The Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens.

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The Parthenon

The Parthenon
The Parthenon is the main attraction of the Acropolis, and has been the focus of the Athenian skyline for 2,500 years. It was the greatest Doric temple of the ancient world, and is still probably one of the most famous, recognisable and vistited buildings in the world.

The Parthenon of the Acropolis

The Parthenon is the centre piece of the Acropolis of Athens, it was the pinnacle of temple building of classical Greece and has been copied in one way or another up until the present day all over the western world. Although the Parthenon has suffered earthquakes, looting, cannon fire, it has been used for everything from an armoury to a Mosque over its 2,500 year history it is still a magnificent building and the main attraction for any visitor to Athens.

The Temple was built to give thanks for victory and safety of Athens in the Persian wars. The name Parthenon comes from the Greek word "pathenos" which means virgin as the temple was originally known as the Temple of Athena the virgin. The Parthenon was built under the leadership of Pericles between 447-433 BC by the architects Iktinos and Kallikrates, whilst the sculptures were made by Pheidias. The temple was built on the exact site of an earlier temple that was destroyed by the Persians, and no doubt there were earlier temples than this one.

Functions of the Parthenon

The function of the Parthenon was to hold a huge statue of Athena Nike in its cella, which was made out of ivory and gold, the statue was taken to Constantinople during the 5th century AD by one of the emperors and then lost to history most likely in 1204 during the sack of the the city in the fourth crusade. It was later used by the ancient Athenians as treasury for the Delian league which previously was on the sacred island of Delos in the Cyclades.

During the 6th century AD the Parthenon became a Christian - The Church of the Parthenos Maria (Virgin Mary) and sometimes known as Theotokos which means "Mother of God" and eventually became one of the most important churches in the Eastern Roman empire. To build the church some of the columns of the Parthenon were destroyed and there were many Christian inscriptions carved into the columns as well as many of the pagan sculptures being removed or destroyed.

The city of Athens fell to the Ottomans in 1456 and the Parthenon was now converted from a Christian church to a Muslim Mosque even having a minaret added to the ancient building. Despite the minaret the Parthenon was still intact.

The Parthenon
Columns on the Parthenon bulge out as they rise to counter the optical illussion of looking up at it..

Destruction of the Parthenon

The worst destruction to the Parthenon came in 1687 when the Acropolis was under siege by the Venetians under the command of Francesco Morosini , the defending Turks fortified the Acropolis and used the Parthenon as a gunpowder magazine. Morosini fired mortar rounds at the Parthenon from the nearby hill of Philopappas (it is still unsure if he deliberately aimed at the Parthenon or not) and blew up the powder magazine inside the Parthenon destroying many of the columns, about 3/5 of the sculptures and the entire roof, killing hundreds.

The next stage of destruction came in the 18th century with western Europeans being allowed to visit the Acropolis by the ruling Turkish, some of these were granted permission by the Turks to remove many of the sculptures. The most famous of these was the British lord Elgin who took many sculptures and left many more damaged. These sculptures are now kept in the British museum as "the Parthenon Marbles" and there is an on gong argument between the Greek people and Government with the British Museum about returning these marbles home to Athens,

Architecture and sculptures of the Parthenon

The Parthenon was a Doric style Temple, the best of its kind and has been replicated many times since it was built in the 5th century BC. The base of the Parthenon is 69.5 by 30.9 Meters with 46 outer columns and 23 inner, The cella was 29.8 by 19.2 metres and had 2 tiers of internal colonnades which held the roof up. The Parthenon stands on a 3 step platform (stylobate) and curves up slightly in the middle for optical reasons. The columns bulge slightly as they rise (entasis) to counter the optical effect of looking up at the columns making them look straight.

The Parthenon was decorated both internally and externally with statues, sculptures, friezes etc unfortunately many of these have been destroyed or looted over the Parthenon's 2,500 history. Although what you see now on the Parthenon or in museums around the world are all white marble it is now thought that they were actually painted, at least partially, in bright reds and blues.

The Parthenon
Parthenon from Philopappas hill. It was here were the Venetians fired mortar on to the Acropolis, destroying much of the Parthenon.

Pediments of The Parthenon

The pediments of the Parthenon are the triangular groups of statues above the columns at the front and back (east and west) of the Parthenon. The east pediment depicts the story of Athena's birth where she comes out of the head of Zeus after he is struck with a hammer by the God Hephaestus. Most of the centr piece sculptures were destroyed and it is only speculation on how they looked.

The west pediment, which is the front of the Parthenon as you enter the Acropolis through the main gate or Propylaia, depicts the contest between Athena and Poseidon as to who will become the patron of the city of Athens.

Metopes of the Parthenon

The metopes are the friezes that go all around the Parthenon, originally there were 92 metopes but like so many other artifacts and sculptures on the Acropolis they have been destroyed or stolen. Ech side of the Parthenon tell a different story from Greek mythology.

The Parthenon
Pediments amd metopes on the Parthenon, many of these can be seen in the Acropolis museum..

The east side of the Parthenon shows the battle the giants and the Gods of Olympus "Gigantomachy". The west side depicts the battle between the Athenians and Amazons (female warriors) this is known as "Amazonmachy". The south side depicts the battle between the Lapiths and Theseus against the Cenataurs, known as "Centauromachy". The north side depicts the sack of Troy but are in very bad condition.

Some of the original Friezes are on view in the Acropolis museum others are in the British museum and Louvre in Paris.

The Parthenon