The Acropolis in Athens
For the works of Pericles… were perfectly made in so short a time and have continued so long a season. For every one of those which were finished at that time seemed to them to be very ancient touching the beauty thereof, and yet for the grace and continuance of the same it looketh at this day as if it were but newly done and finished; there is such a certain kind of flourishing freshness in it, which telleth that the injury of time cannot impair the sight thereof. As if every one of those foresaid works had some living spirit in it to make it seem fresh and young and a soul that lived for ever which kept them in their good continuing state.”
The development of the acropolis of Athens from the time when it was a pre-Hellenic sanctuary onward is so well researched and so widely known that repetition seems superfluous. One glance at the map of the acropolis even in Periclean times proves the volume-consciousness and space-blindness of its builders, which resulted practically in visual isolation of the respective structures. It explains also the complete lack of any axial references.
The tremendous differences in level within the sacred area contributed further to its irregularity, and only in the last Hellenistic centuries were attempts made–mostly unsuccessfully–to overcome them to a certain degree.
The acropolis, the nucleus of early Greek towns, developed generally from a fortified place of refuge. The possibilities of an easy defense were decisive for its establishment. So it became gradually the seat of the dominant power and eventually a sacred area, where temples, monuments, and altars were located, as were in earlier times the palaces of the kings. The acropolis was walled, but never became part of the fortification of the settlement which stretched beneath it. Once the whole town had become walled, the acropolis gradually lost its importance for defense. During the earlier archaic centuries it also served as a gathering place, a function which it lost to the agora with the increasing growth of the town proper.
On the acropolis, temples and statues were located according to topographical conditions of the hill. Often the respect for the tradition of previous sanctuaries or temples, sometimes dating back to prehistoric times, determined the site of later structures. But notwithstanding the representative character of the acropolis and the importance of its sacred area, no kind of space-creating relationship between the individual buildings can be observed. From the beginning to the very end of Greek civilization we find at the acropolis the same lack of an organized overall plan that is evident at the great sanctuaries, such as Eleusis, Olympia, and Delphi.