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Pericles' Acropolis

In 447 Pericles instigated a building project in Athens1 whose scale, cost, and magnificence provoked comment and controversy in its own time and has contributed enormously in later ages to the reputation of the Golden Age of Greece. The focus of the project's construction was the Athenian acropolis.2 The acropolis (“upper city” or “city-height”) was the massive, mesa-like promontory that rose abruptly from the plain on which the city was built and towered over its center, the agora below. Here the original settlers of Athens had made their homes, and only slowly had the city expanded onto the plain at the foot of the looming citadel. A single access road, the “Sacred Way”, wound up the slope from the agora to the acropolis and passed through a gate near the top at its western end. The two most conspicuous monuments constructed on the acropolis under Pericles' program were a huge marble temple of Athena (called the Parthenon) and a mammoth gate building (called the propylaia3) straddling the western entrance to the acropolis. The purpose of the Parthenon was to house a costly new image of the goddess4, over thirty feet high and made of gold and ivory. Elaborate carved sculptures decorated the outside of the Parthenon5, which was surrounded by a colonnade of fluted columns.6 The propylaia, too, had columns, and one of its rooms apparently housed paintings7, rather like a modern museum.

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