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The Acropolis


Achilleion Palace

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The Acropolis


The Acropolis is not a single building but a number of temples build on a hill overlooking Athens. Although there are many Acropolises (the word meaning high city) in Greece we tend to associate the name with the one in Athens.  The buildings that survive today are the Parthenon built between, 447 – 438 BC - although the decorative features weren’t completed until 432 BC; the Propylaea constructed around 437 BC; The Temple of Athena Nike between 427 BC and 423 BC; and the Erechtheum which was begun in 421 BC, although work ceased between 414 BC and 409 BC, and was completed in 407 BC.


Athens is known as the birth place of democracy when the people of Athens rose up and deposed the tyrant who had ruled them around 500 BC. The person to take over was Cleisthenes who set about reforming the constitution and introduced democracy, consequently he is known as the father of Athenian democracy.  Around 461 BC Pericles became the leader of Athens, which he dominated until his death in 429 BC. It was Pericles who was responsible for the construction of what we know today as the Acropolis.


The Acropolis is entered via the Western Approach by the stairway leading to the Propylaea which was built as a gateway. Due to the constraints of the narrowness of space and the irregular terrain it was built on two levels.  Just across from the Propylaea is the temple of Athena Nike   - the goddess of victory.   Like the Propylaea, the temple of Athena Nike was restricted by the space available. Athena is the goddess of victory, and the temple was built on the site of her alter during the Peloponnesian war to thank her for the victories against Sparta. The temple was used as a treasury where people would deposit their money for safe keeping.  One of the strangest Greek temples in design is the Erechtheum as it does not follow the normal rules of Greek temple design.  The temple was dedicated to Poseidon and it too was built on two levels due to the uneven land.  It has two porches one of which is famous for the Caryatids, a sculptured female figure used as a column. At the centre of the temple during ancient times a lamp was continually kept burning.


The largest and most important building on the Acropolis is the Parthenon.  It was the temple built for Athena Parthenos, the patron goddess of the city.  The basic rectangular plan was surrounded by a colonnaded portico of columns on all four sides.  It has 8 columns along the front and 15 on each side, 17 counting the corner ones. Each column had a number of stone drums, in the case of the Parthenon there were 11, and each drum is aligned with wood dowels placed in central holes to line them up. The building was richly decorated with sculptures - many of which were removed in 1802 by Lord Elgin and are now in the British Museum – all of which were originally brightly painted.  Religious ceremonies did not take place inside temples but outside, the temple was the storeroom and a home to the statue of the god or goddess.  At the rear of the Parthenon was the Treasury room; the main space contained a 12 meter high  statue of Athena, clad in gold and ivory on a 1.5 meter tall plinth, the statue contained 1 ton of gold and cost as much as the building itself.


In the 6th century AD, a Christian Church was built inside the Parthenon which in 1456, when Greece was invaded by the Turks, was converted into a Mosque. In 1687, during the Venetian siege of Athens,   a Turkish ammunition store inside the building was ignited by a Venetian cannonball destroying the inside of the Parthenon and causing two sides to collapse. In the following years the ruins were used as a source of stone for the locals.  Excavations began in 1837 and have been going on ever since, while renovation work can be seen as an ongoing process.






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Olympia was one of the most important sanctuaries of ancient Greece although we know it as the birthplace of the Olympic Games.  There are a number of different versions as to how the Olympic Games began. One puts it down as the place where Zeus overcame his father Cronus and seized the throne. It thus became a sacred place to Zeus and he created the games to celebrate his victory.  The first recorded Olympic Games took place in 776 BC although they may have started earlier. At that time there was just one event, a foot race over a stade, a distance of 180 metres.


From 472 BC the games were held over five days instead of the original one as new events such as boxing, pentathlon (long jump, discus, sprint, javelin, and wrestling), horse and chariot racing and the Pancrateon (a free style fighting) as well as additional track events had been introduced. During the time of the games all hostilities would cease and great honour was attached to winning. The games were ended in 394 AD by the Roman Emperor Theodosius as they were seen as being Pagan. They were reinstated in 1896 in Athens with the Olympic flame being lit at the temple of Hera, the oldest structure in Olympia, and carried to the site of the games, something which still happens today.


Only ruins now remain but it is still possible to see the main buildings: The temple of Zeus, begun in 470 BC and placed on a platform in order to raise it above the over buildings.  At the centre of the temple stood a twelve-meter high gold and ivory statue of Zeus, which was one of the 12 wonders of the ancient world. Today we can see the south colonnade with the fallen columns toppled by an earthquake.  The circular Tholos called Philippeion, begun in 338 BC by Philip II.  He died in 336 BC before it was finished so it was completed by his son, Alexander the Great.  The Stadium with the vaulted entrance known as the Krypte due to it being covered over can also be seen as can the remains of many other sports structures erected for the games.  The site also has a museum containing many statues and artefacts found at the site, which became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1989.


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Addition information can be seen on Encyclopaedia Britannica



Achilleion Palace

The Achilleion Palace is located on top of the hill in the Village of Gastouri, 10 kms south west of the town of Corfu. Its positioning provides views over the surrounding countryside with its green hills and valleys and the Ionian Sea in the background.
The building was acquired by Empress Elizabeth (known as Sisi), of Austria, the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I, from the philosopher and diplomat Petros Vrailas Armenis and was formerly known as "Villa Vraila". After visiting the villa in 1888, the Empress decided that it was the ideal location for her to build a palace as a summer retreat in Corfu.  In 1890, following the death of her son Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, Italian architect Raffaele Caritto was appointed and he undertook significant alterations designing the palace in the Pompeian architectural style, which has many similarities to that used by the Russian Imperial family. The palace was designed to represent an ancient Phoenician palace with the mythical hero Achilles, after whom the palace is names, as its central theme
The German sculptor Ernst Herter was commissioned to create works based on Greek mythology, the most famous of his works being his Dying Achilles sculpture, which formed the centrepiece of the Achilleion Gardens. This shows Achilles trying to removel the arrow from his heel. The Palace contains numerous classic Greek statues, many of which are based on the events of Homer’s Trojan War
It is not just the gardens which contain statues of Achilles, as the palace also contains several statues and many paintings.
Following the assassination of the Empress in Geneva in 1898 the palace was deserted until 1907, when it was bought by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany as a summer residence and for diplomatic entertaining.
During the time when the palace was occupied by the Kaiser, he is said to have re-landscaped the gardens. The large imposing bronze sculpture of Achilles in full hoplite uniform that stands in the Gardens facing north toward the city was commissioned by Wilhelm who used the palace until 1914 and the outbreak of World War I.
During World War I, the palace was used by French and Serbian troops as a military hospital. After the War, it was ceded to the Greek state under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. From 1919 until 1939 it was used to house various government services and a number of the artefacts in the palace where disposed of.
During World War II, the palace was used by the axis powers (Germany and Italy) as a military headquarters. The palace was given the status of a Public building after World War II, when it was taken over by the Hellenic Tourist Organisation (HTO).
In 1962 it was leased to a private company who utilised the ground floor as a museum but used the upper floor for a casino. In 1983 it was returned to the HTO and was used for the European summit meeting in 1994.
At the main entrance to the building is a statue of Empress Elizabeth. No statues or paintings of her show her smiling, due to her discoloured teeth, which she preferred not to have displayed.
On entry to the front is the main stairway with two ionic columns either side of the stairway and the statues of Zeus and Hera. The ceiling of the entrance is decorated with a large fresco depicting the four seasons.
On the right is a portrait of the Empress and the chapel with its arch-shaped ceiling, showing a painting depicting the trial of Christ. In the adjacent rooms are her personal items and those of her husband. It also displays records and documents relating to her assassination by Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni. In the adjoining Kaiser’s room are the personal items of the Emperor William II, which are on display, which include paintings of the imperial yacht.
On the left side of the entrance is a marble fireplace containing a clock and small statues. The doors leading off this room lead to other exhibition rooms which house the furniture used there.
At the top of the stairs is a painting by Austrian artist Franz Matsch depicting the Triumph of Achilles over Hector and shows the body of Hector being dragged by Achilles from his chariot. From this floor, access can be gained to the garden and the Peristyle which contains the nine statues of the Muses and the statue of Apollo and the three Graces. The peristyle is known as the Arcade of the Wise Men as it contains 13 busts of ancient philosophers and also the bust of Shakespeare. From this position, there is a view to the cenotaph where Empress Elizabeth’s son Rudolph was placed.  This is situated in the Achilleion Forest.
These days the Achilleion is used as a museum and as a venue for various events.





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