In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Acropolis of Athens

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Hellenistic and Roman Acropolis
  • Acropolis Walls
  • The Acropolis and the City of Athens
  • 19th-Century Excavations
  • The Acropolis Museum
  • Conservation and Restoration of the Acropolis

Classics The Acropolis of Athens
Nancy Klein
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0193


The Acropolis (Akropolis) of Athens has played an important role in the history of the city from prehistory to the present day. It is both a physical location, standing on a rocky outcrop above the city, and a locus for the expression of religious and civic identity. Excavations have uncovered evidence of a Mycenaean palace and citadel from the Bronze Age. Habitation and burials continued into the early Iron Age, while evidence for religious activities appears in the 8th century BCE. The character of the Acropolis continues to change in the 6th century before becoming the preeminent sanctuary of the city. Herodotus (I, 59) suggests that it was occupied by the ruling family of Athens (Peisistratids), and the remains of a late-6th-century cistern in the northwest corner may indicate the presence of a garrison as well. Several temples were built to honor Athena, patron goddess of the city, and a range of votive offerings, including stone sculpture, bronzes, pottery, and other objects, were dedicated in the sanctuary. In 480/479 BCE, the invading Persian army captured and laid waste to Athens, including the sanctuary on the Acropolis. Only decades later, following the defeat of the Persians, did the Athenians begin a systematic rebuilding of the Acropolis. These efforts, initiated by the Athenian statesman and general Pericles, led to the construction of the temple of Athena Parthenos (Parthenon), the Propylaia, the temple of Athena Polias (Erechtheion), and the temple of Athena Nike. For almost a thousand years, the Acropolis functioned as a center of civic and ritual activity dedicated to Athena and other deities. Sometime in the 6th century CE, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Classical buildings were adapted to new purposes, including residences and churches. Under the Ottoman Empire, the Acropolis was transformed into a village and garrison. In the 19th century, the Acropolis became a symbol and centerpiece of the newly independent Greek nation as excavations removed postclassical remains and restored the ancient monuments. Today, archaeological research and conservation efforts continue to make new discoveries and contribute to our understanding of the Acropolis.

General Overviews

These books offer an introduction to the Acropolis, its monuments, votive dedications, and ritual practices. Brouskari 1997 and Rhodes 1995 primarily focus on the Classical period while Hurwit 1999 and Holtzmann 2003 employ a diachronic approach that explores the Bronze Age remains, the development of the sanctuary, myths and cults of Athena, and the postclassical history of the Acropolis. Goette 2001 provides practical information and archaeological commentary on the Acropolis from prehistory through the Byzantine era.

  • Brouskari, Maria. 1997. The monuments of the Acropolis. Athens, Greece: Hellenic Ministry of Culture.

    Authoritative and readable guide to the Acropolis; includes summary of scholarship and historical outline. Detailed description of principal buildings and shrines, their excavation, study, and conservation. Beautifully illustrated with paintings, photographs, and drawings. English translation by David Hardy.

  • Goette, Hans Rupprecht. 2001. Athens, Attica and the Megarid: An archaeological guide. London and New York: Routledge.

    Guide to archaeological sites for travelers and students with practical information, illustrations, and summary of history from prehistory through Byzantine times. The first three chapters focus on the history of Athens, the Acropolis, and its slopes. Includes useful references (especially German scholarship) for further study. First printed in German in 1993, revised and updated for the 2001 English edition.

  • Holtzmann, Bernard. 2003. L’Acropole d’Athènes: Monuments, cultes et histoire du sanctuaire d’Athèna Polias. Paris: Picard.

    Comprehensive chronological study of the Acropolis; highlights changing function in Archaic period (habitation, garrison, sanctuary) and a wide range of votive material, literary sources, and inscriptions from Classical period. Includes discussion of post-Antique Acropolis and contribution of early travelers and the excavations of the 19th century.

  • Hurwit, Jeffrey M. 1999. The Athenian Acropolis: History, mythology, and archaeology from the Neolithic Era to the present. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Chronological study of the Acropolis and its monuments with detailed references. Best general overview in English; extremely useful for students as introduction and point of departure for further studies.

  • Rhodes, Robin F. 1995. Architecture and meaning on the Athenian Acropolis. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Insightful essays on the contribution of history and design to the unique character of the Acropolis. Considers the way Athenians combined new buildings, remains of older monuments, and spatial planning to create a Classical sanctuary that deliberately commemorated the past while expressing contemporary achievements. Valuable complement to the general surveys.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.