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Acropolis (Gr. akros, akron, edge, extremity + polis, city, pl. acropoleis) literally means edge of the city. In Greek, Acropolis means "Highest City". For purposes of defense, early settlers naturally chose elevated ground, frequently a hill with precipitous sides. In many parts of the world, these early citadels became the nuclei of large cities, which grew up on the surrounding lower ground, such as modern Romemarker.

The word Acropolis, although Greek in origin and associated primarily with the Greekmarker cities Athensmarker, Argosmarker, Thebesmarker, and Corinthmarker (with its Acrocorinthmarker), may be applied generically to all such citadels, including Rome, Jerusalemmarker, Celtic Bratislavamarker, many in Asia Minormarker, or even Castle Rock in Edinburghmarker.

The most famous example is the Acropolis of Athensmarker, which, by reason of its historical associations and the several famous buildings erected upon it (most notably the Parthenonmarker), is known without qualification as the Acropolis. Although originating in the mainland of Greece, use of the acropolis model quickly spread to Greek colonies such as the Dorian Latomarker on Cretemarker during the Archaic Period.

Because of its classical Greco-Roman style, the ruins of Mission San Juan Capistrano'smarker Great Stone Church in California, United Statesmarker has been called the "American Acropolis".

Other parts of the world developed other names for the high citadel or alcázar, which often reinforced a naturally strong site. In Central Italymarker, many small rural communes still cluster at the base of a fortified habitation known as La Rocca of the commune.

The term acropolis is also used to describe the central complex of overlapping structures, such as plazas and pyramids, in many Mayan cities, including Tikalmarker and Copánmarker.


  1. acro-. (n.d.). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved September 29, 2008, from website: Quote: "[From Greek akros, extreme; see ak- in Indo-European roots.] "
  2. World Heritage: Acropolis, Athens

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