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The Peripatos, the circuit road around the foot of the Acropolis, viewed from the cave sanctuaries.
|The north slope of the Acropolis
The Mycenaean Fountain, the Sanctuary of
Aphrodite and Eros to the Sanctuary of Aglauros
|Beyond the Klepsydra and the cave sanctuaries (see part 1 on the previous page), the Peripatos continues eastwards, around to the Theatre of Dionysos on the south side of the Acropolis. It is a pleasant walk along the paved path, beneath the shade of trees, with glimpses of modern Athens below. There are even a few benches and a water fountain along the way.
The sights and sites on the north slope are not as obvious or spectacular as those on the Acropolis, which is why few people stray to this side of the rock. But if you have the time, it is worth seeing the location of some of the most ancient sacred places of Athens.
The walk takes the visitor past the remains of the "Mycenaean fountain", the Sanctuary of Aphrodite and Eros (see photos below) and a number of walls, caves and niches from several historical periods. The path then turns northwards to the east end of the roock which is dominated by the enormous cave of the "Sanctuary of Aglauros". From there you can visit the theatre and the south slope, and continue along the northern stretch of the Peripatos towards the entrance to the upper part of the Acropolis.
The Peripatos inscription.
A mid 4th century BC rock-cut inscription along the Peripatos, just
east of the Sanctuary of Aphrodite and Eros (see below), states:
"The length of the Peripatos is 5 stadia and 18 feet" (around 1100 metes).
The inscription, now barely legible, is marked by an information board.
Looking eastwards along the Peripatos, just beyond the Klepsydra and the cave sanctuaries.
See also the part of the Peripatos along the
south slope of the Acropolis on gallery page 34.
Remains of the church of Saint Nikolaos (Άγιος Νικόλαος,
Agios Nikolaos), to the north and below the Peripatos.
The "Mycenaean Fountain" and a chairlift on the north slope of the Acropolis.
|The "Mycenaean Fountain" is actually a well-like construction inside the lower entrance to a hidden passageway up to the Acropolis, built in a wide, 40 metre deep natural cleft in the rock. An eight-section stairway of wood and stone led from the northwest corner of the Arrephorion (Αρρηφόριον, the House of the Arrephoroi) on the Acropolis down to this cave-like entrance, above the level of the Peripatos.
Discovered in 1896 by Panagiotis Kavvadias (Παναγιώτης Καββαδίας, 1850-1928), it was later excavated by the American archaeologist Oscar Broneer (1894-1992), who dated the original construction to the 12th century BC. 
Some scholars have associated the passageway with the Festival of Arrephoria, described by Pausanias. During the festival young Athenian girls brought the arrheta (unspeakable, secret) offerings from the Acropolis to Athena at night, passing through a hidden underground passage to the Sanctuary of Aphrodite and Eros (see photos below). 
An information board explains the fountain but not the chair lift up the stone stairway which leads up to an elevator to the top of the Acropolis (see photos below). Presumably, this arrangement is to provide access to the Acropolis for disabled people. It seems strange that there is no sign to inform visitors.
For further information about disabled access to the Acropolis
see Practical information on gallery page 1.
The lower entrance/exit of the "Mycenaean Fountain" in
the rock of the north slope of the Acropolis. An olive tree
(a symbol of Athena) has been planted in front of the cave.
The elevator up to the Acropolis from the north slope.
The top of the elevator with a platform at the north side of the Acropolis.
A solidly engineered construction, practical rather than comfortable.
Column drums of the Pre-Parthenon temple of Athena reused
in the north wall of the Acropolis, just below the Erechtheion,
and above the Sanctuary of Aphrodite and Eros.
|The "Pre-Parthenon" (or "Parthenon 2"), was designed to replace the earlier Archaic temple, known as the "Hekatompedon", which had been built around 575-550 BC. It was under construction around 488-480 BC, but was destroyed during the Persian invasion of 480-479 BC before it had been completed. Its parts were later redeployed elsewhere, mainly to provide fortifications for the Acropolis.
See a model of the Acropolis as it may have appeared in 480 BC,
just before the Persian invasion, on gallery page 2.
Reused stone blocks and triglyphs in the north wall of
the Acropolis, directly above the Mycenaean Fountain.
The roped-off area of the Sanctuary of Aphrodite and Eros, to the right (south) and
above the level of the Peripatos. The sanctuary is entered by steps on the far side.
Another column drum from the Pre-Parthenon lies on the ground near the Peripatos.
The open-air Sanctuary of Aphrodite and Eros, up a flight of steps from the Peripatos.
|The small sanctuary is on a raised platform at the foot of the rock of the Acropolis, in antiquity entered from the Peripatos by a ramp. It was identified in 1931 by its excavator, the American archaeologist Oscar Broneer, on the basis of two rock-cut inscriptions.  One is the name of Aphrodite, and the other refers to the Festival of Eros on the fourth day of the month of Mounichion (near the end of spring). The inscriptions, in two square niches (just to left of centre in the photo), are very faint and almost impossible to read.
As at the cave sanctuaries (see previous page), several niches were cut into the rock for votive offerings. Fragments of dedicatory statues and reliefs were discovered here, including carved plaques with male and female genitals, offerings to Aphrodite and Eros as deities of reproductive fertility.
A large marble thesaurus (treasure box) found here and dated to the 4th century BC, had a similar function to a collection box in a modern church. On the front is the inscription "Treasury for the prenuptial offerings to Aphrodite Ourania", below which is a relief of a one drachma coin, presumably an indication of the expected minimum donation. Aphrodite Ourania (Αφροδίτη Οὐρανία, Heavenly Aphrodite) was the patron goddess of love and marriage, and newlyweds sacrificed to her in the hope of a happy and productive marriage. The thesaurus is in the Acropolis Museum, Inv. No. Π 66-67.
The cave of the "Sanctuary of Aglauros" at the east end of the Acropolis.
|Appearing like a gaping hole beneath the Acropolis, this is by far the rock's largest cave, 14 metres wide at its mouth and 22 metres deep. Today the area around the cave mouth is surrounded by fallen rocks and earth, making the approach to the sanctuary impossible for visitors.
Like the other cave sanctuaries, niches have been cut in the rock of its inner walls. It was identified as the Sanctuary of Aglauros (Αγλαύρειον, Aglaureion) following the discovery in 1980 by the Greek archaeologist Georgios Dontas (Γεώργιος Δοντάς)  of an inscribed marble stele just to the east of the cave. The inscription, dated 247/6 or 246/5 BC, is a decree of the Athenian Demos honouring Timokrite, priestess of the nymph Aglauros. The identification is still a matter of debate, and another cave on the north side of the Acropolis had been previously identified as the sanctuary.
Aglauros, one of the three daughters of daughter of Kekrops, the mythical king of Athens, jumped from the Acropolis to her death to save the city from a prolonged siege, in obedience to a prescription of the Oracle of Delphi.  Athenian ephebes (adolescent youths) met at her shrine when they reached the age of 18, to collect their arms and swear an oath of loyalty to the state.
According to Herodotus and Pausanias, it was from the Sanctuary of Aglauros that the soldiers of the Persian king Xerxes gained access to the Acropolis which they sacked in 480 BC. 
Model of the Acropolis (viewed from the east) as it may have appeared
in 480 BC, just before the invasion by the Persian king Xerxes I.
The model shows relative size of the huge cave of the "Sanctuary of Aglauros"
and the high, steep sides of the Acropolis rock above it. Also visible is the
Peripatos around the foot of the Acropolis and other roads radiating from it.
Model by M. Korres and P. Dimitriadis. Acropolis Museum, Athens.
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The section of the north side of the Acropolis below
the Erechtheion, with the Parthenon in the background.
The lower entrance of the "Mycenaean Fountain" can
be seen directly below the white crane on the right.
Further below are remains of the church of Saint Nikolaos.
|Notes, references and links
1. Broneer on the "Mycenaean Fountain"
Oscar Broneer, A Mycenaean Fountain on the Athenian Acropolis. Hesperia Vol. 8, No. 4 (October-December 1939), pages 317-433. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens. At jstor.
2. The Arrephoria
The Arrephoroi (Ἀρρηφόρια; singular Ἀρρηφόρος, Arrephoros; from ἀρρητον, mystery, and φέρω, I carry) were two girls between 7 and 11 years old, chosen from prominent families to serve as servants of Athena Polias for one year. They lived in the Arrephorion (Αρρηφόριον, the House of the Arrephoroi), at the northern edge of the Acropolis, northwest of the Erechtheion. Among their sacred duties was to attend to the sacred olive tree of Athena, and to assist the women who made the peplos, the new robe for the xoanon (cult statue) of the goddess which was ceremonially brought to the Acropolis during the annual Panathenaic Festival.
Festival of Arrephoria, which took place in the month Skiroforiona (Σκιροφοριώνα), was also called the Hersiphoria (Ερσηφόρια) after Herse, one of the three daughters of Kekrops (see note below). At the end of the festival the girls were released from their duties and replaced by a new pair.
"I was much amazed at something which is not generally known, and so I will describe the circumstances. Two maidens dwell not far from the temple of Athena Polias, called by the Athenians Bearers of the Sacred Offerings. For a time they live with the goddess, but when the festival comes round they perform at night the following rites. Having placed on their heads what the priestess of Athena gives them to carry – neither she who gives nor they who carry have any knowledge what it is – the maidens descend by the natural underground passage that goes across the adjacent precincts, within the city, of Aphrodite in the Gardens. They leave down below what they carry and receive something else which they bring back covered up. These maidens they henceforth let go free, and take up to the Acropolis others in their place."
Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book I, chapter 27, section 3. At Perseus Digital Library.
3. Broneer on Eros and Aphrodite
Oscar Broneer (1894-1992), Eros and Aphrodite on the North Slope of the Acropolis in Athens. Hesperia Vol. 1 (1932), pages 31-55. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens.
The two incriptions referring to Eros and Aphrodite are IG I(3) 1382a and b:
IG I(3) 1382a:
το͂ι Ἔρωτι ℎε ἑορτὲ
IG I(3) 1382b:
4. Georgios Dontas
The archaeologist Dr Georgios Dontas (Γεώργιος Δοντάς, born in Athens in 1923), former Vice President of the Archeological Society in Athens (1985-1986), Ephor of Antiquities in Rhodes, Corfu and Athens, and Director of the Acropolis.
5. Pausanias on Aglauros
Pausanias wrote that the three daughters of Kekrops were Herse, Aglauros and Pandrosos, and that Herse and Aglauros jumped from the Acropolis in terror after seeing Erichthonios:
"Above the sanctuary of the Dioscuri is a sacred enclosure of Aglaurus. It was to Aglaurus and her sisters, Herse and Pandrosus, that they say Athena gave Erichthonius, whom she had hidden in a chest, forbidding them to pry curiously into what was entrusted to their charge. Pandrosus, they say, obeyed, but the other two (for they opened the chest) went mad when they saw Erichthonius, and threw themselves down the steepest part of the Acropolis. Here it was that the Persians climbed and killed the Athenians who thought that they understood the oracle better than did Themistocles, and fortified the Acropolis with logs and stakes *."
Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book I, chapter 18, section 2. At Perseus Digital Library.
* A reference to the "wooden walls" the Oracle of Delphi advised the Athenians to build against the Persian invasion. Themistokles famously interpreted this to mean the fleet of wooden warships which he consequently had built and which played a vital part in the allied Greek defeat of the Persians at the naval Battle of Salamis.
6. Herodotus on the Sanctuary of Aglauros
"In time however there appeared for the Barbarians a way of approach after their difficulties, since by the oracle it was destined that all of Attica which is on the mainland should come to be under the Persians. Thus then it happened that on the front side of the Acropolis behind the gates and the way up to the entrance, in a place where no one was keeping guard, nor would one have supposed that any man could ascend by this way, here men ascended by the temple of Aglauros the daughter of Kecrops, although indeed the place is precipitous.
And when the Athenians saw that they had ascended up to the Acropolis, some of them threw themselves down from the wall and perished, while others took refuge in the sanctuary of the temple [megaron]. Then those of the Persians who had ascended went first to the gates, and after opening these they proceeded to kill the suppliants; and when all had been slain by them, they plundered the temple and set fire to the whole of the Acropolis."
Herodotus, Histories, Book 8, chapter 53. At Project Gutenberg.
Before the excavations by Georgios Dontas, many scholars had taken "the front side of the Acropolis" to mean the north side (the side facing the pre-Roman city and the Agora), and placed the Sanctuary of Aglauros at the location now known as the "Mycenaean Fountain" (see above). It was therefore argued that the Persian "Barbarians" may have entered the Acropolis by the stairway of the secret passage there up to the Arrephoreion. How they could have managed to climb to the Acropolis from the east end has yet to be explained.
|Photos, maps and articles: © David John
Additional photos: © Konstanze Gundudis
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