Entrance to the South Slope site is either by a path tracking around the side of the Acropolis near the main ticket office, or from below, off pedestrianized Leofóros Dhionysíou Areopayítou close to Metro Akrópoli. A great deal of restoration and excavation work is ongoing here, including the opening up of a new area on the eastern edge of the rock, above Pláka where groups of statues have been gathered together.
Theatre of Dionysos
The Theatre of Dionysos is one of the most evocative locations in the city. Here the masterpieces of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes were first performed; it was also the venue in Classical times for the annual festival of tragic drama, where each Greek citizen would take his turn as member of the chorus. Rebuilt in the fourth century BC, the theatre could hold some 17,000 spectators – considerably more than Herodes Atticus’s 5000–6000 seats. Twenty of the original 64 tiers of seats survive. Most notable are the great marble thrones in the front row, each inscribed with the name of an official of the festival or of an important priest; in the middle sat the priest of Dionysos and on his right the representative of the Delphic Oracle. At the rear of the stage are reliefs of episodes in the life of Dionysos flanked by two squatting Sileni, devotees of the satyrs. Sadly, this area is roped off to protect the stage-floor mosaic – a magnificent diamond of multicoloured marble best seen from above.
Herodes Atticus Theatre
The dominant structure on the south side of the Acropolis – much more immediately obvious even than the Theatre of Dionysos – is the second-century Roman Herodes Atticus Theatre (Odeion of Herodes Atticus). This has been extensively restored for performances of music and Classical drama during the summer festival but is open only for shows; at other times you’ll have to be content with spying over the wall.
Stoa of Eumenes
Between the two theatres lie the foundations of the Stoa of Eumenes, originally a massive colonnade of stalls erected in the second century BC. Above the stoa, high up under the walls of the Acropolis, extend the ruins of the Asklepion, a sanctuary devoted to the healing god Asklepios and built around a sacred spring; restoration is ongoing, and there are extensive new signs in English.
Monument of Thrasyllos
Above the Theatre of Dionysos, you can see the entry to a huge cave, originally sacred to Artemis. It later housed choregic awards (to celebrate victory in drama contests; see Monument of Lysikratos) won by the family of Thrasyllos, hence the name. The entrance was closed off around 320 BC with a marble facade – this is currently being restored. The cave was later converted to Christian use and became the chapel of Virgin Mary of the Rocks, but an ancient statue of Dionysos remained inside until it was removed by Lord Elgin (it’s now in the British Museum), while the Classical structure survived almost unchanged until 1827, when it was blown up in a Turkish siege.
The Peripatos was the ancient street that ran around the north side of the Acropolis. Access to this side has only recently been opened up so that you can now walk right around the rock within the fenced site, starting above the Theatre of Dionysos and emerging by the entry to the main Acropolis site; there’s also a new entrance from Pláka, by the Kannellopoulou museum.
There are no major monuments en route, but the numerous caves and springs help explain the strategic importance of the Acropolis. In one impressive cleft in the rock was a secret stairway leading up to the temples: this provided access to spring-water in times of war, and was also used in rituals, when blindfolded initiates would be led this way. Nearby are numerous other caves and rock arches that had cult status in ancient times.