The Acropolis of Athens naturally sends eyes skyward, to take in the glories of the Parthenon and other buildings atop it — but its best kept secret is a chamber inside the sacred rock.
The secret chamber of the Acropolis is actually a Byzantine church. Restored in 2017, the one-time place of worship burrows deep into the base of Athens’ most renowned mountain. Above the Dionysus Theater is the church called Panagia Spilotissa, or the Virgin Mary of the Cave, which was converted from an archaic temple.
Ironically, the church originated as a temple to celebrate the ancient Greek god of festivity and religious madness. Dating back to 320 BC, the cave was a temple dedicated to Dionysus, built by Thrasyllos. Two Ionian pillars still stand on top of the entryway, easily spotted from the pedestrian walkway, the Dionysios Areopagitis, that borders the Acropolis.
Acropolis’ Secret: First an Archaic Monument, Then an Alternative Church
The monument was erected to celebrate Thrasyllos’ victory as the benefactor of a chorus that performed in the annual dramatic festival that honored Dionysus. After the victory, Thrasyllos had the monument constructed. It was again modified in 297 BC, following his son, Thrasyklis, victory to include inscriptions.
On the rocks nearby are inscriptions that have led many to believe that there were also other monuments situated there at one time.