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The Rebuilding of the Acropolis of Athens:

A Religious Sanctuary and Symbol of Progress

Alexandra Marple
HST 103-07
Dr. Yamin Xu
1 December 2011

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Thesis: After the retreat of the Persians from Athens in 479 B.C.E., the restoration of the
Acropolis of Athens, initiated by Pericles, allowed Athenians to resume their religious
observances while satisfying their desire for progress.

Introduction: The Acropolis of Athens contains many extraordinary examples of

the distinguishing characteristics of Greek Architecture.
A. Brief outline of the functions of the Acropolis and its daily effects on the
citizens of Athens

Religious center


Symbol of political power

B. Brief outline of the characteristics of Greek Architecture


Greek concern with form over nature


The Orders
a. Doric
b. Ionic
c. Corinthian


Pericles rebuilding program

A. Athens and the temples of the Acropolis were left in ruins after the Persian
retreat in 479 BCE
B. Pericles commissioned rebuilding of the Acropolis using imperial revenue

Strengthened his political influence


Provided economic opportunities for the people


Controversy surrounding the use of imperial revenue and also the

preexisting structures.

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The Parthenon
A. Revived large temple to Athena
B. Started in 447 B.C.E. and completed in 436 B.C.E.
C. Bigger than any temple ever built before on the Greek mainland
D. Very complex and elegant construction for its time


The Propylaea
A. The gateway or door to the sanctuary
B. Construction began in 437 B.C.E., immediately after the completion of the


The Temple of Athena Nike

A. Small temple dedicated to Athena Nike, goddess of victory
B. It is said that the statue of the goddess of victory presented as wingless to
prevent her from leaving Athens


The Erechtheion
A. Built to house the wooden statue of Athena saved from the destruction of the
B. Serves as a celebration of the founding myth of Athens


Conclusion: The Athenians desire for progress caused them to reconstruct the
Acropolis following its destruction by the Persians, allowing them to return to
their religious devotion to the gods.

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The Rebuilding of the Acropolis of Athens:

A Religious Sanctuary and Symbol of Progress

With their city burned and leveled to the ground and their Acropolis left in ruins,
Athenians must have felt as though their goddess of victory, Athena, had abandoned them. The
Persians left a path of destruction so great that it would have been understandable for the people
of this city to leave the Acropolis in its ruined state as a monument to the great conflict that took
place there. However, the necessity for continuing religious observances, and the natural desire
for progress, soon made them realize that this was impracticable.1 Although it took nearly three
decades for the rebuilding to begin, under the leadership of Pericles the Athenians began to
restore their great sanctuary. After the retreat of the Persians in 479 B.C.E., the restoration of the
Acropolis of Athens initiated by Pericles, allowed Athenians to resume their religious
observances while satisfying their desire for progress.
Ancient Greece was almost constantly at war. Because of this, almost every city was
divided into a lower town and an acropolis, a word which literally meant a city on the height,
but was applied to whatever was the most defensible area, whether a densely inhabited quarter or
a mere fortress which would form a last refuge in a siege.2 Although its position and shape
made it the natural refuge in time of war or revolution, the Acropolis of Athens was much more
than just a citadel.3 To the Athenians, it was a symbol of political power and a religious

1 Gerhart Rodenwaldt, The Acropolis (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1957), 15.

2 A.W. Lawrence, Greek Architecture (Baltimore: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1957), 156.
3 Rodenwaldt, The Acropolis, 27.

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sanctuary dedicated to the goddess of their city.4 The temples were seen by the Greeks as a
dynamic place, as something that literally catches the wind and thus the voice of the gods.5
Because of its religious importance, it is easy to imagine the despair felt throughout Athens when
the Acropolis was left in ruin by the Persians.
Ancient Greek architecture has many distinguishing characteristics. Far from being
merely a splendid collection of static monuments, the architecture of Greek antiquity is about
creativity, intelligence, and the human ability as a community to construe and construct the
world.6 The Greeks were primarily concerned with form, paying little attention to nature. In
fact, they seemed to revel in the stark contrast between the manmade and the natural.7 The
Acropolis of Athens is a prime example of this idea. The buildings on the Acropolis are not
designed in any relation to each other, but as separate units.8 The Parthenon dominates the
landscape while each building seems to be independent of the others and absolutely selfcontained.
Another aspect of Greek architecture that is demonstrated on the Acropolis is the orders
of Classical Greek architecture. The orders refer specifically to the design of the columns, or
colonnade, used regularly in Greek architecture. The colonnade was most likely introduced to
4 Rodenwaldt, The Acropolis, 10.
5 Francis D.K. Ching, Mark M. Jarzombek, and Vikramaditya Prakash, A Global History of
Architecture (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2007), 118.
6 Alexander Tzonis and Phoebe Giannisi, Classical Greek Architecture: The Construction of the
Modern (Paris: Flammarion, 2004), 13.
7 Rodenwaldt, The Acropolis, 11.
8 Rodenwaldt, The Acropolis, 11.

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serve a technological and functional purpose: to protect the walls of the building that in
earlier times were not made of durable stone, and to offer shelter to people gathering during
communal events around a central place.9 Initially the most basic element of Greek temples,
both the Doric and Ionic orders are found on the Acropolis of Athens. The orders reflect the
geographic divisions of the Greek world at that time, Doric evolving in the mainland
communities, and Ionic in the eastern Greek area of the Aegean islands and the coast of Asia
Minor.10 Although the Ionic order is often thought of as being developed after the Doric order,
they were actually developed at the same time, despite their obvious differences.11 The third
order of Classical Greek architecture, the Corinthian order, first appeared in the fifth century
B.C.E. and is essentially a decorative version of the Ionic order.12
There are many possible motives for Pericles initiation of the rebuilding program for the
Acropolis following its destruction by the Persians. For one, this area was needed as a sanctuary
for the Athenian gods and so rebuilding was necessary. It has also been said that the building
program was to celebrate the victorious conclusion of the war against the Persians.13 In
addition, the building program provided economic opportunities, strengthening Pericles political

9 Tzonis and Giannisi, Classical Greek Architecture, 62.

10 Sir Banister Fletcher, A History of Architecture, edited by John Musgrove, 19th ed. (London:
Butterworths, 1987), 108.
11 Ching, Jarzombek, and Prakash, A Global History, 123.
12 Fletcher, A History, 105.
13 Kagan, Donald, Pericles of Athens and the Birth of the Democracy (New York: The Free
Press, 1991), 154.

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influence.14 For almost two decades the works created a continuing demand for materials and
labor, skilled and unskilled, that brought prosperity and rewarding activity to all elements of the
population.15 During the construction of the Parthenon, surviving records indicate that about
two hundred craftsmen and fifty sculptors were involved in its creation.16 These workers
included Athenians, citizens from the islands, and even slaves, all of whom were paid the same
amount of money.17 Most of the costs were covered using imperial revenue including reserves
from spoils of war, harbor fees, court fines, silver mines, renting houses belonging to Athena,
and private contributions, the use of which was controversial.18 Not only did the building
program have to cope with this controversy surrounding costs, but it also had to deal with
numerous constraints imposed by preexisting structures both physical and institutional as
well as conflicting vested interests.19 However, because of the general economic prosperity
achieved through the building program, Pericles was able to successfully avoid a serious debate
of the matter and the building continued.
The first temple to be built under Pericles program was the Parthenon. Considered the
main building on the Acropolis, the Parthenon is the revived large temple to Athena.20
14 Kagan, Pericles of Athens, 154.
15 Kagan, Pericles of Athens, 154.
16 Tzonis and Giannisi, Classical Greek Architecture, 111.
17 Tzonis and Giannisi, Classical Greek Architecture, 113.
18 Tzonis and Giannisi, Classical Greek Architecture, 113.
19 Tzonis and Giannisi, Classical Greek Architecture, 103.
20 Fletcher, A History, 112.

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Building began in 447 B.C.E. and was completed nearly a decade later in 436 B.C.E. The
architect commissioned for the job, Ictinus, faced the special challenge of creating a truly
monumental and spacious temple of the Doric order while incorporating the foundations and
marble columns of the hexastyle Archaic Parthenon destroyed by the Persians in 480 B.C.E.21
The most massive temple ever built on the Greek mainland, the Parthenon was not only built to
house the divinity of the State, but was also intended as a symbol of power, and a proof of its
glory for future generations.22 Covered in friezes depicting scenes of battle between Athenians
and Amazons, human beings and wild beasts, Greeks and Trojans, the Parthenon was also a war
memorial celebrating the triumph of Athens over its enemies, civilization over barbarism, and
Greeks over Asiatics.23 An Athenian looking up to the Acropolis from the city would be filled
with pride when he saw the Parthenon, for it was truly one of the most complex and elegant
temples ever built.
Upon the completion of the Parthenon the construction of the gateway to the sanctuary,
the Propylaea, began. Built to replace the sixth-century Pisistratid gate on the western entrance
to the Acropolis, the Propylaea was a more complex structure than the previous propylon. The
Propylaea are: a step, a door, an entrance, a vestibule, a space between the interior and exterior,
between the sacred and the profane.24 The vestibule was used as a place for the worshipper to

21 John R. Senseney, The Art of Building in the Classical World: Vision, Craftsmanship, and
Linear Perspective in Greek and Roman Architecture (New York: Cambridge University Press,
2011), 39.
22 Rodenwaldt, The Acropolis, 29.
23 Kagan, Pericles of Athens, 154.
24 Rodenwaldt, The Acropolis, 42.

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compose himself before crossing the threshold of the sanctuary.25 Building began in 436
B.C.E. under the designing mind of Mnesicles, but the construction was left incomplete due to
the start of the Peloponnesian War in 431 B.C.E.26 Mnesicles original design plan was too
grandiose in the minds of those in charge and so it had to be altered to fit their views. Although
it was never finished, later generations have found beauty even in this incompleteness, and have
intentionally made use of it for the sake of its artistic effect.27
A decree of the people in 448 B.C.E. ordered that the priestess of Athena Nike should be
appointed, and that a gate, a temple, and an altar designed by Callicrates should be built.28
Although it was designed in 448 B.C.E., the Temple of Athena Nike was not built until 424
B.C.E.29 Designed in the Ionic order, this small temple housed an unusual statue of the goddess
of victory, Athena Nike which depicted her as wingless. It has been said that this was to prevent
her from ever leaving Athens.30 The friezes depict battles between Greeks and Persians, Greeks
and Boetians (who allied with the Persians), as well as Athena among the gods pleading for the
Greek cause.31 Placed on the bastion outside the Propylaea, the temple is an elegant monument
to the goddess Athena Nike.
25 Rodenwaldt, The Acropolis, 42.
26 Fletcher, A History, 112.
27 Rodenwaldt, The Acropolis, 46.
28 Rodenwaldt, The Acropolis, 47.
29 Fletcher, A History, 116.
30 Rodenwaldt, The Acropolis, 48.
31 Tzonis and Giannisi, Classical Greek Architecture, 104.

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When the Persians invaded Athens, the wooden statue of Athena was saved from
destruction and taken to Salamis for its protection. When the Persians retreated, a temple was
needed to house this richly-decorated statue and so the Erechtheion was designed. It was meant
to be the replacement for the old temple and was built very close to the location of the original.
It is possible that it was not built on foundations of the old temple because it was not considered
proper to rebuild a dedicated temple destroyed by barbarians.32 This allowed the new temple to
retain its individuality while incorporating the previous place of worship.33 The Erechtheion is
much smaller than its predecessor and is Ionic in style. Serving as a three-dimensional
celebration of the founding myth of Athens, the Erechtheion has several different features that
tell the story of Athenas victory over Poseidon to have the city named in her honor.34 Because it
was required to fill the roles of tomb, a center of mysteries, and a temple, the building was
unusual and irregular in layout.35 Perhaps no other building on the Acropolis better
demonstrates the degree of complexity and sophistication that ancient Greek architecture
achieved at that time than the Erechtheion.36
The end of the Peloponnesian War brought about the downfall of the Athenian state.
The Erechtheion was the last of the four great temples of the Acropolis. Other buildings without
number have risen up beside them and disappeared. These alone have remained. In spite of their
32 Fletcher, A History, 116.
33 Rodenwaldt, The Acropolis, 51.
34 Ching, Jarzombek, and Prakash, A Global History, 126.
35 Tzonis and Giannisi, Classical Greek Architecture, 122.
36 Tzonis and Giannisi, Classical Greek Architecture, 121.

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mutilated condition, they still stand, erect and eternal.37 The fact that these buildings have
survived the toll of time shows that the Acropolis is indeed the supreme example of a Greek
sanctuary. By rebuilding the Acropolis, the Athenians were able to move forward after their
conflict with Persia and could continue their religious practices which were so important to their

37 Rodenwaldt, The Acropolis, 55.


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Ching, Francis D.K., Mark M. Jarzombek, and Vikramaditya Prakash. A Global History of
Architecture. Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2007.
Fletcher, Sir Banister. A History of Architecture, edited by John Musgrove. 19th ed. London:
Butterworths, 1987.
Kagan, Donald. Pericles of Athens and the Birth of the Democracy. New York: The Free Press,
Lawrence, A.W. Greek Architecture. Baltimore: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1957.
Rodenwaldt, Gerhart. The Acropolis. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1957.
Senseney, John R. The Art of Building in the Classical World: Vision, Craftsmanship, and Linear
Perspective in Greek and Roman Architecture. New York: Cambridge University Press,
Tzonis, Alexander, and Phoebe Giannisi. Classical Greek Architecture: The Construction of the
Modern. Paris: Flammarion, 2004.