Along with the Propylaea, the Parthenon, the Erechtheum and the Temple of Athena Nike, there were numerous shrines, fountains, altars and sanctuaries crowding the Acropolis.
The best known of those other monuments was probably the bronze statue of Athena called the Athena Promachos (Athena, Defender of the City). Although no trace of it remains today, the statue stood about 30 feet high on a pedestal in the open area just east of the Propylaea. Created by Phidias, the statue stood with its back to the wall supporting the terrace on which the Old Temple of Athena stood. The statue dates before 450 B.C.E., so the Old Temple of Athena would have been at least partially standing when it was first erected. According to Pausanias, sunlight reflecting from the bronze—and the added silver details—made the statue visible to sailors coming into Athens’s port of Piraeus.
One of the most important monuments on the Acropolis was the altar where the Athenians made sacrifices to Athena. The altar lay in the area east of the Erechtheum, though the only possible remains are places in the bedrock that have been smoothed. (Thucydides, who lived in the fifth century B.C.E., indicates that that the altar was very large; but Pausanias, who visited the Acropolis in the second century C.E., does not even mention it.) The altar was the true focal point of ancient worship. (In fact, people rarely entered temples, which were the homes of the gods/images and were often used as treasuries.)
Worship took place in the open air at the altar. There offerings were presented and burned so that the god received the smoke. The sacrificed animals were brought up to the Acropolis in processions that passed through the Propylaea—which helps to explain why the central passageway was actually a path on bedrock, with the floor and steps of the building lying on either side of this central path. Animals could thus walk to the Acropolis without climbing steps, and building materials could be transported more easily onto the sanctuary.
At the time of the Persian invasion, the Acropolis would have been full of sculptural offerings to the gods. Those offerings were damaged by the Persians, and they were then buried by the Athenians on the Acropolis so they would remain in a sacred area. As a result, we have a number of sculptures from the period before 480 B.C.E. that would otherwise have been removed. (The statue, which dates to 570–560 B.C.E., shows a youth carrying a calf to be sacrificed at the altar. The statue was dedicated to Athena Promachos by a man named Rhombos.) They provide not only beautiful examples of ancient art for those who visit the Acropolis Museum but also surprising examples of the extent to which ancient statues were sometimes painted (since burying the statues preserved some of the paint).
The Acropolis was used from at least the Neolithic period on. During the Bronze Age it was a citadel, and parts of the surrounding walls were built at the end of the period, around 1200 B.C.E., to protect the city. All other remains from the Bronze Age were erased during the classical period or later.
Many changes also occurred after the classical period, though virtually all traces have been erased. Roman additions were common, of course. Once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire in the fourth century C.E., the Parthenon, Erechtheum and Propylaea all became, at least in part, Christian religious structures. These structures were also used, and re-modified, during the time the Turks controlled Athens (1456–1832). Indeed, the Propylaea facade was even made into one wall of a fortified entrance courtyard, with the blocks from the Nike Temple used to fill in the spaces between columns.
Damage was also inflicted on the buildings in the course of the various battles for control of Athens. The most famous—and most damaging—incident occurred when the Venetian doge Francesco Morosini bombarded the Acropolis; in 1697 his canons exploded gunpowder stored by the Turks in the Parthenon.
The most recent major damage was done by Lord Elgin (1766–1841), who removed parts of the Parthenon—not only most of the frieze but also portions of the pedimental sculpture and one of the caryatids from the Erechtheum.
Since Greece achieved independence again in 1832 (when Athens was just a small village of a few thousand, though it became the capital within a year), the Acropolis has been the subject of nearly constant work to return it to its appearance during its heyday in the late fifth century B.C.E. Work continues on the Parthenon, the Propylaea and the Temple of Athena Nike, with a short pause for the Olympics, and will not be finished for some years.—H.E.