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The Parthenon | The most famous temple at the Acropolis of Athens

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What is the Parthenon?

The Parthenon at the Acropolis of Athens is a Doric-style ancient temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena Parthenos. Constructed between 447 BC and 432 BC, the Parthenon temple is more than 2,400 years old and an important landmark in Athens. Built using gorgeous white marble, it was the most lavish and biggest temple that the Greek mainland had ever seen. Over the years, it has withstood wars, invasions, fires, earthquakes, explosions, and a lot more. However, it continues to be a symbol of Athens’ power and culture. Read on to learn more about the Parthenon including its significance, when it was built, why it is famous, and more.

Quick facts about the Parthenon

Parthenon Athens Greece

Plan your visit to the Parthenon at the Acropolis of Athens

Significance of the Parthenon

Why is the Parthenon famous?

The Parthenon was built after the victory of the citizens of Athens over the Persians during the 5th century BCE Greco-Persian wars and was a symbol of Athens’ freedom. Built in the Doric architectural style, there are 16,500 pieces that fit together perfectly in the temple, the design showcasing the citizens’ prowess in maths and geometry. In ancient times, the temple also housed a 12-metre-high gold and ivory statue of Athena that overlooked the Acropolis of Athens and was considered a masterpiece.

What does Parthenon mean?

The Parthenon temple’s name comes from the Greek word “παρθενών”, which means “unmarried women’s apartment”. In the case of the temple, the term “Parthenon” was initially used to refer to only one particular room within the temple. Also, the epithet “parthénos” translates to “maiden girl” or “virgin” (an unmarried woman), which was frequently used while referring to Athena and Artemis. This is why it is said that Parthenon means “the temple of a virgin goddess” as it was dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena Parthenos.

Historical purpose of the Parthenon

The main historical purpose of the Parthenon was as a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena. In ancient times, it featured a tall gold and ivory statue of Athena where her worshippers gathered. According to the experts, a procession was held once every four years in Athens to honour Athena, which can be seen depicted on a frieze. Apart from its religious significance, the Parthenon, commissioned by Pericles, was a symbol of Athens’ power and culture.

Who built the Parthenon in Athens?

The architects Ictinus and Callicrates worked on the Parthenon temple with the supervision of Phidias. Phidias also worked on a few sculptures inside this Greek temple including the 12m sculpture of Athena Parthenos made from gold and ivory. The architects used both the Doric and Iconic architectural styles to build the Parthenon in Athens.

History of the Parthenon

Temple to church (before 1258 AD)

Before the Parthenon, an older structure named Older Parthenon stood at the top of Acropolis and acted as a place of worship and a treasury. However, it was destroyed after the invasion of Persians into Athens. In 447 BC, the Athenian statesman named Pericles commenced the construction of the Parthenon temple. The temple was completed and dedicated in 438 BC but the decorative work and sculpture installation continued till 432 BC.

Between 1208 and 1258, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church after Christian Byzantines took over Greece and outlawed the worship of Greek gods. 

Under the Ottoman Empire (1458–1820s AD)

In 1458 A.D., the Muslim Ottoman Empire seized the territory from the Christian Byzantine. They converted the church into a mosque and kept many paintings and artifacts from the church. When the Ottomans faced an attack in 1687 led by Francesco Morosini, they converted the mosque into an ammunitions depot and shelter. However, the Parthenon temple suffered heavy damage after being bombarded with cannonballs. After the attack, the Parthenon temple was in ruins.

After Independence (19th century)

Finally, in the 1820s, the Greeks fought for independence against Turkish rule. This resulted in the Turks removing hundreds of marble blocks from the temple and making bullets from the temple’s architectural elements. From 1801 to 1812, Thomas Bruce, Lord Elgin of Britain, removed several sculptures and marble friezes from the Parthenon and took them to England. Known as the Elgin Marbles or the Parthenon Marbles, he eventually gave them to the British Museum, where they have been displayed ever since.

Present day – Restoration and the Acropolis Museum

In 1975, the Greek government decided to start the restoration project for the Acropolis and Parthenon. A committee named the Acropolis Restoration Project was formed. With the help of architect Manolis Korres, the committee documented and reviewed each relic and artifact from the ruins, and used computer technology to identify its original location and position. Some of the important and fragile sculptures were shifted to the Acropolis Museum.

In 2008, the construction of the new Acropolis Museum was completed to house all the archaeological findings from the Acropolis site. A large area of the museum is dedicated to the Parthenon, and the pieces taken by Lord Elgin are shown as plaster cast models.

Architecture of the Parthenon

Greece Acropolis Parthenon architecture

The Parthenon is a Doric-style temple that was built in the 5th century. The architects Ictinus and Callicrates worked on the design of the temple under the supervision of Phidias. The Parthenon is made out of Pentelic marble and rests on a base with 3 steps. There were 8 Doric columns in the front and 17 columns on each side. Each column was 10.4 meters high while the base of the Parthenon was 69.5 x 30.9 meters. Several elements were specifically composed and optical corrections were used to give the impression of absolute perfection. 

Highlights of the Parthenon

Parthenon Architecture

Metopes

There are 92 carved metopes on the exterior walls of the Parthenon temple. A metope is a black square that is placed between three-channeled triglyph rocks. The metopes present on the west side of the temple show the mythical battle between Ancient Greeks and the Amazons. It is not certain but seems to be the work of Kalamis. On the east façade, the metope depicts the mythical battle between the giants and the gods. The metopes on the north side show the Trojan war while the ones on the south side depict the battle between Lapiths and the mythical centaurs.

Parthenon Frieze

Parthenon Frieze

One of the most interesting parts of Parthenon architecture is the Ionic frieze that runs along the entire walls of the temple. Frieze is a broad horizontal band that can be found in the inner chamber of the Parthenon. Carved using the bas-relief technique, the sculptures of the frieze were slightly raised from their background. According to Historians, the frieze depicts the Panathenaic procession to Acropolis. This special procession that takes place once every four years shows Athenians honoring Greek goddess Athena. They offer her sacrifices and a new peplo dress and once can see the procession get more crowded near the gods on the eastern side of Parthenon.

Parthenon Pediments

Pediments

Located on the two sides of the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens, pediments were made by several artists such as Agoracritos. These pediments are two sets of statues made of Pentelic white marble. The east facade pediment showed the birth of the Greek goddess Athena with other gods and goddesses being witnesses to it. The west pediment depicted the conflict between Athena and Poseidon, the god of the sea, to claim control of Attica including Athens. The supporters of Athena trail behind her chariot while Poseidon’s defenders stand behind him. The pediment statues were complex yet detailed and showed the determination of the sculptors to accurately capture the human body in their art.

Parthenon- Athena Parthenos

Athena Parthenos

Athena Parthenos is a chryselephantine sculpture made by Phidias of the Greek Goddess Athena. The statue was housed in the Parthenon temple and one of the greatest works of the sculptor. This statue was approximately 12 meters tall and weighed around 1100 kg. Although the statue is lost, one can see its design on the coins and engraved gems. Athena’s statue depicts her after victory in combat. In her left hand, she holds a spear while a shield lays close to her feet. In her right hand, she holds Nike, the goddess of Victory. This ivory and gold sculpture of Athena is a masterpiece that’s been lost for ages now.

The Parthenon today

Today, the Parthenon is one of the finest architectural buildings in Greece. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temple has many carvings and sculptures that showcase the classical artistry of its architects and craftsmen.

Once Greece achieved its freedom, the government started the restoration work on the Acropolis and the Parthenon which continues to this date.  Sculptures from the Parthenon are displayed at the Acropolis Museum in Athens. Outside of Greece, some can also be found in Italy and Great Britain. Plaster cast versions are also displayed at museums in Paris, Copenhagen, and other cities.

Even today, the Parthenon is a symbol of the ancient Greek empire’s advanced culture. It is currently one of the most recognizable sites in Greece and attracts visitors from all over the world.  

Frequently asked questions about the Parthenon

What is the Parthenon?

The Parthenon is a 5th century BC marble temple located in the Acropolis of Athens. Dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena and built during the height of the Greek empire’s power, it is the most renowned among the monuments of the Acropolis.

How much do Parthenon tickets cost?

You can visit the Parthenon as part of the Acropolis of Athens. Acropolis tickets start from €13 and can be purchased online.

Do I need to purchase separate tickets to the Parthenon?

No, your Acropolis tickets include access to Parthenon.

How do I purchase Parthenon tickets?

You can visit the Parthenon by purchasing Acropolis tickets online. Online booking is the most convenient way to buy tickets since you can plan your trip and make your reservation in advance for a day and time that best suits you. You can also avail of discounts and your entry to the attraction is guaranteed.

When was the Parthenon built?

The Parthenon at the Acropolis of Athens was built between 447 BC and 432 BC.

Who built the Parthenon?

The architects Callicrates and Ictinus worked on the design for the Parthenon temple under the supervision of Phidias, a sculptor. It was constructed as part of a building program ordered by the Greek politician Pericles.

How old is the Parthenon?

Built between 447 BC and 432 BC, the Parthenon is more than 2,450 years old.

What is the difference between the Acropolis and the Parthenon?

The Acropolis is the name of the hill and the citadel in Athens where the Parthenon temple is situated.

Why is the Parthenon famous?

The Parthenon at the Acropolis of Athens was the largest and most lavish temple the Greeks had ever seen or built. It was constructed during the 5th century BCE to mark the Greek victory over the Persians and as a dedication to the Greek goddess Athena, who was also the patron goddess of the city. It was a symbol of the power, culture, and wealth of the ancient Greek empire.

What is the architectural style of the Parthenon?

The Parthenon was built in the Classical architectural style.

What is inside the Parthenon?

The Parthenon once held statues and carvings depicting the story of Athens and its patron goddess Athena. While its marble columns still stand, archaeological findings from the temple can now be viewed at the Acropolis Museum.

What is the Parthenon used for today?

The Parthenon, along with the other structures at the Acropolis of Athens, is one of the most visited archaeological sites in the world today. Sculptures and friezes from the Parthenon can be viewed at the Acropolis Museum.