The Acropolis of Athens, where the iconic Parthenon stands, is a must-see tourist attraction in the Greek capital and a true symbol of Greek civilization.
So hop on board: Captain Ulysses has got all the history, tips, and practical information you need!
A brief history of the Acropolis and the Parthenon
The origins of the Acropolis of Athens
The origins of the Acropolis of Athens date back to the Neolithic period over 5,000 years ago.
Located on a hill overlooking the city, the site was initially used to honor the gods and goddesses of the Greek Pantheon, with the first temples appearing in the 8th century BC.
Over the centuries, the Athenians continued to expand the site, constructing temples such as Athena Polias, Artemis Brauronia, and Zeus Polieus.
The construction of the Parthenon
The construction of the Parthenon began in the 5th century BC under the rule of Pericles, a visionary Athenian statesman renowned for his oratory skills.
Designed by architects Ictinus and Callicrates and sculptor Phidias (whose workshop can be found at the archaeological site of Olympia), the Parthenon is a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, protector of the city of Athens (from which it takes its name).
Featuring massive columns, elaborate sculptures, and impressive pediments, the Parthenon remains an exceptional example of Doric architecture to this day.
🏛️ What is Doric architecture? 🏛️
Doric architecture is a style of architecture that originated in ancient Greece in the 7th century BC. It is characterized by simple and elegant columns with disc-shaped capitals and flat entablatures.
It is the oldest of the three Greek architectural styles, with the other two being Ionic and Corinthian architecture.
Doric style was popular during the classical period of ancient Greece, from the 5th to the 4th century BC. It was later adopted and adapted by the Romans.
Functions of the Acropolis and the Parthenon
In ancient Greece, the Acropolis served a religious, political, and social function, while the Parthenon represented the heart of the Acropolis and the symbol of Athenian power.
It housed the chryselephantine statue of Athena, a remarkable work of art made of gold and ivory. The temple also served as a treasury where the city’s wealth was kept.
Religious celebrations and festivals, such as the Panathenaic Games in honor of Athena, were regularly held on the Acropolis.
The Acropolis since ancient times
Over the centuries, the Acropolis of Athens underwent many transformations, particularly when the Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans took control of the capital.
In the 5th century AD, the walls of the Acropolis were reinforced to protect the city against barbarian invasions.
In the 13th century, the Franks transformed the Acropolis into a palace and built a defensive tower.
During Ottoman rule, the Acropolis was converted into a mosque with the addition of a minaret.
After Greece gained independence in 1830, the Acropolis became a national symbol. Large restoration campaigns were launched under the guidance of Greek and foreign archaeologists.
Restoration work continues to this day.
Visiting the Acropolis: What to See?
The Acropolis of Athens is a fascinating archaeological site filled with countless treasures. When you visit, make sure not to miss:
the Parthenon, the jewel of the Acropolis
This ancient temple, built between 447 and 438 BC at the highest point of the Acropolis, was dedicated to Athena, the protector of Athens.
It was designed by two of the greatest artists of ancient Greece, the architect Ictinus and the sculptor Phidias.
With its massive columns, triangular pediments, and sloping roof, the Parthenon is a perfect example of Doric architecture.
Made of white marble from Mount Pentelic, it measures 69.5 meters long, 30.9 meters wide, and 13.7 meters high. The temple is decorated with elaborate sculptures depicting scenes from Greek mythology, such as the battle between the gods and the giants.
Inside the Parthenon is the naos, the main room that once housed the impressive chryselephantine statue of Athena, which was unfortunately lost over time. This statue portrayed the goddess wearing a richly decorated robe and carrying a spear and shield.
Throughout history, the Parthenon has suffered various damages caused by wars, invasions, occupations, and bombardments.
Nevertheless, extensive restoration work has been carried out since the 19th century and continues to this day to preserve this magnificent piece of ancient Greek architecture.
The Erechtheion is a temple located on the northern slope of the Acropolis, built between 421 and 406 BC to honor various deities, including Athena, Poseidon, and Erechtheus, a legendary king of Athens whose tomb is housed in the temple.
One of the most remarkable features of the Erechtheion is its Caryatids, six statues of marble women that are 2.3 meters tall and support the temple’s roof just like columns. Each of the Caryatids depicts a young girl wearing a tunic and an intricately designed headdress.
The Caryatids of the Erechtheion are considered to be one of the greatest masterpieces of classical Greek sculpture. Each figure is exquisitely carved, with elaborate details in the hair, clothing, and jewelry.
Temple of Athena Nike
Dedicated to the Greek goddess of victory, Athena Nike (who also gave her name to the famous sport brand Nike), the Temple of Athena Nike is a small Ionic temple built between 427 and 424 BC, during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta.
Located on a small rocky platform overlooking the entrance to the Acropolis, it offers a breathtaking view of the city of Athens and the port of Piraeus.
Made of white marble and famous for its sculpted reliefs depicting scenes of war (including the battles of Marathon and Salamis), the Temple of Athena Nike is approximately 9.6 meters long and 5.5 meters wide.
Theater of Dionysus
Located on the southern slope of the Acropolis, near the sanctuary of Dionysus, the Theater of Dionysus is one of the oldest theaters in Greece. During the classical period, it was the main venue for the representation of Greek tragedies. These plays, which dealt with subjects such as justice, morality, or war, were a very popular spectacle in ancient Greece.
Built in the 5th century BC, at the height of Greek culture, it could accommodate up to 17,000 spectators and included semi-circular stone seating, a rectangular stage, and a dancing space called the orchestra. The spectators were seated on the benches according to their social status: the wealthiest citizens sat in front, while women and slaves sat at the back.
Sanctuary of Asclepius
Dedicated to the god of medicine Asclepius (like the very famous sanctuary you will find in Epidaurus in the Peloponnese), the Sanctuary of Asclepius (also called the Asclepieion) is a temple built in the 5th century BC and located on the southern slope of the Acropolis of Athens.
In ancient Greece, it played the role of a hospital where patients came to seek medical treatments and advice. The care was based on the use of medicinal plants, but could also include religious rites and spiritual healing practices.
Active for more than 1,000 years, until the arrival of the Romans in Greece, the sanctuary was later converted into a Christian basilica.
Dating back to the 5th century BC, the Propylaea mark the main entrance to the Acropolis of Athens and were designed to impress visitors.
They consist of three successive porticos, each larger than the previous one. The first portico features a Doric colonnade leading to a grand staircase followed by a second Ionic colonnade. The second portico leads to a paved courtyard with a fountain where visitors could refresh themselves before continuing their tour of the Acropolis. The third portico corresponds to the main hall of the Propylaea, which housed statues and votive offerings in antiquity.
The Temple of Zeus Polieus
Built in the 5th century and dedicated to the king of the Greek gods, the Temple of Zeus Polieus hosted sacrifices and religious ceremonies in honor of Zeus in ancient times.
The Temple of Artemis Brauronia
Dedicated to the goddess Artemis, the Temple of Artemis Brauronia is a temple built in the 5th century BC and located on the northern slope of the Acropolis.
How to get to the Acropolis of Athens?
Located in the heart of Athens, the Acropolis is easily accessible on foot from the city center. It is also served by the metro (line 2, Acropolis station) or the bus (lines 230, 236, 237, 790).
Acropolis and Parthenon Opening Hours
The Acropolis is open every day of the year, except on holidays. Opening hours vary depending on the season:
- From April 1st to October 31st: from 8am to 8pm
- From November 1st to March 31st: from 8:30am to 3pm
The last entry is one hour before closing.
Admission prices for the Acropolis of Athens
The admission fee for the Acropolis varies depending on age and nationality:
- Adults: €20 in summer, €10 in winter
- European Union students: half price
- Young people aged 6 to 25 from non-European Union countries: half price
- Free for children under 6 years old
⚠️ Please note: the Acropolis of Athens is very popular, especially during the summer and school holidays. That’s why Captain Ulysses strongly recommends buying your tickets online in advance:
→ skip-the-line ticket for the Acropolis
→ Acropolis combined ticket + 6 archaeological sites.
Guided tours of the Acropolis
o make the most of your visit to the Acropolis and learn about the rich history of the site and the Parthenon, Captain Ulysses highly recommends opting for a guided tour.
👉 The Captain specifically recommends this tour (available in several languages + cancellable up to 24 hours in advance): Guided Tour of the Acropolis of Athens