The Sustainable Life: Ancient Greece

After tirelessly following a series of wooden hand-painted signs, which insisted that the Acropolis was ahead, a small group of us were on the verge of abandoning our search for the site when we ran into our instructors, Lisa and Alex (Fig. 1). Amidst the maze of tiny plastered homes, we followed them through narrow whitewashed hallways accented with magenta rugs and royal blue planter beds until we passed through the marble entrance of the Acropolis. Through staggered breaths, we began to realize the magnitude of our own unique purpose and place.

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 5.35.46 AM
Figure 1: Narrow hallways leading to the Acropolis

In Flagstaff, Arizona, I surround myself with people who live a sustainable lifestyle, as I strive to do the same. Now, when I travel to new cities, states, or countries I am immediately drawn to their historical and modern sustainable efforts.

The first thing I noticed about Greece’s “upper city” was the marble it was constructed from. Beneath the Parthenon, the temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, lays two fundamental rock types, Athenian Schist and limestone. The upper rock bed of limestone is sedimentary while the lower schist formation is metamorphic. We could tell right away that the basement layer was limestone from the color, hardness and presence of fossils in the rock (Fig. 2 & 3).

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 6.00.21 AM
Figure 2: Gracie and Ray looking for fossils in the limestone basement layer beneath the Acropolis. Figure 3: Trace fossil of a shell that was once imbedded in limestone.

Marble is the metamorphic form of the aforementioned limestone. It is formed when limestone recrystallizes under extreme heat and pressure beneath the Earth’s surface. The non-vesicular nature of marble allows the rock to serve as a durable building material. Although calcium carbonate resides within marble, and can be “easily attacked by acidic agents,” it is still beneficial when used as a “factor in limiting and controlling the severity of exposure” [1].

Two notable hilltops reside in Athens, the lower of two was chosen to fortify the Acropolis for an array of reasons. The steep rock walls served as a natural fortress and hence did not allow for ease of access from either side. During the fortification of the Acropolis in the 13th Century BC, natural spring water was discovered within the rock after a large earthquake exposed a karstic spring residing within the Athenian Schist. A community well, known as the “Spring of Clepsydra,” was constructed in order to aid in the sustentation of Greek life [2].

When I first walked through the Propylaia, one of the first things I noticed was the sunlight coming through the marble pillars and celling beams (Fig. 4 & 5). I have long-since been fascinated by various ancient civilizations’ heightened sense of cosmic awareness. In a time when even moderate exposure to elements could dictate life or death, I realized, these structures were most likely constructed with the sunlight in the forefront of their plans.

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 6.12.48 AM
Figure 4: Walking through the Propylaia at the Acropolis; Figure 5: Savannah Standing in front of the entrance to the Acropolis

As mentioned above, the Athenian Acropolis was constructed in the 13th century BC and it is suggested that it was not utilized as a worship site until the 6th century BC. With this in mind, I propose that the structures of the Acropolis were positioned strategically to protect Athenians from prolonged exposure to sunlight, harsh winds, rain and floods [1].

After observing a sustainable city, such as that of the Athenian Acropolis, other ancient sites also began to reveal their sustainable nature.

On the 4th day of our trip, we visited Ancient Thera (Fig. 6), a civilization inhabited by Dorian settlers from Sparta during the 9th century BC. The site lies within the saddle of two taller peaks, Mesa Vouno and Mt. Profitis Ilias on the southeastern end of Santorini’s crescent (Fig. 7). The massive layers of exposed sedimentary rock serve as a windshield as well as a vantage point. The coastal flat land that surrounds Ancient Thera, about 370 m below the saddle also heavily contributed to the Spartan’s survival by providing them with fertile terrain for agriculture.

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 6.32.37 AM
Figure 6: Ancient Thera; Figure 7: The saddle between Mesa Vouno and Mt. Profitis Ilias

Visiting both the Acropolis and Ancient Thera opened my eyes to the role geology can play in modern sustainability. We can utilize local resources and geography in order to benefit our own communities rather than importing goods and destroying land at unnaturally rapid rates.


[1]       24 Feb 2012, Marble: Characteristics, Uses And Problems; (accessed June  2015).

[2]      Regueiro, M., Stamatakis M., Laskaridis K., The Geology of the Acropolis (Athens and Greece) European Geologist, November 2014.

8 thoughts on “The Sustainable Life: Ancient Greece

  1. Hi Savannah. Thank you for sharing your impressions of the Acropolis and Ancient Terra. It was great to see how you saw these sites.
    I am very curious to learn more about how these buildings relate to your interests in sustainability. Can you draw connections throughout your blog entry to let us know why these sites should be looked at as part of an environmental/sustainability lens? Is it the building materials used, or the architectural structure?
    Similarly, I’d like to hear more about whether the structures were built with cosmic awareness in mind. You mention it briefly, but I didn’t get a sense whether this was actually the case. Along the same lines, could you tell us more about why the absence of worship leads you to think that the Athenian Acropolis was a place where people could be protected against rain, wind, and sun? Did they need protection against other groups? Where there wars during this time?
    Good luck, and I look forward to reading more of your blog entries.

    1. Professor Gruber,

      I apologize for the tardy reply. Thank you very much for taking the time to read and comment on my post. I believe the Acropolis, when seen from a environmental/ sustainable lens, could be considered sustainable based on the building material used and the architectural structure. I was unable to find any sources pertaining to the orientation of the buildings concerning sun exposure, therefore I posed a theory which I was unable to support in such a short amount of time. I hope, in the near future, to use ArcGIS to build my own interactive story map that will experiment with the aforementioned factors. The acropolis was built as a fortress that would comfortably protect a colony in case of an attack. I suggest that in addition to its apparent usage, it was designed to protect those living within from sunlight and other harsh elements. I believe the acropolis was originally built for protection from invaders and elements, due to lack of worship exhibited before the 6th century BC.

      I hope I answered most of your questions and look forward to reading more of your reviews. Your feedback was greatly appreciated!



  2. Savannah – You take great pictures and have an eye for photographing people and the land at important angles/times. Great use of photos to demonstrate your story. I know sustainability is your passion and it shows in your interpretations of the landscape.

    In this next post – I would like to see you branch out and tackle a subject that is out of your comfort zone. 🙂

  3. Sav,
    I really like your use of a pictures throughout your post! It helped me piece together your ideas and follow along. Great job!

  4. Hi Savannah,
    Thank you for sharing this post! I felt like I really learned a lot.
    Your narrative was wonderful. It was very easy to follow and you incorporated your personal experiences appropriately. You balanced your personal impressions about what you were experiencing and your research about the structures of the ancient civilizations in a way that was very interesting to me as an outside-reader. Your tone was personable and very informed.
    The imagery you used to describe these civilizations was very helpful because it helped me better “see” the sights you were seeing. In addition, I thought your use of pictures was excellent. I really liked how you how you used both personal pictures and pictures of the surrounding area to show your audience what you were seeing.
    I have a couple of suggestions for your next post. When using quotations, it’s best to expand on them. For example, the first quote you used about marble protecting from exposure is a great quote and while I understood your point, adding an additional sentence about the application of the marble to protect against exposure will help tie the quote back in to your argument.
    In general, some more expansion on the application of the role geography played on the development of sustainable communities would be helpful as well. As you’re writing for an outside audience, you have to be careful not to assume too much for your reader. I personally don’t know a lot about sustainable communities so expanding on your points helps me understand better.
    Overall, great post! I’m very excited to see what else you learn about.

    1. Marisa Incremona,

      I apologize for the tardy reply; I truly appreciate your thorough feedback! I will work on covering more background information and elaborating on the quotes that I choose to use in my future writing! I look forward to hearing more feedback from you!

      Ifcharisto (thank you in Greek),


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s