Acropolis (or Ἀκρόπολις in Ancient Greek) is one of the still extant ancient citadels that has survived from the ‘archaic’ times. Symbolizing the power of Athens with its literal height, the history of this tall rocky outcrop (of 490 ft) incredibly goes back to around 3500 BC, thus making it older than even the Great Pyramid. And while it started out as a strategic fortification of the surrounding settlement, the site of Acropolis was given both a political and religious makeover by the classical period (circa 5th century BC), with its impressive array of temples and monuments – including structures like the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion; all exemplifying features of ancient Greek architecture. Suffice it to say, with an extensive timeline of over 5,000 years, the ancient citadel of Acropolis makes for a pretty fascinating historical tour. And that is exactly what these animations achieve – with their brilliant depiction of the key events that affected the site and its range of Grecian monuments over the centuries and millenniums.
1) The Acropolis
The first video combines time-lapse features with animation, and the entire visual package (made by the folks over at www.ancientathens3d.com) focuses on the timeline of the Acropolis itself. As we mentioned before, the date starts from 3500 BC when the first humans settled probably in what is now Athens – though earlier evidences of Neolithic habitations have been found in Attica. In any case, the Acropolis in itself was an elevated fat-topped rock suited to defense, with its substantial height of 490 ft and expansive surface area of around 3 hectares (7.4 acres).
The Cyclopean Wall –
The first massive structure atop the Acropolis possibly pertained to a Mycenaean megaron (palace complex) built in the Bronze Age, circa 1200 BC. Soon this massive complex was guarded by an imposing wall structure that was around 760 m (or 2,500 ft) long, 10 m (33 ft) high and had an average thickness of 4-6 m (about 16 ft). From the structural perspective, this gargantuan defensive work boasted two parapets constructed from large stone blocks that were merged and bonded together by an earth mortar known as emplekton.
The Archaic Era –
By 6th century BC, the eminence of Acropolis was quite evident – with desperate actions of numerous despots and rebels tending to target this elevated site (for military and political control). One of the prime examples would relate to Kylon (a former Olympic champion) and his failed Kylonian revolt. Recent discoveries have shed some light into the brutal aftermath of this rebellion, with extant specimens of shackled skeletons who were meted out death sentences.
In any case, by 560 BC, the first temple dedicated to Athena Polias (protector of the city) was constructed atop the Acropolis. Also known as the Hekatompedon, the Doric limestone building flaunted some pretty intriguing features, including sculpture of a three-bodied man-serpent with a blue beard. And by 520 BC, the Hekatompedon was accompanied by another temple, known as the Arkhaios Neōs – usually (and oddly) referred to as the Old Temple of Athena, in spite of its ‘newer’ status.
The Roman Connection –
The 5th century BC brought around enormous changes for the Acropolis – fueled by the Persian invasion (and burning of Athens) along with the (later) ambitious Periclean building program. Many of these events are covered by the second animation and our related write-up about it. However it should be noted that the later Romans also played their part in renovating and building many sections of the Acropolis – given their self-attributed identification as the ‘inheritors’ of Greek cultural heritage. One of such buildings pertains to the Temple of Rome and Augustus – a relatively small Roman construction with a round edifice, built circa 26 AD. Later on, in 161 AD, the ‘Greek’ aristocrat and Roman senator – Atticus Herodes, commissioned the construction of a grand amphitheater (Odeon). And lastly, by 363 AD, it was Roman emperor Julian the Apostate (or Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus) who supported the complete renovation of the Parthenon.
2) The Parthenon
Fueled By Persians –
The construction of Parthenon in many ways reflected the upbeat mood of the Athenians in the late 5th century BC. The so-called Athenian Empire reached its zenith during this time period, decades after defeating the Persians at Marathon (during the first Persian invasion, in 490 BC) and surviving the burning of Athens itself, including Acropolis, by the Persians (during their second invasion in 480 BC). The lavish project of Parthenon was an structural outcome of such collective levels of self-confidence and economic boom. Oddly enough, the money that financed the opulent endeavor mainly came from tributes exacted from the allied city-states under Athens’ protection, rather than from the residents of Athens themselves.
The Gold Reserve –
While the main building was symbolic of the city-state’s glory, the minds of many leaders of Athens during the time were still governed by the practicality of the grand project. Thucydides, a contemporary historian once wrote that Pericles, regarded as one of the greatest Greek statesmen – who commissioned his ambitious Periclean building program on the Acropolis, considered the imposing Athena statue inside Parthenon as a ‘gold reserve’. According to many sources, this statue consisted of pure gold – melted and derived from coins, and contained a whopping 40 talents (1,040 kg) of the precious metal. So in Pericles’ stoic judgement, the statue could be melted back to make coins, if the city ever needed them! And interestingly, since we brought up the subject of the Athena statue, the ostentatious sculpture of the goddess was supposedly crafted from chryselephantine – which is a medium composed of actual gold and ivory.
Perspective And Earthquake Resistance –
While the Parthenon is often considered as the greatest surviving example surviving Doric-style architecture, the simplicity of the building’s form and plan is deceptive to say the least, courtesy of architect-extraordinaire Iktinos. For example, the columns of the temple subtly lean inwards to the structure that makes the perspective easier for a human when he views them on an upward angle. In spite of this calculated arrangement, the Parthenon boasts of a very fine parabolic upward curvature that allows the monument to decisively shed rainwater while also reinforcing it against earthquakes!