20 interesting facts about the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

As the most popular sight in all of Greece, the Acropolis of Athens attracts more than a million visitors each year. It is one of the best examples of architecture of the Classical Period of Ancient Greece and an absolute must-visit on any Athens itinerary. Its location on top of a rock towering above Athens means it is visible from many different places in the city and also allows for vast views of the city. To find out more, read these facts about the Acropolis in Athens.

A view over Athens shows lots of white buildings, densely packed, on mostly flat ground, with the sea in the background (dim because of the haze). In the middle, a large hill, green around its edges but cliffs within that, and the acropolis and other ruins visible perched on the cliffs.
The Acropolis in Athens, as seen from Mount Lycabettus at sunset.

Note: This article is a guest post by Nina Ahmedow.

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Historical Facts About the Acropolis in Athens

1. Acropolis means high city.

The word “Acropolis” comes from two Ancient Greek words, ἄκρον (akron, highest point/extremity) and πόλις (polis, city). It basically describes the highest point of a settlement.

2. There are many acropolises.

As it was the term used for fortified settlements on top of a hill, there is more than one acropolis in Greece. Another famous and well-preserved example not far from Athens is Acrocorinth located in Ancient Corinth which can be visited on a day trip.

The village of white houses clusters around the base of a hill, which is dark on the sides with pine trees. On top os flat, with stone walls and a few columns visible. Beyond the hill is the blue sea.
Another example: The Acropolis of Lindos on the island of Rhodes.

3. The Acropolis in Athens was inhabited at a very early period.

Pottery pieces that were found at the Acropolis indicate that the hill was inhabited all the way back to 4000 BC. The Mycenaeans later fortified it and ruled their kingdom from there.

4. Its initial purpose was for military defense.

Due to its high location, the Acropolis was the perfect place from which to defend the settlement. The first structures built on the hill were walls that made the Acropolis a citadel. These date to the 13th century BC when the Mycenaeans used the Acropolis to rule their kingdom.

5. The Persians destroyed the Acropolis.

When Xerxes and his army entered the region, the Athenians were sure they wouldn’t be able to hold the Acropolis so they left for the island of Salamina. Xerxes destroyed the entire city and the Acropolis.

6. The buildings on top of the Acropolis were built under Pericles.

The impressive buildings we visit at the Acropolis centuries later were commissioned by Pericles and constructed or rebuilt between 447 BC and 406 BC. These include the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaea (unfinished), and the Temple of Athena Nike.

Seen from the corner of the building, the side on the right is a row of columns, holding up a cross piece. The side looknig straight ahead is a wall made of rectangular stones, with a small entrance porch sticking out at the far end: it has statues holding up a small flat roof, not as tall as the wall.
The Erechtheion at the Acropolis. Photo by Nina Ahmedow.

7. The Acropolis was an important place of worship.

Before Pericles had the current buildings constructed there was already a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. Later, the Temple of Athena Nike was built to worship Athena and Nike. The Parthenon itself is also dedicated to the goddess Athena. But religious rituals took place in the Erechtheion as well, which was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon.

8. The Acropolis was home to a huge statue.

The temples dedicated to the goddess Athena were not the only way the ancient Athenians showed their appreciation for their patron goddess. There was once an enormous statue of Athena on top of the Acropolis called Athena Promachos. It was made of bronze by Greek sculptor Phidias. He also built two other large statues of the goddess on the Acropolis. Sadly, none of them survive to this day.

9. The Parthenon wasn’t always white.

Although for the longest time people assumed the Parthenon was entirely white, later scientists learned that the roof was painted in various colors which have vanished over the centuries.

A front view of the parthenon, with a row of ionic columns across the front, each slightly larger at the bottom than the top. The columns hold up the bottom of the pediment,  but the top is gone, except for the very outer corners. Beyond the columns some of the side pillars are visible on either side, and a tall modern crane is visible right in the center.
The Parthenon today. Photo by Nina Ahmedow.

10. The Acropolis has served different faiths.

Though the buildings on the Acropolis were initially built to worship different ancient Greek deities, they were later used by Christians and Muslims. The Byzantine Christians didn’t need the Ancient Greek temples and therefore turned them into churches. Later, the Ottomans turned the Parthenon into a mosque.

11. The Venetians caused serious damage to it.

During the 17th-century Morean War between the Ottomans and the Venetians, the Ottomans stored gunpowder on the Acropolis. When the Venetians found out about this they targeted the Acropolis in their attacks and caused severe damage. They even removed several of the columns.

Facts about the Acropolis in Athens as a historical site

12. It only became an archaeological site in 1833.

The value of this ancient citadel was not understood until 1833, a few years after Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire. From that year on, it has been operating as an archaeological site, meaning it is protected by law. For example, planes and drones cannot fly over the Acropolis.

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13. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Although the Acropolis of Athens didn’t make it onto the list of New Seven Wonders of the World, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987. UNESCO calls the collection of monuments at the Acropolis “universal symbols of the classical spirit and civilization.”

14. The Parthenon is not the Acropolis.

Many people conflate the Parthenon and the Acropolis, but actually, the Acropolis is the entire hill, and the Parthenon is one of several ancient buildings you can find on it.

15. Not all parts of the Acropolis are in Greece.

It’s a sad fact that many of the ancient artifacts from the Acropolis of Athens are not in Greece today. From one of the statues that used to hold up the roof of the Erechtheion to the so-called Elgin marbles, many foreign museums, such as the British Museum, house archaeological artifacts from the Acropolis. Greece has repeatedly asked to have them returned to where they belong, but since Lord Elgin claimed to have had permission from the Ottomans to take the marbles, the British refuse to return them.

From left to right, the figures show a horse (dying, perhaps, because it is low to the ground), a naked man reclining, missing a hand but otherwise intact; and three figures that are draped in cloth (togas?) but all of these are missing their heads and limbs. Originally the set would have fit into a pediment, so the figures are lower on the left and taller on the right.
One section of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. These figures would have been inside one of the pediments on the temple. Photo creative commons from CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=439402

Visiting the Acropolis in Athens

16. The steps can be slippery.

The marble steps that take you to the Acropolis are extremely slippery, so make sure you wear a pair of flat shoes with good traction.

A modern stairway at the bottom left of the photo has a few people on it. Rising above them are huge columns, though the tops are missing from most of them. The columns must have supported a wide portico.
The entrance to the Acropolis. Photo by Nina Ahmedow.

17. There is always restoration work going on.

Be prepared to not get the perfect shot of the Parthenon or the other structures on the Acropolis. These ancient buildings have survived many millennia and need to be taken care of. That’s why you will usually find scaffolding that obstructs some of the views. But keep in mind that this helps to allow future generations to see these magnificent pieces of architecture as well.

18. There is no shade.

The rocky hill of the Acropolis has little shade to protect you from the harsh Greek sun. Keep in mind that Athens gets extremely hot in the summer. The best thing you can do is visit the Acropolis in the off-season. Alternatively, get there as soon as it opens at 8:00 so you avoid the hot midday sun. Additionally, you’re best off covering your head, applying sun lotion and bringing water to stay hydrated.

Looking at the Acropolis from a medium height, so that the whole Parthenon can be seen from the side, with it's intact walls of pillars. Below that, the side of the hill is surrounded by stone walls, and below the walls, cliffs. Below the cliffs is the jumble of city buildings.

19. It is only open during daylight.

The opening hours of the Acropolis are from 8:00 to 19:30, with the last entry being at 19:00. It is open throughout most of the year and only closed on January 1st, March 25th, May 1st, Easter Sunday, December 25th, and December 26th.

20. Regular tickets are €20.

Visiting the Acropolis is not cheap. A regular ticket costs €20, but between November 1st and March 31st, the price drops to €10. Better yet, the first Sunday of each month from November to March is completely free of charge. There are additional days on which you can visit the Acropolis for free: March 6th, April 18th, May 18th, the last weekend of September, and October 28th.

About the author:

Nina Ahmedow is a travel content creator who was born and raised in Germany but currently lives in Greece. She is the voice behind Lemons and Luggage, a travel blog dedicated to vegan and responsible travel.

Text: Facts about the Acropolis in Athens, Greece: Lots of interesting things to know about it. (and the Rachel's Ruminations logo). Images: Above right, the pillars of the Parthanon; top left, part of the Elgin Marbles; bottom, a view of the Acropolis on a steep hill.

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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments! Read more...

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