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FAQ: Acropolis, Parthenon, what’s the difference?

Okay, it may sound “elementary, dear Watson,” but not everyone was born with the innate knowledge of what either is. Many, especially the young, are not sure which is which. Others think the terms are interchangeable. Some ask, but most are too embarassed to.  Well, there’s no shame in not knowing and for all those who don’t or are not sure, let me settle the score once and for all: The Acropolis is a rocky hill in the middle of Athens.  The Parthenon is the most famous monument on top of that rock.

The rocky hill of the Acropolis as seen from the Southeast.

The Acropolis, a rocky hill in the centre of Athens. On its flat top, three temples: the Parthenon, the Erechtheum and the temple of Athena Nike.

The name Acropolis derives from the Greek words AKRO (meaning peak, top) and POLIS (meaning city). Acropolis therefore means “top of the city.” The Parthenon is a temple dedicated to goddess Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin). The temple’s name, derives from the goddess’s appellation and literally means “place of the Virgin”. (It is no coincidence that when the temple was converted into a church, it was dedicated to none other than the Virgin Mary.) There are two other temples visible today on the Acropolis: the Erechtheum (with its famous Caryatids) and the tiny temple of Athena Nike (meaning Athena Victory).

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