All About That Base, No Pillars

As I walk up the last steps of the Acropolis, I stop and admire the beauty and grandness of it all. I do not take any photos at first. Instead, I marvel at all of the detail and imagine of all the extensive labor that must have been put into building this city. Every direction I turn has an astonishingly exquisite temple with a story behind it. I can envision the workers pouring their dedication into these temples, knowing that they used manual labor instead of technology. I can conceptualize what the Parthenon may have looked like before it started to deteriorate. I then started to wonder about every single detail of the Acropolis, from the base of it to its location, which is what made me want to research into it.

Before the ancient city was built, it is believed that the base of the Acropolis was first used as a military fortress to protect the people from attacks. Because of it’s height, it was the best place to ward off unwanted visitors. Many years later, during the Mycenaean period and under the leadership of Pericles, the Acropolis was built. The Parthenon, which was dedicated to the goddess Athena, is said to be the symbol of Greek civilization. It is believed that Poseidon left his trident marks where Athena’s olive tree grew by The Erechthion. So much history occurred at the Acropolis but unfortunately, the Persians destroyed much of it in 480 BC [1]. The Acropolis Museum did a beautiful job at preserving many of the artifacts that was found at the site, and it’s most definitely worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Athens.

blog photo 1
Cross section of the base showing the different types of rocks.

The base of the Acropolis is composed mostly of two different rock layers. The bottom layer, Athenian Schist, is a type of metamorphic rock [2]. Metamorphic rocks are ones that form when other rocks are subjected to high heat and pressure, causing the atoms to rearrange and a new rock to form without melting. They are commonly buried at depth, have a great amount of pressure due to the friction caused from their surroundings, and have an extreme amount of heat since they are buried deep. When more pressure and heat it added, they chemically change to form a new rock but don’t melt. Rocks exposed to varying temperatures and pressures get metamorphosed to different degrees. For example, when mudstone is metamorphosed, it first turns into phyllite, then slate, to schist, and lastly, gneiss. Therefore, the Acropolis’s bottom layer is highly metamorphic but not the highest.

The layer above the schist is limestone, which is a sedimentary rock [2]. A sedimentary rock is formed by sediment that deposits over time, usually by an ocean or by a body of water. Limestone itself is composed primarily of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) that precipitates out of ocean water. It bonds together and crystalizes. As the crystals accumulate, the limestone starts to form. Because of this, the area where the limestone formed had to be surrounded by an ocean in order for limestone to form. This type of rock doesn’t have a lot of pore spaces and is very resistant to weathering compared to other types of sedimentary rocks. The limestone itself was lifted upward due to faulting and hardly deteriorated due to the resistance to erosion, which made it a solid rock. This is why this platform was the perfect place to build on top of.

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Picture of the base. The line separates the constructed wall and the limestone. Athenian Schist not pictured.

In between these two layers is cataclastic limestone, otherwise known as fault breccia [2]. Breccia itself is a sedimentary rock that is composed of angular pieces. The more angularity, the more evidence that shows that the rocks have not been transported very far. There are different types of breccia but fault breccia is specific to faults, which the base of the Acropolis has many of. When the faults grind together, they break and create a layer of broken and powdered pieces along the fault plane.

Considering this, why did the Ancient Greeks decided to build their Acropolis on this piece of land? Try to imagine it without the temples: Flat, accessible, and high enough to protect them from attacks. What many people are not aware of is that the Acropolis is on top of many springs, that gave everyone access to water. These springs were found in caves surrounding the area, and many wells were dug into for easier access. Springs are mostly found by limestone because it fractures relatively easily. Because limestone is a chemical precipitate, it can be easily dissolved by groundwater. Weak carbonate acid that is formed by rainwater enters these fractures, which dissolves bedrock. When it reaches a rock that doesn’t dissolve, it begins to cut sideways, which forms an underground stream [3]

Overall, The Acropolis has much more to it than just temples. When people visit, they are mostly worried about seeing the Parthenon, when they should be seeing the big picture. The Athenian Schist as the basement rock, the limestone that was deposited on top, and the fault breccia that was caused by movement makes up the base of the Acropolis.. Also, the springs found inside the base are hardly ever talked about. Whether it was researching about the rocks or the history, the Acropolis completely intrigued me. I will never forget the moment I saw the Acropolis in all its beauty.

Works Cited

  1.  Hurwit, Jeffrey, 2000, The Athenian Acropolis: History, Mythology, and Archaeology from the Neolithic Era to the Present, CUP Archive
  2.  Regueiro, M., Stamatakis M., Laskaridis K., The Geology of the Acropolis (Athens, Greece) European Geologist, November 2014
  3. Higgins, M. & Higgins, R. 1976, A Geological Companion to Greece and the Aegean, London, Gerald Duckwort & Co Ltd.
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8 thoughts on “All About That Base, No Pillars”

  1. Marcella – you did a great job of summarizing the geological processes of metamorphism and particularly the formation of springs in limestone. I hope to see this same depth of understanding in this next week, when we tackle the pyroclastic rocks formed from the Minoan eruption. If so…you should consider switching your major to Geology!!

  2. Wow I love your title!! Wonder who thought of it?? Amy way.. I really love this posts because it gives some background as to why the Greeks decided to live on such a massive structure. I also like that you added in the part about the limestone because it gives the readers a little more information as to how amazing this base is. Overall loved your post.

  3. Hi Marcella,
    I enjoyed reading your post, and your title reminded me of Meghan Trainor. I learned all about her from my 19-year old niece. I wonder whether your entry can be connected to the song since it could create a nice transition to the base of the Acropolis.

    I am curious about your introductory comments on envisioning the workers. It would be great to get more detailed information since it’s difficult to imagine what the workers had to do in order to build the Acropolis. I wonder whether some information on rock size, for example, would give us a sense of how difficult it would have been to move the rocks into the right position. This would give us a bit more details on the background of the Acropolis before you move to the next stage in your entry — the uses of the base of the Acropolis. That’s an interesting topic, and it was good to read your interpretation of the readings you did. Now I’d love to know what you saw when you visited? Did what you read make sense based on what you saw? Could you still see remnants of the springs? Is there a water shortage otherwise? How does your being there influence your interpretation of the readings?

    I look forward to reading more of your work.

    1. Hi Professor Gruber, thank you for taking the time to read my post. Yes, my title was named after the song. 🙂 Overall, I loved researching into the Acropolis because it gave me a sense of the construction process. I was able to see the remnants of one spring named the Klepsydra spring. I’m not too sure about your water shortage question. The kind of research I’ve done in the past was nothing compared to this research. I usually research without being able to see my topic. Seeing the Acropolis definitely gave me much insight. Once again, thank you for your feedback, I appreciate it!

  4. Hi Marcella,

    Thank you for taking the time to include the science along with your description. I thoroughly enjoy the sciences and especially enjoy reading about travels. What happened for me, a reader living on the mountain in the desert, is that I am very dependent on your word-choice, your post-design, and the manner in which you choose to describe what I cannot see nor sense… perhaps Professor Skinner will take pity on us and manage a way to get us all over there!!

    While writers often finish posts with titles, it is the title that is the first part read by everyone else. I am curious to know why there are no pillars. The Breccia? The streams? Whatever leads to the schist? You are alluding to the platform, but wouldn’t pillars add to air circulation? I’m also curious to know more about the museum as well. What sorts of artifacts were collected? I’d like to see more of what you see. You may find that by comparing what you see there with other details that you know from other places, you just may find a way of presenting new information in a manner helpful for the rest of us to imagine. The first image caught my attention. The second image was a tad too small to see the details. The final image was okay, but it seems that your overall conclusion was that is more to see and to know that most tourists are aware of. I’d like to see an image or two of your final concluding details.

    I look forward to your upcoming posts. Have a good week.

    1. Hi NGBarron, thank you for your feedback! I used this title because I wanted to emphasize my focus on the base instead of the actual structure itself. The artifacts included ancient coins, pottery, and statues. Once again, thank you for taking the time to read my post. Have a good rest of your day.

  5. Marcella,
    I really like your first paragraphs! It has so much visualization within it and I felt like I was back at the Acropolis all over again. I think you did an awesome job describing the metamorphic process in a way that people can visualize, it is a tough concept! My favorite part, though, was when you talked about the underwater springs. I had no idea the limestone was cut thorough by them! Such a cool detail that you included and it definitely helped me visualize life at the Acropolis before the beautiful temples were built.

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