Acropolis - Southern Slope

Odeon Herodes Atticus
Odeon Herodes Atticus

This was the cultural center of ancient Athens, and is considered to be the first example of a complex of buildings dedicated to performances of the arts, whether in Greece or the world.

Theater of Dionysus: The birthplace of tragedy and comedy: this first theater of the Western world was built on the site of a sanctuary of Dionysus. The archaic temple, containing a wooden image of Dionysus, dates from around 540 BC. The classical temple was built and the gold and ivory statue of the god by Alcamenes, sculpted in the 4th century BC.

The theater was built at the end of the 6th century BC around an already existing circular orchestra, which is still (albeit barely) distinguishable among the ruins of the stage. It was on this stage that plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes, which still inspire theatergoers today, had their world premieres.

The stone tiers were built in 333 BC by the orator and politician Lycurgus. The theater could hold a crowd of 17,000 spectators; or 30,000 when the surrounding grounds were filled. The ancient walk, or "peripatos", divided the theater into two parts: the theater proper and the higher "epitheater". Under the Emperor Nero (67 AD), the stage and the orchestra took on the Roman form they maintain to this day. The Phaidros Bema "pulpitum" (platform) was built in the 3rd century AD.

East of the Theater of Dionysus stood the renowned Odeion of Pericles, which is now in ruins. It was built in the 5th century BC using the masts of Persian ships (booty from the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC), and used by the Athenians for musical performances. According to Vitruvius, the Odeion was destroyed by fire in the course of the war between Mithridates and Rome during the assault by Roman general Sulla in 86 BC, and later rebuilt by Ariobarzanes, the King of Cappadocia.

Above the theater, stood the imposing Choregic Monument of Thrasyllus (319 BC). Sometime after Christianity became prevalent, this was transformed into the Church of Panagia Chrysospiliotissa. High above the monument you can still see two Corinthian columns, which were bases for choragic tripods from the Roman period.

The ruins of the ancient Asclepion can be seen west of the theater. This temple was built in 420 BC, dedicated to Asclepios, the god of medicine, and was used as a sanctuary, a clinic, and a medical school.

There were other monuments between the Asclepion and the Herodion but these are now in ruins. They were Hippolytus' tomb, the archaic fountain, and the sanctuaries to Earth Kourotrofos, to Demetra-Chloe, and to Aphrodite Pandemos.

Just under the Asclepion and the Peripatos lie the remains of Eumenes' Stoa, once used by the crowds who came here to see the performances in the theater of Dionysus and, later, in the Odeion. The long two-storey structure was built with a donation by Eumenes II (197-160 BC), King of Pergamum.

Odeion of Herodes Atticus: This building is adjacent to Eumenes' Stoa, and a perfect match for it, although it was built almost four centuries later (in 160-1 AD), by Herodes son of Atticus, in memory of his wife Regilla. The roof that once covered this monumental and luxurious structure was made of cedar wood. The Odeion was burnt down by the Heruli in 267 AD. During the period of Ottoman rule, it was incorporated into the city walls built by Hasekis (1778), along with the Eumenes' Stoa, and formed the impregnable "Serpenze". The Odeion seats 5,000 people and still hosts musical and theatrical performances today.