The rebuilding of Athens began, the age of its greatest glory, as its leaders vied for the distinction of who would construct the most public buildings for posterity. It was Kimon who levelled the devastated temples and used the rubble to build ramparts on the rock, in which we can still see the enormous drums of earlier columns incorporated. At about the same point, parts of statues and votive sculptures were found, some of which are exhibited in the Acropolis Museum. All these were damaged during the Persian attack and buried in order to enlarge the plateau; this was necessary for the brilliant new temples which were to be built. From then on, the Acropolis was exclusively a place of worship, dedicated always to a female deity whom the Greeks called Athena, the Romans Minerva, the Byzantines Panaghia (all Holy Virgin) and the Franks Saint Mary of the Citadel. This expresses the same human emotions and hopes for the future; only the names changed as circumstances evolved.
The traveller Pausanias gave us a detailed description of the Acropolis as he saw it in the 2nd Century AD. Like any good tourist, he travelled throughout Greece, writing about whatever he saw and heard, leaving behind valuable texts for archaeological research. He made observant notes on buildings, building materials, votive offerings, altars and cult statues, adding myths and tales told by the various “interpreters” on the sacred sites, i.e. the guides of his period.
During the Middle Ages, many people visited the Parthenon, which by then had become a Christian church. But in the general indifference, nobody mentioned the buildings lying in ruins around it. Only Kyriakos from Ancona – a fanatic traveller, possibly a spy, but certainly a lover of antiquity-arriving in Athens in 1436, was dazzled by the beauty of the temple with its wonderful columns and unique carved marble. These were natural feelings, for he was an educated man who studied the ancient authors and bought codices wherever he found them: a forerunner of future dealers in smuggled antiquities. He, too, failed to mention any Frankish alterations to the Propylaea.
Kyriakos was the last Christian visitor to the Acropolis. Just a few years later, in 1456, Athens was conquered by the Ottoman Turks who did not permit any non- Muslim to climb up to the citadel, where the local aga and the Islamic notables lived. Houses were built of the ancient pieces of marble and the temple of Athena and the Panaghia became a mosque. There is just one description written in 1641 by the Turkish traveller Evliya Celebi, who journeyed throughout what was then the Ottoman Empire and with a journalist’s observation mentioned anything that came into view, though often inaccurately.
A few years after Celebi’s visit, the beautiful temple which was then being used as a powder magazine, exploded after being shelled by the Venetian Morosini, who intended to blow up the entire Acropolis, but stopped because of the expense and time which the operation would have entailed. Damaged, but at least saved, the Acropolis was once again inhabited by the Turks, who knocked down the Temple of Wingless Nike and incorporated the seats from the Roman Odeion into the ramparts. It survived the war of Independence, saw battles, changed hands at least twice more, and at long last was taken by the Greeks.
But then new dangers began to threaten the long- suffering rock and its vestiges of past glory. The rebuilding of the village of Athens, which became the capital of the newly constituted state solely because of its glorious past, was undertaken by various architects from Europe who came in the wake of the uninformed young King Otto, and cherished some strange ideas. One of their innovations was the blueprint for a grandiose palace on the Acropolis, in the style of the times; fortunately, it was never built. Equally fortunately, the proposal that the Kapnikarea Church be torn down, because it impeded the view of the sea from the newly built palace – the present day Parliament building- received no support.
But there were also many positive things happening on the Acropolis at that time: the excavation of the outer Propylaea (monumental entrance) with its ramp and steps, the recovery of the beautiful little temple of Athena Nike from the Turkish bastion, and the removal of the houses which the Ottomans had built on the Acropolis, some traces of which are still visible today. The Parthenon and the Erechtheion were restored using as many of their pieces as could be found. Many wonderful statues with elaborate coiffures and lively smiles, frozen in the passage of time, saw the light after being hidden for 23 centuries under the foundations of the temples. The sacred rock of Pallas Athena diffidently revealed its years, experiences and sufferings, like a magic, unbroken thread.