The Mycenaean era
Although less famous than Mycenae or Tirynthe, Athens was a significant center of the Mycenaean civilization, organized around a fortified acropolis that served as a refuge for the population in case of siege and as a residence for the king. In the 13th century BC, the rock was surrounded by an imposing cyclopean wall, still visible behind the southern wall of the Propylaea. The existence of a spring, the Clepsydra, probably explains the choice of this hill. The palace, reached by a staircase, was located on the hill's highest point; it was a place of worship where the goddess of the spring (who later took the name of Athena) and her goddess, King Erechtheus, were venerated.
The Archaic era
During the Archaic period, the Acropolis remained a fortress, but it was transformed from a political center into a place of worship. During this period, when the city was being built, the goddess of the spring gave way to Athena, the patron saint worshipped from the beginning of the first millennium in a small temple to the south of the present Erechtheion. The first phase of monumental construction dates from the 6th century. The old temple was completely rebuilt and enlarged around 600, perhaps under Solon, renovated and decorated with marble pediments under Pisistratus. In the 6th century, the hill was covered with votive offerings. The victories of Athens led to the dedication of a new small temple to its patron goddess (Temple of Athena Nike), located at the entrance. Perhaps after the victory of Marathon (490), the decision was made to build the great temple, the "old Parthenon", which the Persian invasion burnt down and devastated in 480.
With a strong personality and surrounded by artists and thinkers of genius, Pericles conceived the grandiose project of redeveloping the Acropolis according to an overall plan, the rebuilt buildings having to impose themselves by their dimensions and their magnificence. To finance this costly project, the annual tribute paid by the allied cities of Athens was used; moreover, in 454, the treasure of this league was transferred from Delos to the Acropolis. Work could therefore begin around 450, with Phidias as the master builder. He commanded a whole host of masons, architects, painters and sculptors. Construction continued without a break, with the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) only suspending the work at certain times, without ever stopping it completely.
During the Byzantine years, the Parthenon (also called the Temple of Minerva) became an Orthodox church, in which Saint Sofia (sofia = wisdom) was worshipped instead of Athena, the goddess of wisdom in the past. In 1205 AD, Athens fell to the Christian Romans. The acropolis became a fortress and the Parthenon a Catholic church. In the 15th century, when the Ottoman Turks invaded Greece, the Parthenon was transformed into a mosque. In 1687 Athens was partially destroyed when the Venetians surrounded the city and bombed the Parthenon, which the Turks had filled with explosive powder.
From 1833 to the present day, the acropolis remains in Greek hands, except during the period of Nazi occupation.
Now, the government of Greece, along with financing from the European Union, works to conserve and restore many aspects of the Acropolis and its many sacred buildings, monuments, and statuary. With the restoration project's stated goals, the Acropolis may once again reach the status of 'sacred rock' that it enjoyed for almost two thousand years.