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Facts About Acropolis | World Heritage Sites
Acropolis is the high part of an ancient Greek city, usually an elevation overlooking the city, and frequently its citadel. Notable among such citadels were the acropolises of Argos, Messene, Thebes, and Corinth, but the most eminent of them all was Acropolis of Athens, to which the name is now chiefly applied.
The Athenian Acropolis was the site of the original city and, later, of the upper city as distinguished from the lower. It was built upon an isolated butte, or hill, of the Hymettus, a mountain ridge east of the present-day city. This mass of rock rises sharply to a height of 500 feet (150 m) above sea level. An uneven plateau about 500 feet (150 m) wide and 1,000 feet (300 m) long forms the summit. Remarkable specimens of architectural art were reared on this height, chiefly in the days of Pericles (died 429 B.C.).
At the western end, where there was a zigzag road for chariots, stands the massive, columned gateway to the Acropolis—the Propylaea—still in excellent condition. Entering this way, the visitor immediately sees the northwest corner of the Parthenon, the temple dedicated to Athena, tutelary deity of Athens. North of the Parthenon is the Erechtheum, famous for its portico upheld by six caryatids. The Erechtheum housed the cults of many lesser deities. Between these principal buildings stood the huge statue of Athena Promachos by Phidias, the helmet and spear of which were the first objects visible from the sea. About these centerpieces, and extending down the steep slopes, were lesser temples, statues, theaters, and odeums (music halls). The more noted included the Theater of Dionysus, the Odeum of Pericles, the small, perfect temple of Athena Nike, and the Odeum of Herodes Atticus.
The ravages of time, accident, war, and Athenian marble merchants had taken a great toll on these classic works long before the advent of the 20th century. Many sculptures and other fragments have been removed, to be housed in the Acropolis Museum or the National Museum in Athens, or dispersed to museums all over Europe. Most notable among the latter are the Elgin Marbles, which have been in the British Museum in London since their removal from the Parthenon in 1901, although there is growing pressure for their return to Athens.
In the late 20th century, the monuments faced new dangers, however, and in the 1970s a major campaign was begun to preserve them. The primary problems are the wear and tear caused by tourists exploring the ruins, atmospheric pollution, and deterioration of the marble because of iron clamps that were widely used in 19th-century restorations. To correct these problems, three measures have been undertaken: all the buildings have been closed; automobiles are prohibited in the immediate vicinity; and the iron is systematically being replaced with titanium. Many of the remaining sculptures are being removed to atmospherically controlled museum environments, and casts are being put in their original places. In 1988 a Center for Acropolis Studies was opened. On display are casts of the Parthenon sculptures, exhibits relating to the conservation work, and other changing exhibitions. This is now part of the new Museum of the Acropolis, which opened in 2009, at the foot of the Acropolis.