Archaic is the period throughout the 7th century BC, until the end of the Persian Wars (480/79 BC). This period is characterized by the development of the city-state and the transition from aristocracy to tyranny and, eventually, democracy. It is also characterized by great achievements in the economy, art and intellectual life.
In the Archaic Acropolis Gallery, for the first time, visitors have the opportunity to view exhibits from all sides as three-dimensional exhibits. With the benefit of the changing natural light, visitors can discern and discover the delicate surface variations of sculptures and select the vantage point from which to observe the exhibits.
In the south side of the Gallery, depictions of young women (the Korai), the horse riders (the Hippeis) and many other provide a striking picture of the Acropolis in the Archaic Period.
The Ancient Temple
In the Archaic Acropolis Gallery are presented the large architectural sculptures of the pediment of the Gigantomachy (battle between Gods and Giants), which decorated the Old Temple, i.e. the second temple of the Goddess Athena on the Acropolis. It has been argued that the temple had an earlier building phase (570 BC), involving the poros sculptures that are now assigned to the Hekatompedon, while the marble sculptures were associated with a renovation by the sons of Peisistratos. It is possible, however, that the temple was built and given its marble sculpted decoration in the last decade of the 6th century BC. The compositions of the pediments consist of larger than life-size statues, carved in Parian marble, which are attributed to the workshop of an important Athenian sculptor, either Antenor or Endoios.
The earliest building on the Acropolis was known by the name of Hekatompedon or Hekatompedos neos – meaning 100 feet long, and comes from an inscription referring to the layout of the sanctuary. It is thought that the building was built on the site, later occupied by the Classical Parthenon. The fragments of poros architectural members and sculptures uncovered to the south and east of the Parthenon, reveal that the Hekatompedon was a Doric peripteral temple.
The lioness pediment is distinguished by its high-relief carving and its striking size. It depicts a lioness with an unusually bushy mane, rearing on its hind legs and tearing apart a calf. It is believed to have adorned the east pediment of the temple. Two compositions belong to the west pediment. The one to the left depicts Herakles on his right knee, wrestling with the Triton, a creature with a body of a man ending in the scaly tail of a sea monster. The group to the right is the Triple-Bodied Monster, a composite creature consisting of three male figures conjoined at the waist. Each figure holds an object in its left hand: the first has water, the second fire, and the third a bird (symbolizing air).
From the time of Peisistratos onwards, the site of the Acropolis began to fill with votive offerings, dedicated to the Goddess, both as tokens of piety and as marks of financial and artistic development. These important offerings were mostly statues meant to please the Goddess. Votive offerings were used by the ancient Greeks to thank the gods for granting them a wish and frequently included a reference to the cost involved with the term dekate (dekate = tithe), which is one tenth of a specific source of income, or the term aparche (aparche = first fruits), namely the first crop or the first earnings.
The type, material and size of the dedications reflected the time period, social status and financial state of the dedicant. On the Acropolis, statues and other expensive artefacts were commissioned by members of aristocratic families and wealthy professionals, manual workers, as well as women, such as washer women and bakers.
The most distinctive offerings to the temple of Athena on the Acropolis were the Korai, marble statues of young women. Carved in different sizes, they follow a strictly defined sculptural type, with an austere body posture. From the mid-6th century BC onwards, they are dressed in the fine linen chiton and heavier mantle-garments that set off their femininity more than the heavy woollen peplos. In one hand, they usually held an offering to the Goddess (a wreath, fruit, bird, flower, etc.), while with the other they lifted their pleated garment off the ground as they walked.
The Acropolis Museum:
The monuments of the Acropolis have withstood the ravages of past centuries, both of ancient times and those of the Middle Ages. Until the 17th century, foreign travellers visiting the monuments depicted the classical buildings as being intact. This remained the case until the middle of the same century, when the Propylaia was blown up while being used as a gunpowder store. Thirty years later, the Ottoman occupiers dismantled the neighbouring Temple of Athena Nike to use its materials to strengthen the fortification of the Acropolis. The most fatal year, however, for the Acropolis, was 1687, when many of the building’s architectural members were blown into the air and fell in heaps around the Hill of the Acropolis, caused by a bomb from the Venetian forces. Foreign visitors to the Acropolis would search through the rubble and take fragments of the fallen sculptures as their souvenirs. It was in the 19th century that Lord Elgin removed intact architectural sculptures from the frieze, the metopes and the pediments of the building.
In 1833, the Turkish garrison withdrew from the Acropolis. Immediately after the founding of the Greek State, discussions about the construction of an Acropolis Museum on the Hill of the Acropolis began. In 1863, it was decided that the Museum be constructed on a site to the southeast of the Parthenon and foundations were laid on 30 December 1865.
The building program for the Museum had provided that its height not surpasses the height of the stylobate of the Parthenon. With only 800 square meters of floor space, the building was rapidly shown to be inadequate to accommodate the findings from the large excavations on the Acropolis that began in 1886. A second museum was announced in 1888, the so-called Little Museum. Final changes occurred in 1946-1947 with the second Museum being demolished and the original being sizably extended.
By the 1970s, the Museum could not cope satisfactorily with the large numbers of visitors passing through its doors. The inadequacy of the space frequently caused problems and downgraded the sense that the exhibition of the masterpieces from the Rock sought to achieve.
Today, the new Acropolis Museum has a total area of 25,000 square meters, with exhibition space of over 14,000 square meters, ten times more than that of the old museum on the Hill of the Acropolis. The new Museum offers all the amenities expected in an international museum of the 21st century.