Acropolis (Greek: Ακρόπολη) means "highest city" in Greek,
literally city on the extremity and is usually translated
into English as Citadel (akros, akron, edge, extremity +
polis, city, pl. acropoleis). For purposes of defense, early
people naturally chose elevated ground to build a new
settlement, 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 Rome.
The word acropolis, although Greek in origin and associated
primarily with the Greek cities Athens, Argos, Thebes, and
Corinth (with its Acrocorinth), may be applied generically
to all such citadels, including Rome, Jerusalem, Celtic
Bratislava, many in Asia Minor, or even Castle Rock in
Edinburgh. An example in Ireland is the Rock of Cashel.
The most famous example is the Acropolis of Athens,
which, by reason of its historical associations and the
several famous buildings erected upon it (most notably the
Parthenon), 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 Lato on Crete during the Archaic Period.
Because of its classical Greco-Roman style, the ruins of
Mission San Juan Capistrano's Great Stone Church in
California, United States has been called the "American
Other parts of the world developed other names for the high
citadel or alcázar, which often reinforced a naturally
strong site. In Central Italy, 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 Tikal and Copán.