The early Greeks built their cities around hills that could be easily defended. Later, they served as fortresses and places of worship. The word acropolis derives from the Greek words meaning upper city. The most famous Acropolis of Athens rises about 200feet/156m above the rest of city.
The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient citadel with some remains of ancient structures of great architectural and historic significance. Although the hill is believed to have been inhabited back in the 4th millennium BC, it was in the 5th century BC under the political leader Pericles that the most important buildings were constructed. These include the Parthenon, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike.
The Parthenon, an excellent example of the Doric order of architecture, was built in honor of Athena Parthenos, the patron goddess of Athens. The construction begun in 447BC and was completed in 438 BC. Callicrates and Ictinus designed it and the famous Greek sculptor, Phidias, decorated it. White Pentelic marble was used for its construction. The inner space, the cella, had two rooms, a great gold and ivory statue of Athena, created by Phidias, stood in the east room while the west room served as a treasury. The frieze around the outer wall of the cella depicted the Athenian procession honoring goddess Athena. Athenian officials walked, old men leaning on staves, priest carrying animals for sacrifice, young men on horses, maidens carried the newly woven garment, peplos, for Athena, while gods watched.
Later in history the temple became a church, a mosque and finally served as storage for Turkish gunpowder and was bombarded by the Venetians in 1687 and destroyed. Later in the 19th century, authorized by the Sultan, Lord Elgin, ambassador of the King of England, transferred more than half of the sculptures to London, now being displayed in the British Museum. Their return to Athens is a cultural issue still remaining unsolved.
The Erechtheion, completed in 406BC stands on the site where Athena and Poseidon competed over who would be the Patron of the city. Athena touched the ground with her spear and an olive tree appeared. Being declared the winner the city of Athens was given her name. The building is known for its beautiful doorway and for the statues of maidens, caryatids that support the roof of its porch. Now, they are copies, as four are in the Acropolis Museum and the fifth taken by Lord Elgin is displayed in the British Museum.
The Temple of Athena Nike, completed in 424 BC, a graceful little Ionic temple on the bastion before the Propylea. Its frieze shows the Battle of Plataea, at which the Greeks defeated the Persians in 479BC.
The building, however, mostly admired by the Greeks was the huge gateway at the western end, where the only entrance was possible- the great Propylaea, built in 432BC, just before the Peloponnesian wars.
In March 2006, UNESCO designated the Acropolis of Athens as a World Heritage Site.