Following the Gods’ Traces – Mythology and History

Capitals on the Acropolis

The first sanctuary of the Acropolis was dedicated to Athena, Zeus’ daughter. In Greek mythology, she is a goddess of art, manual skill, of agriculture, of wisdom, also of war, and she is the protecting goddess of the city of Athens. In many representations she appears carrying the head of Gorgo, that is, of Medusa, who was beheaded by Perseus with Athena’s help. Her foster-father was Triton, and she grew up together with his daughter Pallas. A fight between both ended deathly for Pallas. In order to express her grief, Athena made an effigy of her playfellow, the Palladion, and used Pallas' name as her second one: Pallas Athena.

It might be her ability to see in the dark, but maybe also simply the impression of her big eyes, that made Homer describe Athena in the Odyssey as "owl-eyed". The owl was Athena’s symbol animal, beside the snake. Athena had a lot of surnames. Beside Parthenos (virgin), Athene Sais (she had a lot of devotes in the Egyptian city of Sais), Coryphagenes (meaning "born by the head", that is, the one of Zeus) or as well Hippia, the horse woman. It was her who taught human beings to tame horses. Her name Pallas also might result from the fight of Titans: defeating Pallas, son of Gaia and Uranos, she gained his forces. Athena's representations correspond to her surnames: if she is called Pallas Athene, we see her with the owl, if Athena Parthenos, on a throne, armed with buckler and spear.

First traces of settlement on the 156 m high lime stone plateau can be traced back until the Neolithic, that is, the 4th millennium b.C. Since the 13th century b.C., a Mycenean wall surrounded Athens' sanctuary. The first sanctuary, built in honor of the protecting goddess Athena, was built in stone in 600 b.C., but destroyed by the Persian 120 years later. By that time, the hill was surrounded by only some villages. The mythological character of Kekrops is said to be Attika’s second king, and foundator of Athens. Its plundering and the destruction of the most important sanctuaries by the Persians was followed by the reconstruction under the rule of Kimon. Iktionos, Kallikrates, Mnesikles, those were the master builders of Pericles, giving the Acropolis a completely new appearance under the direction of the sculptor Phidias.

Parthenon at night

Time and also environment contamination have left their traces; but nevertheless, the Acropolis has maintained its pride. Up to today, it dominates Athens’ cityscape. Being a sign of civilisation and humanity under Pericles, it is today a World Heritage Site. During the summer months and the Athens Festival, many events take place in the Ancient Roman theatre on the foot of the Acropolis. In warm summer nights, a unique experience in a unique scenery.

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