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Greek civilization

The word Agora (pronounced 'Ah-go-RAH) is Greek for 'open place of assembly and, early in the history
of Greece, designated the area in the citywhere free-born citizens could gather to hear civic announcements,
muster for military campaigns or discuss politics. Later the Agora defined the open-air, often tented,
marketplace of a city (as it still does in Greek) where merchants had their shops and where craftsmen made
and sold their wares. The original Agora of Athens was located below the Acropolis near the building which
today is known as The Thesion and open-air markets are still held in that same location in the modern day.

The agora was located either in the middle of the city or near the harbour, which was
surrounded by public buildings and by temples. Colonnades, sometimes containing shops,
or stoae, often enclosed the space, and statues, altars, trees, and fountains adorned it.
The use of the agora varied at different periods. Even in classical times the space did not
always remain the place for popular assemblies. In Athens the ecclesia, or assembly, was
moved to the Pnyx (a hill to the west of the Acropolis), though the meetings devoted
to ostracism were still held in the agora, where the main tribunal remained.
The agora also served for theatrical and gymnastic performances until special buildings
and spaces were reserved for these purposes. In Athens respectable women were seldom
seen in the agora. Men accused of murder and other crimes were forbidden to enter it
before their trials. Free men went there not only to transact business and to act as jurors
but also to talk and idlea habit often mentioned by comic poets. In exceptional
circumstances a tomb in the agora was granted as the highest honour for a citizen.
The Acropolis of Athens (Ancient Greek: , tr. Akrpolis;[2] Modern Greek: , tr. Akrpoli
Athenn [akropoli ainon]) is an ancient citadel located on an extremely rocky outcrop above the city
of Athens and contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the
most famous being the Parthenon. The word acropolis comes from the Greek words (akron, "highest point,
extremity") and (polis, "city").[3] Although there are many other acropoleis in Greece, the significance of the
Acropolis of Athens is such that it is commonly known as "The Acropolis" without qualification.

While there is evidence that the hill was inhabited as far back as the fourth millennium BC, it was Pericles (c. 495
429 BC) in the fifth century BC who coordinated the construction of the site's most important buildings including
the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike.

The Acropolis rises 490 feet (150 metres) into the sky above the city of Athens and has a surface area of
approximately 7 acres (3 hectares). The site was a natural choice for a fortification and was inhabited at least as
early as the Mycenaean Period in Greece (1900-1100 BCE) if not earlier. There was already a complex built on
the hill, and a temple to Athena in progress, which was destroyed by the Persians under Xerxes in 480 BCE
when they sacked Athens. The later structures, famous today, were built as a testament to the resilience of the
Athenians following the defeat of Xerxes forces at the Battle of Salamis(480 BCE) and to exemplify the glory
of the city. The four main buildings in the original plan for the Acropolis were the Propylaia, the Parthenon,
the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Athena Nike. The Propylaia was the ornate entranceway into the temple
complex, while the Parthenon was the central attraction.

The magnificent temple on the Acropolis of Athens, known as the Parthenon, was built between 447
and 432 BCE in the Age of Pericles, and it was dedicated to the citys patron deity Athena. The
temple was constructed to house the new cult statue of the goddess by Pheidias and to proclaim to
the world the success of Athens as leader of the coalition of Greek forces which had defeated the
invading Persian armies of Darius and Xerxes. The temple would remain in use for more than a
thousand years, and despite the ravages of time, explosions, looting, and pollution damage, it still
dominates the modern city of Athens, a magnificent testimony to the glory and renown the city
enjoyed throughout antiquity.

The project to build a new temple to replace the damaged buildings of the acropolis following the
Persian attack on the city in 480 BCE and restart the aborted temple project begun in 490 BCE was
instigated by Pericles and funded by surplus from the war treasury of the Delian League, a political
alliance of Greek city-states that had formed together to repel the threat of Persian invasion. Over
time the confederation transformed into the Athenian Empire, and Pericles therefore had no qualms
in using the Leagues funds to embark on a massive building project to glorify Athens.

The acropolis itself measures some 300 by 150 metres and is 70 metres high at its maximum. The
temple, which would sit on the highest part of the acropolis, was designed by the architects Iktinos
and Kallikratis, and the project was overseen by the sculptor Pheidias. Pentelic marble from the
nearby Mt. Pentelicus was used for the building, and never before had so much marble (22,000
tons) been used in a Greek temple. Pentelic marble was known for its pure white appearance and
fine grain. It also contains traces of iron which over time has oxidised, giving the marble a soft honey
colour, a quality particularly evident at sunrise and sunset.
The name Parthenon derives from one of Athenas many epithets: Athena Parthenos, meaning Virgin.
Parthenon means house of Parthenos which was the name given in the 5th century BCE to the
chamber inside the temple which housed the cult statue. The temple itself was known as the mega
neos or large temple or alternatively as Hekatompedos neos, which referred to the length of the inner
cella: 100 ancient feet. From the 4th century BCE the whole building acquired the name Parthenon.


The Parthenon would become the largest Doric Greek temple, although it was innovative in that it
mixed the two architectural styles of Doric and the newer Ionic. The temple measured 30.88 m by 69.5
m and was constructed using a 4:9 ratio in several aspects. The diameter of the columns in relation to
the space between columns, the height of the building in relation to its width, and the width of the
inner cella in relation to its length are all 4:9. Other sophisticated architectural techniques were used
to combat the problem that anything on that scale of size when perfectly straight seems from a
distance to be curved. To give the illusion of true straight lines, the columns lean ever so slightly
inwards, a feature which also gives a lifting effect to the building making it appear lighter than its
construction material would suggest. Also, the stylobate or floor of the temple is not exactly flat but
rises slightly in the centre. The columns also have entasis, that is, a slight fattening in their middle,
and the four corner columns are imperceptibly fatter than the other columns. The combination of
these refinements makes the temple seem perfectly straight, symmetrically in harmony, and gives the
entire building a certain vibrancy.

Architectural Elements of the Parthenon

The outer columns of the temple were Doric with eight seen from the front and back and 17 seen
from the sides. This was in contrast to the normal 6x13 Doric arrangement, and they were also
slimmer and closer together than usual. Within, the inner cella (or opisthodomos) was fronted by six
columns at the back and front. It was entered through large wooden doors embellished with
decorations in bronze, ivory, and gold. The cella consisted of two separated rooms. The smaller room
contained four Ionic columns to support the roof section and was used as the citys treasury. The
larger room housed the cult statue and was surrounded by a Doric colonnade on three sides. The roof
was constructed using cedar wood beams and marble tiles and would have been decorated with
akroteria (of palms or figures) at the corners and central apexes. The roof corners also carried lion-
headed spouts to drain away water.


The temple was unprecedented in both the quantity and quality of architectural sculpture used to
decorate it. No previous Greek temple was so richly decorated. The Parthenon had 92 metopes
carved in high relief (each was on average 1.2 m x 1.25 m square with relief of 25 cm in depth), a
frieze running around all four sides of the building, and both pediments filled with monumental

The most important sculpture of the Parthenon though was not outside but inside. There is evidence
that the temple was built to measure in order to accommodate the chryselephantine statue of Athena
by Pheidias. This was a gigantic statue over 12 m high and made of carved ivory for flesh parts and
gold (1140 kilos or 44 talents of it) for everything else, all wrapped around a wooden core. The gold
parts could also be easily removed if necessary in times of financial necessity. The statue stood on a
pedestal measuring 4.09 by 8.04 metres. The statue has been lost (it may have been removed in the
5th century CE and taken to Constantinople), but smaller Roman copies survive, and they show
Athena standing majestic, fully armed, wearing an aegis with the head of Medusaprominent,
holding Nike in her right hand and with a shield in her left hand depicting scenes from the Battles of
the Amazons and the Giants. A large coiled snake resided behind the shield. On her helmet stood
a sphinx and two griffins. In front of the statue was a large shallow basin of water, which not only
added the humidity necessary for the preservation of the ivory, but also acted as a reflector of light
coming through the doorway. The statue must have been nothing less than awe-inspiring and the
richness of it - both artistically and literally - must have sent a very clear message of the wealth and
power of the city that could produce such a tribute to their patron god.


The ancient Greeks built open-air theatres where the public could watch the performances of Greek comedy,
tragedy, and satyr plays. They then exported the idea to their colonies throughout the Aegean so that theatres
became a typical feature of the urban landscape in all Greek cities. The Romans continued and expanded on
the concept, added a monumental backstage, and generally made the structure more grandiose. The large
semi-circular structures, still with their excellent acoustics, are visible today at many archaeological sites, and
several of them remain in use not only for modern concerts and performances but also for festivals of
ancient Greek drama.

The earliest Greek theatres can be traced back to the Minoan civilization on Crete where a large open
space with stepped seating can still be seen today at the site of Phaistos. Evolving from a stage area of
tramped earth set before a natural hill on which spectators might sit and watch religious ceremonies,
the early theatres appeared from the 6th century BCE and were built wholly of wood. Early examples
may also have had a rectangular arrangement of seating (as at Thoricus and Trachones in Attica) but
this soon developed into the semi-circular arrangement which allowed more people to see the
spectacle and have a better view.


According to 5th-4th century BCE Greek pottery decoration the stage was built around one metre
above the ground and had steps at the front. Actors performed on the stage which had an entrance on
the left and right sides and from a single central doorway (soon expanded to three) in the scenery
behind, usually made to resemble a temple, palace, or cave. The use of painted scenery is also very
likely. The stage scene could also have a top platform from which actors could play gods speaking
down upon the audience and actors alike. The excitement of performances was enhanced with one or
two technical additions. A wheeled platform (ekkylema) was pushed out of the doorway and used to
dramatically reveal new scenery, and a crane (mechane) was situated to the right of the stage and used
to lift actors who were playing gods or heroes.


The oldest theatre is that of Dionysos Eleuthereus on the south slope of the acropolis of Athens which
was first built in the 6th century BCE. The theatre would host the Great Dionysia, held each year in
March/April, during the month of Elaphebolion, where the most famous playwrights such
as Euripides, Sophocles, and Aristophanes presented their plays in competition. Its evolution was
typical of most Greek theatres in other cities. At the end of the 5th century BCE a rectangular stage
building was added with wings on each side. Still, only the front seats were made of stone and the
rest of wood. Monumental entrances were built at the sides of the stage for the public to enter.
Theatre of Dionysos Eleuthereus, Athens

In the 4th century BCE all the seats were made in stone (benches) and walkways made between
sections of seats to facilitate access. Stone ramps were added to the entrances to allow the audience to
leave the theatre in good order. Finally, the stage scenery or backdrop also came to be made of stone
and faced with semi-columns. The theatre had finally acquired the architectural form which became
more or less the standard across the Greek and later Roman worlds.

Auditorium the area between the stage and seats.

Cavea (theatron) the approximately semi-circular bank of seating.

Cunei the wedge-shaped sections of seats separated by horizontal walkways and vertical steps.
The Theatre of Epidaurus

Diazoma the horizontal walkways between tiers of seats.

Orchestra - the flat area where the chorus stood, sang, and danced.

Paradoi the monumental passageways and gateway entrance on each side of the auditorium.
Theatre Parodoi, Epidaurus

Paraskenia the wings at the end of each side of the skene stage building.

Proedria throne-like seats in the front rows for VIPs.

Seats of the Theatre of Dionysos, Athens

Proskenion a platform supported by columns in front of the skene initially decorative but then
used as a second, higher stage.

Skene the backdrop of the stage. First merely a tent or curtained area for actors to change costumes
but later a more permanent structure which also acted as scenery for the performance.
Theatre of Segesta

We have already mentioned the theatre of Dionysos Eleuthereus, the very home of Greek theatre,
which still has its front row of 67 proedria seats. The 2nd-3rd century CE reliefs of the bema (low
speaker's platform) are still in place too and show scenes from the myths of Dionysos. Many other
theatres, though, were built across Greece and the Aegean as the Greeks themselves
colonized Ionia and Magna Graecia. One of the largest is the theatre of Argos which had 81 rows of
seats and a capacity for 20,000 spectators. Perhaps the 3rd-century BCE theatre at Ephesus was larger
still, with a capacity of 24,000. One of the best preserved, and with surviving paradoi, is
at Epidaurus which was first built in the 4th century BCE and which is the site of an important
annual festival of ancient Greek Drama.
Theatre of Epidaurus

Greek architects liked to site their theatres in such places that gave the audience a spectacular view
not just of the actors on the stage but also the landscape behind. The 2nd-century BCE theatre
at Pergamon in modern Turkey built by Eumenes II must hold one of most breathtaking positions, as
it is, perched on a steep hillside looking down on the plain of the river Caicus far
below. Segesta in Sicily, built from the 4th century BCE, boasts another example of a theatre seat
with a view, this time looking out to the sea and the Gulf of Castellamare. For sheer picturesque
location, though, it is difficult to challenge one of the earliest, the theatre at Delphi. Built in the 4th
century BCE and quite small, with only 5,000 seats, it nestles on the wooded sides of Mt. Parnassus
and commands a view of the whole green-carpeted valley below.
Theatre of Pergamon

The Romans greatly admired Greek architecture and, in typical fashion, they copied and enhanced
the idea of tightly-packed public spectacles. They enlarged the permanent scenery behind the stages
of Greek theatres making it into a multi-story backdrop (scaenae frons) that joined the sides of
the cavea. Nero, for example, added a monumental Roman-style stage building to the Dionysos
Eleuthereus theatre which reduced the now marble stage area to its semi-circular form still seen
today. A low speakers platform (bema) was added to the enlarged stage too in the 2nd or 3rd century
CE. The Romans also paved the orchestra, sometimes added an awning roof (vela), built substructures
under the seating, and generally added more decoration to theatres by adding monumental statues,
exotic marble columns, and relief carvings to the stage area. With their high backstage and covered
roof, the enclosed and almost claustrophobic atmosphere of the Roman theatre would more and more
come to resemble the modern theatres of today.