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Athens, topography


The central fortress and principal sanctuary of Athena, patron goddess of the city. In the later 13th cent. bce the steep hill was enclosed by a massive wall. Within, there are Mycenaean terraces, perhaps once supporting traces of ‘the strong house of Erechtheus’ (Hom. Od. 7. 81). The first monumental temples and sculptural dedications date to the 6th cent. bce. Two large Doric temples of limestone with marble trim were built, along with a half-dozen small temples or treasuries. Later quarrying has obliterated the foundations of all but one of the peripteral temples (c.510 bce) which stood on the north side of the hill, just south of the later Erechtheum. A marble temple, the Older Parthenon, was under construction on the south half of the hill in 480 bce when the Persians took and sacked the city. The debris from this devastation was buried on the Acropolis and no major construction took place for about a generation. In the 450s a monumental bronze statue of Athena Promachus was set up to celebrate victory over the Persians and in the second half of the 5th cent. four major buildings were constructed at the instigation of Pericles (1), with Phidias as general overseer. First came the Parthenon (447–432); the Propylaea (437–432), gateway to the Acropolis, occupied the western approaches to the citadel. Soon after, an old shrine of Athena Nike (Victory) was refurbished and a small temple of the Ionic order, tetrastyle amphiprostyle in plan, was built just outside the Propylaea. Finally, the Erechtheum was constructed during the last quarter of the 5th cent. Only a few buildings were added to the Acropolis in later times: a sanctuary of Brauronian Artemis (see brauron) and the Chalkotheke, where bronzes were stored. A tall pier built just outside the Propylaea in the 2nd cent. bce first carried statues of Eumenes (2) II and Attalus II, kings of Pergamum and benefactors of Athens, later replaced by one of Agrippa. The Roman presence in Greece is reflected on the Acropolis by the construction after 27 bce of a small round monument dedicated to Roma and Augustus and built in an Ionic style closely copying the Erechtheum.

Environs of the Acropolis

Numerous sanctuaries clustered around the base of the Acropolis rock. The sanctuaries of ‘the nymph’ (7th cent. bce), Asclepius (420 bce), and Dionysus (c.500 bce) were on the south slope. The theatre of Dionysus was built of limestone and marble in the 330s bce and renovated several times in the Roman period. To the west was a stoa built by King Eumenes II of Pergamum (197–159 bce) and beyond that the local millionaire Ti. Claudius Atticus Herodes (2) built a huge odeum in memory of his wife Regilla (c.160 ce). The ground east of the theatre was taken up by the odeum of Pericles (c.443 bce), a replica of the tent of Xerxes, captured by the Greeks at the battle of Plataea (479 bce). A broad street lined with tripods set up by victorious chorēgoi (producers) in the choral lyric contests led from the theatre around the east end and north side of the Acropolis. The small Corinthian Lysicrates monument (335 bce) is the best-preserved surviving tripod base. In this eastern area were to be found several other cults (Aglaurus, Dioscuri, Theseus), as well as the Prytaneion, hearth of the city. The north side of the Acropolis sheltered cults of Aphrodite and Eros, Pan, Apollo, and Demeter and Persephone (Eleusinium). The Areopagus, a low hill north-west of the Acropolis, was the seat in early times of a council and lawcourt as well as a shrine of the Eumenides (Furies; see erinyes). St Paul addressed the court of the Areopagus, though by the 1st cent. ce the council almost certainly met in the lower city and not on the hill.


The civic centre of Athens, located north-west of the Acropolis on ground sloping down to the Eridanus river. Traversed by the Panathenaic Way, the Agora was a large open square reserved for a wide variety of public functions, lined on all four sides by the principal administrative buildings of the city. First laid out in the 6th cent. bce, it remained a focal point for Athenian commerce, politics, and culture for centuries, surviving the Persian sack of 480 bce and the Sullan siege of 86 bce (see cornelius sulla felix, l.). Here in the Classical period were to be found the bouleutērion (council-house), the Tholos (dining-hall for the prytaneis), the Metroon (archives), mint, lawcourts, and magistrates' offices (Royal Stoa, and South Stoa I), along with sanctuaries (Hephaisteion, Altar of the Twelve Gods, Stoa of Zeus Eleutherius, Apollo Patrous), fountain-houses, and stoas (Stoa Poecile, Stoa of the Herms). More large stoas (Attalus II, Middle Stoa, South Stoa II) were added in the 2nd cent. bce. To the 2nd cent. perhaps should be dated (controversial) the elaborate octagonal marble water-clock known today as the Tower of the Winds, built some 200 m. (220 yds.) east of the Agora. This eastern area was later occupied by the market funded by Caesar and Augustus, which supplanted many of the commercial functions of the old Agora. In the 2nd cent. ce a huge peristyle complex with library was built by Hadrian just to the north of the Roman market. Roman additions to the Agora also reflect Athenian prominence in cultural and educational affairs: an odeum given by Agrippa (c.15 bce) and a library dedicated by Pantaenus (c.100 ce). Badly damaged and partially abandoned as the result of the sack by the Heruli in 267 ce, the Agora was finally destroyed by Alaric and the Visigoths in 395 ce.


The meeting-place of the Athenian assembly (ekklēsia), built on a low ridge west of the Acropolis. Originally laid out in either c.500 or 462/461 bce, and remodelled in 403 under the Thirty Tyrants (Plut. Them. 19), the final phase was built in c.340 bce. This third phase consists of a rock-cut speaker's platform (bēma) and a massive curved retaining wall for the auditorium. Stoas were laid out on the ridge above but never finished. By the Hellenistic period most meetings took place in the theatre of Dionysus, and a small open-air sanctuary of Zeus Hypsistos was established just south-east of the bēma in the Roman period. North of the Pnyx the ridge was given over to the worship of the Nymphs, while the south end of the ridge (the Museum) was the site first of a Macedonian garrison fort in Hellenistic times and then the marble tomb of C. Iulius Antiochus Epiphanes Philopappus (d. 114/116 ce).

South-east Athens

In this quarter of town were to be found the oldest cults of the city: Dion. in ‘the Marshes’, Olympian Zeus, Gē (Earth), and Pythian Apollo (Thuc. 2. 15). Best preserved is the colossal Olympieum. The centre of Hadrian's worship in the Greek world, it was approached through an arch bearing inscriptions which may delimit the old town of Theseus from the new Athens built by Hadrian (IG 22. 5185). Nearby, to the north, a gymnasium with a sanctuary of Apollo Lyceus gave its name to Aristotle's school, the Lyceum. Other shrines and the old Enneakrounos fountain-house lay further out, along the banks of the Ilissus river. Across the river lay the Panathenaic stadium, built by Lycurgus (3) (338–326 bce), rebuilt in marble by Ti. Claudius Atticus Herodes (2) (139–144 ce), and restored in 1896.


An Archaic city wall was replaced in 479 bce, immediately after the Persian sack, by a new expanded circuit, hastily constructed at the behest of Themistocles (Thuc. 1. 90). Its length of 6 ½ km. (4 mi.) was pierced by at least fifteen gates, the principal one being the Dipylon, to the north-west. Moats and outer walls were added in the 4th cent. in response to threats from Macedonia, and a large extension was added to the east in Roman times. Destroyed in 267 ce, the walls were replaced in part by a new, much more constricted, circuit, though the outer wall was eventually refurbished as well. Communication between Athens and the harbours of Piraeus was assured by means of three Long Walls.


Burials were made outside the city walls, all around the circuit. The principal cemetery, known as the Ceramicus, lay along the two major roads leading north-west from the city. It was used as a burial ground from c.1100 bce until the 6th cent. ce, and excavations have recovered hundreds of graves, along with sculptured and inscribed grave-markers. In this same vicinity lay the dēmosion sēma, the state burial ground for the war-dead as well as other notables. Further on lay the Academy.



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              Acropolis and environs

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                                        South-east Athens

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                                                  U. Knigge, The Athenian Kerameikos (1991).Find this resource:

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