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Page 12

The Acropolis of Athens

 

    Almost every Greek city has its own formidable citadel, its own "acropolis,"—for "citadel" is really all this word conveys. Corinth boasts of its "Acro-Corinthus," Thebes of its "Cadmeia,"—but the Acropolis is in Athens. The later world will care little for any other, and the later world will be right. The Athenian stronghold has long ceased to be a fortress, though still it rises steep and strong. It is now one vast temple compound, covered with magnificent buildings. Whether considered as merely a natural rock commanding a marvelous view, or as a consecrated museum of sculpture and architecture, it deserves its immortality. We raise our eyes to the rock as we approach it. 

    The Acropolis dominates the plain of Athens. All the city seems to adjust itself to the base of its holy citadel. It lifts itself as tawny limestone rock rising about 190 feet above the adjacent level of the town.[12] In form it is an irregular oval with its axis west and east. It is about 950 feet long and 450 feet at its greatest breadth. On every side but the west the precipice falls away sheer and defiant, rendering a feeble garrison able to battle with myriads.[13] To the westward, however, the gradual slope makes a natural pathway always possible, and human art has long since shaped this with convenient steps. Nestling in against the precipice are various sanctuaries and caves; e.g. on the northwestern side, high up on the slope beneath the precipice, open the uncanny grottoes of Apollo and of Pan. On the southern side, close under the very shadow of the citadel, is the temple of Asclepius, and, more to the southeast, the great open theater of Dionysus has been scooped out of the rock, a place fit to contain an audience of some 15,000.[14]

    So much for the bare "bones" of the Acropolis; but now under the dazzling sunshine how it glitters with indescribable splendor! Before us as we ascend a whole succession of buildings seem lifting themselves, not singly, not in hopeless confusion, but grouped admirably together by a kind of wizardry, so that the harmony is perfect,—each visible, brilliant column and pinnacle, not merely flashing its own beauty, but suggesting another greater beauty just behind.

 

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