The Parthenon

About the Parthenon

The Parthenon stands as an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece, Western Civilization, and classical architecture. Dedicated to the goddess Athena, this magnificent temple was once the pinnacle of Athenian power and a testament to the city-state's wealth and cultural achievements. Perched atop the Acropolis in Athens, it offers insights into the religious and cultural life of Greece during its Golden Age.

Crafted during the High Classical period, the Parthenon is often hailed for its architectural precision and the artistry of its sculptures. Despite the damage it has suffered through centuries, including wars, explosions, and looting, the structure remains a profound statement of the sophistication and skill of its architects and artists. Its harmonious proportions and the implementation of the Doric order distinguish it as a masterpiece of human creativity.

Historical context of the Parthenon

Origins and construction

Construction of the Parthenon began in 447 BC under the leadership of Pericles, a prominent and influential statesman who led Athens as it was reaching the zenith of its power. The temple was built upon the Acropolis, the city’s fortified hilltop, and was dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of the city. Famed sculptor Phidias oversaw the artistic direction, transforming marble into a resplendent edifice.

The outcome of the Persian Wars

Following the victory against the Persians in 479 BC, Athens emerged as a powerful city-state, the construction of the Parthenon symbolized the city’s triumph and resilience. The creation of the monumental temple was fueled by a desire to commemorate Athens’ victory and showcase the city’s ascendancy in the Greek world. It was partly funded by the spoils of the Persian Wars and contributions from the Delian League.

Architectural features of the Parthenon

Design and dimensions

The Parthenon is celebrated for its mathematical precision and innovative architectural techniques. It represents a peak in classical Greek architecture, combining aesthetic harmony with structural durability. The rectangular-shaped structure measured approximately 31 meters by 69.5 meters and its columns form a surrounding colonnade, enclosing the “cella”. This inner chamber is believed to have housed the statue of Athena, to whom the temple is dedicated.

Innovations in structure

One of the Parthenon’s key elements is its innovative structural design, with each column slightly swelling toward the center. This feature, known as “entasis”, creates the illusion of straight lines and enhances the temple’s grandeur. This is thanks to the meticulous attention of the architects and builders to geometry and proportion, which ensured stability and aesthetic beauty.

Doric order and ionic elements

The Parthenon is predominantly constructed in the Doric order, characterized by sturdy columns with fluted shafts and simple, cushion-like capitals. Above these, the entablature possesses a plain architrave. Contrasting the Doric simplicity, Ionic elements are subtly present in the Parthenon, including a frieze that uniquely combines features from both architectural orders.

Artistic Legacy of the Parthenon

Sculptures and Metopes

The Parthenon's decorative sculptures are often recognized as a high point in classical Greek art . The metopes, the square panels above the columns, depict mythological battles such as the Gigantomachy and Centauromachy, demonstrating a frozen narrative in stone.

Pediments and themes

The pediments, the triangular spaces at each end of the temple, depict the birth of Athena and the contest between Athena and Poseidon. These themes not only highlight mythological tales but also emphasize the cultural and religious importance of Athena in Athenian life.

Craftsmanship of Phidias

Under the guidance of master sculptor Phidias, the artistic vision of the Parthenon came to life. The long-lost gold and ivory-plated statue of Athena Parthenos, that once graced the temple’s inner chamber, was one of his most celebrated and intricate works. Pieces attributed to his workshop, including the so-called Elgin Marbles, now resonate with history at institutions like the Acropolis Museum.

Cultural and religious significance of the Parthenon

The Parthenon has served as a monumental hub for religious devotion and cultural expression for centuries. From its inception, it has embodied the reverence of the Athenians towards their patron deity and subsequently adapted to changing religious landscapes.

Athena and Ancient Worship

Originally, the Parthenon was dedicated to Goddess Athena, the patroness of Athens, symbolizing the city’s wealth and power. Inside, the Athena Parthenos, a massive gold and ivory statue, stood as a beacon of worship and Athenian pride. Pilgrims and citizens alike would ascend the Acropolis hill to pay their respects and seek favor from Athena, thus intertwining religious practices with the daily lives of ancient Greeks.

Conversion to Church and Mosque

As empires rose and fell, the Parthenon’s religious role transformed significantly. In the 5th century, it was converted into a Christian Church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, showing the fluid transition of sacred spaces across religions. Centuries later, under Ottoman rule, this architectural masterpiece assumed a new role as a Mosque, further exemplifying its adaptability and continued importance in the religious fabric of the region. The enduring structure not only reflects the shifts in religious dominance but also acts as a testament to the cultural and historical layers of Athens.

Preservation and damage of the Parthenon

Antiquity and Middle Ages

Over the centuries, the Parthenon has experienced significant transformations, but was relatively intact until 1687 when the Venetians attacked the city of Athens. During this attack, they inadvertently struck the Parthenon, which was being used by the Ottomans as a gunpowder magazine. This catastrophic explosion caused severe damage to the temple, which is still evident to this day.

Modern Conservation Efforts

In the 1970s, the Acropolis Restoration Project was launched in an effort to address the damage sustained over centuries. This included meticulously dismantling and repairing almost every piece of the Parthenon, replacing corroded iron clamps with titanium ones, and using original building techniques for authenticity. This process is ongoing, ensuring that the Parthenon remains a testament to restoration science and historical preservation.

Parthenon's controversies and disputes

When discussing the Parthenon, two major topics often emerge: the long-standing “Elgin Marbles” Debate and the broader implications of Cultural Repatriation. These reflect enduring tensions between historical appreciation, ownership, and the desire to reunite cultural relics with their places of origin.

Elgin marbles debate

The “Elgin Marbles” is a collection of sculptures that once adorned the Parthenon, and which have been housed in the British Museum since the early 19th century. These artifacts, named after Lord Elgin who removed them from the Parthenon, have become symbols of cultural heritage and the subject of an intense debate between the UK and Greece. The Greek government maintains that the marbles were taken under dubious legal and ethical circumstances and should be returned to sit near the Parthenon within Athens' Acropolis Museum, a modern museum that holds many artifacts from the ancient citadel.

Cultural repatriation

As nations seek to reclaim cultural heritage, repatriation of historic artifacts like the “Elgin Marbles” has garnered international attention. The British Museum contends that it legally acquired the marbles and that they are accessible to an international audience in London. Conversely, proponents of repatriation argue that the artifacts should return to their homeland to provide context and unity with the site they originally adorned. The debate on Cultural Repatriation touches upon complex issues of identity, history, and international law, suggesting that the discussion is far more intricate than simply who holds possession of historical objects.

Visiting the Parthenon

Entrance tickets

Tickets to the Parthenon are essential for entrance to the Acropolis complex. Prices vary, typically around €15 for a standard admission ticket, with reduced rates available during off-peak seasons and for select visitor categories. To avoid the long queues it is highly recommended to purchase skip-the-line tickets in advance, particularly if you’re planning a last-minute visit. Many visitors find the best time to visit is early morning or late afternoon, when the weather is cooler and the site is less crowded.

Skip-the-Line Acropolis Ticket


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Experience the ancient wonders of the Acropolis without the wait. Skip-the-line tickets give you the freedom to see one of the world's most famous ancient monuments at your own pace. Receive the ticket instantly via e-mail on your mobile phone and show it at the entrance.

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Guided tours

By opting for a guided tour you can enhance your visit with insightful commentary on the Parthenon’s history and significance. Tours vary in length and detail, with offerings including group or private options and even tours with an audio guide for a self-paced experience. While guided tours are an additional cost, they provide in-depth knowledge and context that can greatly enrich your understanding of the ancient ruins.

Acropolis Skip-the-Line Entry and Guided Tour


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Enjoy skip-the-line entrance to the Acropolis with the company of a knowledgeable English-speaking guide. Join this 1.5 hour tour to explore the rich history and secrets of the Acropolis and its ruins, including the Parthenon, the Dionysus Theater and Sanctuary, and many more.

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