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                                                         The Acropolis of Athens
The acropolis of Athens

The Acropolis was the most important religious centre of Athens. The beginnings of the history of the sacred rock and the surrounding area go back to the depths of time, as early as the Neolithic period. During the Mycenaean period, the Acropolis was a political as well as religious centre. It was the seat of the local Mycenaean king, and on it stood a palace, while a fortification wall enclosed the summit of the rock,

With the passage of time, after the 11th c. BC and particularly from the 8th c. BC onwards, the sacred rock was converted into a cult area where many deities were worshipped, the most mportant being Athena, the patron goddess of the city of Athens.

In the 6th c. BC. in particular, there was intense building activity on the Acropolis: new temples were built, old ones were repaired and other buildings were erected. From the middle of the 5th c. BC. against the background of Perikles' building programme, the sanctuary acquired a large number of brilliant monuments, the supreme one being the Parthenon. From the end of the 5th c. BC onwards, however, the adverse effect on Athens of the military conflicts in which the city was embroiled resulted in the restriction of building activity on the sacred rock. The image of the  sanctuary remained virtually unchanged down to the establishment of Christianity, which marked the end of ancient religion. The ancient monuments were widely destroyed or converted into Christian churches, and the artworks adorning the sanctuary were looted.

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The economic prosperity and artistic flowering of Athens are attested not only by the splendid buildings but also by the various dedications found in the sanctuary. A large number of these come from the so-called Persian destruction level, where they had reverently been buried by the Athenians when they returned to their city after their victory over the Persians at the battle of Plataia (479 BC) and found the monuments and dedications destroyed. The Acropolis bronzes have an impressive variety of types and a wealth of decoration revealing the ingenuity, imagination and sensitivity of the artists who made them. During the 8th and 7th c. BC cauldrons and tripod stands, decorated with figurines of nude males, warriors, horses, and griffin protomes as well, were the most popular dedications. From the (6th and 5th c. BC. offerings commonly made in the sanctuary included statuettes of various deities, mainly Athena, and female and male figurines, all of them outstanding works of art of this period.

The artists abandoned the strict stylisation of the past and now followed the changes that had been accomplished in large-scale sculpture. Figures such as horsemen, charioteers, athletes, warriors, rustics, kouroi and korai, were all rendered with greater naturalism and exude an inner radiance and vitality. At this same period, various kinds of vases and vessels were dedicated in the sanctuary, such as basins, plates, bowls, cauldrons, wine jugs and pitchers (hydrias), decorated with figures depicting Victories (Nikai), sphinxes, sirens, winged horses that are perhaps to be identified with Pegasos,  etc. All these were outstanding works of art, most of them created by famous Attic workshops, though there are also some from other important bronze-working centres that flourished at this same period, mainly in Greece but also in the east and West.

The finds from the Acropolis now kept in the National Archaeological Museum come from the excavations carried out by the Archaeological Society of Athens from 1885 to 1889.




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