Acropolis - Athens, Greece

Incredible Construction: Greek Acropolis Built by Ancient Engineers to Resist Earthquakes


Throughout its 2,500-year history, the ancient ruins of the Acropolis in Greece managed to survive many earthquakes where other, more modern constructions have fallen. How is this possible? Experts now conclude it comes down to skillful construction and accomplished engineering.

Kyriazis Pitilakis, Professor of Civil Engineering Department of the  Aristotle University of Thessaloniki tells news site Greek Reporter , “This is an incredible construction, using ingenious solutions to insurmountable engineering and construction problems.”

Scientists and engineers, puzzled by how the ancient buildings survived the many regional earthquakes, examined the construction of the famous Parthenon and the Athenian citadel in total. Based on their findings, they concluded that the buildings were designed specifically in order to be protected from earthquakes.


At a workshop on “Contemporary Interventions in the Athenian Acropolis Monuments” organized by the Department of Civil Engineering, Pitilakis said “The modular columns, other than the fact that they were made to be constructed and transported more easily, they are designed so that they have excellent seismic performance properties.” In effect, the columns were built to withstand earthquakes.

The Erechtheion, ancient Greek temple at the Acropolis of Athens. It was dedicated to Poseidon and Athena.

The Erechtheion, ancient Greek temple at the Acropolis of Athens. It was dedicated to Poseidon and Athena. Juan Manuel Caicedo/ Flickr

It would seem the ancient engineers knew what they were doing in terms of ensuring their creations would last, which is part of the reason we still see them gracing the high, rocky outcrop in Athens.

The Acropolis of Athens, proclaimed the “preeminent monument” on the European Cultural Heritage list of monuments, is a sprawling citadel composed of many structures, including the famous Parthenon. Evidence suggests the site was inhabited as early as the fourth millennium B.C., and it has suffered damage due to wars and fire in its long history. Incredibly, the Parthenon was being used to store gunpowder, and a cannonball strike caused a blast that severely damaged the structure in 1687. 

Famous ancient Greek structure, the Parthenon at night.

Famous ancient Greek structure, the Parthenon at night. Andreas Kontokanis/ Flickr

The Acropolis of Athens, as seen from Philopappou Hill. A.

The Acropolis of Athens, as seen from Philopappou Hill. A. Savin/Wikimedia Commons

Pitilakis explained the importance of the enduring historic site in Athens, saying “The Parthenon condenses all that Greece is and all that it has offered to the Western World in the best way. It stands as a symbol of European culture, a symbol of the principle of measure, of art, technology and human capability. This is because that other than the highest artistic creation, it is also a marvel of mechanical engineering.”


Efforts began in 1964 by the Greek government in restoring the Acropolis, and teams of archaeologists, architects, civil engineers and chemists work to preserve the important cultural and historical icon.

The World Cultural Council writes of the award-winning restoration by the Athens Acropolis Preservation Group of Greece, observing, “Most of the marble comes from the Greek islands, where there is an age-old tradition of working marble; they now continue the work of their ancestors, using the same methods and same tools, not indeed to create but rather to save a masterpiece which belongs not only to the Greeks but to all humanity.”

View of the Acropolis from the Areopagus, 2010.

View of the Acropolis from the Areopagus, 2010. Wikimedia Commons

Featured Image: Reconstruction of the Acropolis and Areus Pagus in Athens (1846). Public Domain

By Liz Leafloor


There is another temple in Greece much less known than Parthenon, that of Appolo Epicurius in western Peloponnese, that may have incorporated true earthquake resisting foundations. This temple, very similar in shape to Parthenon but in about 55% scale, made from limestone and remarkably preserved, was built around 400 BCE probably by the same architect who bult Parthenon. Its originality is that it is based on a substrate of pebbles that may have acted as ball bearings in case of an earthquake, reducing the g forces applied on the building.

By this logic, any remaining structure older than say 300 years is build to resist whatever the weather.

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