The word 'Acropolis' is the union of two Greek words: Acro + Poli. 'Acro' means the outer most point and 'Poli' means city. The Acropolis of Athens is the most significant citadel of Greece. It lies upon a rock whose height reaches 156 meters (512 feet) above sea level. There is a precipice on three sides and only the west side is accessible. The history of the Acropolis of Athens goes way back. Remains from the very early Neolithic era were found on top and the sides of the rock. During the Mycenic period (1600-1100 B.C.) the Acropolis was fortified with 'Pelasgian walls'. These walls were made out of enormous 6-meter (20 feet) wide slabs ( at that time the Acropolis was the center of the city and the kings base). Around the palace were the houses of noblemen. When enemies were present every citizen would flee there for protection.
As the years passed by the city grew and its form changed (the king is no longer situated on top of the Acropolis). During this time the Acropolis is turned into a spiritual center (named Sacred Rock) with sacred temples surrounding it.
We reach the Historical period where we find newly built sanctuaries and the foundations of the temple of 'Athena Poliad' (built around 570 B.C.) beneath the Caryatid statues. The sculptures of this temple can be found today in the museum of the Acropolis. Archaeologists state that there were more buildings, temples and statues during that period on the Acropolis. All of them though were destroyed by Persian hordes around 480 B.C.
The contemporary form of the 'Sacred Rock' began after the Persian Wars around 450- 420 B.C. when Pericles was lord of Athens. Pericles assigned a great task to three top artists of that time (Phidias, Iktinos and Kallikratis). The task was to rebuild anything that had been destroyed by the Persians and to decorate the Sacred Rock once again. Phidias was the general supervisor and Iktinos with Kallikratis were the architects. This was the time of the 'Propilea' (entrance of the Acropolis), the temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion with its famous Caryatids and last the Parthenon which is considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings of all time. The Parthenon was built in honor of 'Athena Parthenos' who saved the city of Athens from the Persians. It was built with Pentelic marble and was of Doric style. The exterior was decorated with many sculptures which were all creations of Phidias and of his pupils. Inside the temple stood the golden-ivory statue of the goddess Athena that held in her right hand goddess Nike. Outside the temple and towards the 'Propilea' stood the bronze statue of 'Athena Promachos' which was also a creation of Phidias. Pericles did not succeed to see the completion of everything that he had visioned. He only saw the Parthenon and the 'Propilea' everything else was completed after his death.
Up until the Roman Empire everyone respected the Acropolis. When Christianity prevailed as a religion, the Parthenon became a church called 'Madonna the Athenian'. The same thing happened to the Erectheion. During the rule of the Franks the Parthenon became a Catholic church and during the Ottoman conquest of Greece it was transformed into a mosque. During that time the Turks used the temples as a storage facility for gunpowder. During the Venetian siege in 1656 and 1687 a great part of the Acropolis was destroyed from explosions. The Acropolis was released from Turkish occupation and returned to the Greeks in 1833. Since then excavations and preservation of the ancient site have been taking place.
The Panathenaic stadium (aka Kallimarmaro) occupies the exact site of the original Panathenaic Stadium which was built in 330 BC. It is built with white Pentelic marble, it is 204 meters (669 feet) long and 83 meters (272 feet) wide and has a capacity of 60,000. It was first reconstructed during Hadrian's reign (76-138 AD) and then rebuilt in white marble by Herodes Atticus for the Panathenaic Games in 144 AD. The site was excavated between 1869 and 1879 by Ernst Ziller. In 1895 George Averof gave 4 million drachmas in gold (about $15,000) in order to restore the stadium in time for the first modern Olympic Games on April 5th, 1896. The stadium's contemporary structure is a true copy of the one built in 144 AD by Herodes Atticus.
During antiquity Sounion was an important municipality of Attica that included a fortress within its cape (for the ship-navigation control), as well as two important sanctuaries of Poseidon and Athena Sounias. The fortified top of the cape was one of the five important fortresses that was responsible for the protection of the Attica region. Fortification is likely to have existed from the old times, not only because Sounion was an advanced military naval station for the Athenians, but also because of its position (the harbor sheltered each boat that was in danger). It is expressly reported that there was a fortification in the winter of 413-412 B.C. (the Athenians wanted to make sure that their ships which carried wheat would be protected). It was then when probably some rich tradesmen or seamen dedicated to the sanctuary about 10-12 oversized marble kourous. These statues certainly created a great impression to all the seamen that would pass by with their ships. Some of the kourous that were found are exposed today in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
The temple that the Athenians had begun building after 500 B.C., suffered great damage during a Persian raid. Around the mid-5th century B.C. with the inspiration of Pericles, the Athenians started building the classic Temple of Poseidon. It was a temple of Doric style with 6x13 columns with a double internal colonnade (where the statue was situated).
This is Athens oldest and most picturesque neighborhood located on the north and northeast side of the Acropolis. Plaka is known to the locals as 'the neighborhoods of the gods'. The name 'Plaka' is apparently derived from a very large white plaque that was located at the junction of Thespidos, Adrianou and Tripodon Streets. Plaka was a well-maintained and fortified area during antiquity, while the ancient Athenians based their agora (marketplace and town commons) in the same general vicinity around the 8th century BC, a model of urban planning followed by other ancient Greek city-states.
The distinctive architecture of Plaka as well as the large number of monuments located in the district, dating from various historical periods (Classical, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman) gives an overview of Athens' historical development. The monuments and sites include: the ancient Agora of the Classical Era, Doric Temple of Hephaestus and Athena, and the marketplace of Caesar and Augustus, which is known as the Roman Forum. The Roman Forum had two entrances - on the west side there was the imposing gate of the goddess Athena, which still dominates the area and which today is used as the entrance for horse and carriages, while on the east side, there was an entrance for pedestrians.
On the east side of the Roman Forum, there is also a monument called the Tower of the Winds. The remains of what used to be Hadrian's library, one of the largest in the ancient world, can also be found in Plaka. The Stoa of Attalos has also been preserved. Another well-known monument found in Plaka is the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, located in Lysicrates Square and built by Lysicrates himself, a patron of the annual music contest held in the theatre of Dionysus. The churches that can be found in the Plaka include the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, the Church of Soteira Lykodimou, The Metamorphosis - Sotira Kottaki Church, Church of St. Nicholas Rangavas, the Church of Metamorphosis, the Little Metropolis and the Church of Holy Metohi Panagiou Tafou.
There are also many cultural monuments found in Plaka as well due to the pleasant and protected environment the district offers. There are more than 10 museums currently located in the district, including the Museum of Modern Greek Culture, the oldest museum of the area that includes collections of traditional handicrafts; the Kanellopoulos Museum, with its exhibitions of artifacts dating back from the Prehistoric Period right up until the end of the 19th century, and the Jewish Museum of Greece, with its exhibits depicting the daily and religious life of the Jewish communities of Greece. The museums in the Plaka are the Center of Popular Art and Tradition, the Historical Museum of the University of Athens, the Center for the Study of Modern Ceramics, the Museum of Greek Popular Musical Instruments (the Museum of Phoebus Anogianakis), and the Greek Children's Museum.
Plaka is also well-known for taverns, coffee shops and clubs. Plaka is the birthplace of the Athenian 'serenade' and it is also the location where many Athenians celebrate the annual carnival.