Greece, is the Acropolis.  It is a flat-topped rock 150 meters (490 feet) above sea level.  The surface area is about 3 hectares (~7.5 acres).  In 1987, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

On top of the Acropolis are the Propylaea, the Erechtheum and the Parthenon.

The Propylaea is the giant gateway that marks the entrance to the Acropolis.  It is made out of white marble with accents of grey marble and limestone.  Construction began in 437 BC.  Although not completely finished, construction stopped in 432 BC.

The Erechtheion is an ancient temple on the north side of the Acropolis.  It was built form 421 to 406 BC.  It is made entirely of marble.  The temple was built on a slope so the south and east sides are about 3 meters (9 feet) higher then the north and west sides.  The temple underwent restoration from 1977 to 1988.  The coolest feature about the Erechtheion are the caryatids - columns in the form of women.  However, these are only exact replicas.  One of the originals is in the British Museum and the remaining ones are on display at the new Acropolis museum.

The Parthenon is one of the most famous buildings in the world.  It was built as a temple for Athena, the goddess of wisdom, courage, strategy, civilization, law and justice.  Construction began in 447 BC and it was completed in 432 BC.  It's incredible that it only took 15 years to build.

In the mid-3rd century AD, there was a major fire which destroyed the roof and most of the interior sanctuary.  In the 4th century a wooden roof with clay tiles was installed but left the building's sides exposed.  In the 5th century the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church.

After Athens fell to the Ottoman Empire, it was converted into a mosque in the 1460s.  In 1687, the Turks used the building as a munitions dump and during a battle with the Venetians, the Parthenon was bombed.  The explosion caused most of the damage that can still be seen today.  

Thomas Bruce was the Earl of Elgin and the British ambassador to Constantinople (Istanbul).  In 1806, he removed many of the surviving sculptures from the Parthenon and Erechtheum.  There is doubt as to exactly how much permission he actually had from the Ottoman Sultan to do so.  In 1816, he sold the pieces to the British Museum in London, England, where they are still on display.

Some critics feel that this was basically looting and want the pieces returned to Greece.  Others feel that the pieces were saved from the inevitable pollution damage that would have occurred had they remained in Athens over the past few hundred years.  The new Acropolis museum was built specifically to counter this argument.

Over 50% of the original sculptures are currently in the museum.  There are a few pieces in the Louvre and in Copenhagen but almost half of the original art is in British Museum.  Since 1983, the Greek government has campaigned for the pieces to be returned to Athens.  However, the British Museum refuses.  The British government has been unwilling to enact legislation that would force the museum to return the artifacts to Greece.  It's all rather highly controversial.

Here's a Rick Steves video I found on YouTube that talks about the Acropolis and everything on top of it.

©Rick Steves

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