Why were the Acropolis and the Parthenon important to Athens?

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Although many people use the term "Acropolis" in the singular to refer to the Athenian Acropolis, in fact, the term is actually a generic one simply meaning the upper city or highest portion of a city in elevation. Many Greek cities had some form of acropolis. This type of city...

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Although many people use the term "Acropolis" in the singular to refer to the Athenian Acropolis, in fact, the term is actually a generic one simply meaning the upper city or highest portion of a city in elevation. Many Greek cities had some form of acropolis. This type of city design, which included a highly defensible walled acropolis and a dense urban area clustered around the base of the acropolis that was often surrounded by walls and surrounding farmlands, is one that dates back to the Mycenaean period. Its purpose was originally martial. The Athenian Acropolis, with its year-round supply of water through a spring, steep sides, and walls, was a place citizens could retreat to during a siege. It was used in this fashion by the Mycenaeans, and it was used in later conflicts. It also originally contained the royal Mycenaean palace, as well as extensive fortifications.

Because the Acropolis was the center of the city and its most prominent and defensible landmark, it also became home to temples and other cult activities. After the Acropolis was destroyed in the Persian Wars, Pericles rebuilt it as a luxurious monument to the wealth and power of Athens and looted the Delian League treasury (originally established to fund defenses in case of future attacks) in the process. It became a symbol of both the artistic greatness of Athens and of imprudent government spending. Though its great temples were centers of religious activity that travelers marveled at for their architectural beauty, Athens's allies and many responsible Athenian citizens regarded it as a wasteful display of grandiosity.

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The Acropolis and the Parthenon were important to Athens as centers of religious practice.  The Acropolis is a hill in Athens.  Atop the hill sits the Parthenon, which is a temple that was dedicated to Athena, who was the patron goddess of Athens.  Within that temple (an open-sided structure) sacrifices were made to the gods.  This was the most important function of this part of the city.

While the explicit purpose of the Parthenon was religious, it also was symbolically important.  The Athenians' ability to design and build such a temple was an important symbol of their wealth and power as a polis.

 

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