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A few months ago, my son and I took one of our “long distance dates” to Athens Greece (with a stopover in Switzerland).  There were a variety of things that we wanted to do in Athens but a big one was to view some of the ancient Greek sites.  As we researched, we kept seeing some places refer to the UNESCO World Heritage site on top of the hill of Athens as the Acropolis and some places would refer to it as the Parthenon.  We saw it enough to wonder – what’s the difference between the Acropolis and Parthenon?

The Acropolis

Acropolis comes from the Greek akron (highest point) and polis (city).  So Acropolis means the highest point of the city. The word Acropolis is a generic word referring to any top or peak of a Greek city, and in fact there are many acropolises throughout Greece.  Due to the fame of the Athenian Acropolis, typically the singular word Acropolis refers to the Athenian Acropolis. It’s the whole complex that sits on the top of Athens (pictured below)

a low angle view of a city

The Parthenon

The Parthenon is just one of the buildings on top of the Acropolis – so if you’re wondering what’s the difference between the Acropolis and Parthenon – you can just consider the Parthenon to be a part of the Acropolis.

Here’s a zoomed in view of the Parthenon (sitting on the Acropolis) from what I consider the best Airbnb in Athens Greece.

a building on a cliff

So what’s the difference between the Acropolis and Parthenon?

The Parthenon is a former temple dedicated to Athena and is the largest structure on the Acropolis.  Although there is evidence that the Acropolis site has been inhabited for nearly 6 millenia, construction on most of the buildings that now stand on the site of the Acropolis dates from the time of Pericles.  For example the Parthenon went from 447BC to 438BC at the height of Athenian power. The Parthenon and many other buildings on the Acropolis were severely damaged by the Venetians during the Morean war when a cannonball hit the reserves of gunpowder that were being stored in the Parthenon

5 other structures on the Acropolis besides the Parthenon

One way to think of the difference between the Acropolis and the Parthenon is to consider 5 other structures that are part of the Acropolis complex BESIDES the Parthenon

  1. The Temple of Athena Nike – on the top of the Acropolis near the Parthenon
  2. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus (pictured below)

an old stone amphitheater with a city in the background

  1. Propylaea – the gateway to the Parthenon
  2. Erectheion
  3. Mars Hill (also known as the Areopagus and technically located just northwest of the Acropolis but definitely in the same general area)

Well there you have it – now you know the difference between the Parthenon and the Acropolis so you’re sure to impress your friends at cocktail parties 🙂

Have you been to Athens?  What were your favorite parts?

If you're traveling to Athens Greece and interested in history, architecture or ruins you may wonder what's the difference between the Greek Acropolis and Parthenon museum #acropolis #parthenon #athens #greece


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