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The Parthenon was built in the distant 5th century BC and was dedicated by the Athenians to the patroness of their city — the goddess Athena Parthenos. The Parthenon is the most recognizable symbol of Ancient Greece and Athenian democracy. The most important building of Classical Greece and one of the greatest cultural monuments in the world — the Parthenon temple — is considered to be the peak of the Doric order and is a unique architectural work of art.

Despite the fact that the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens is known as a temple, the building has not always had a religious status. In the course of its existence, it has been a place for storing city treasures and even ammunition; it has undergone several transformations, but still managed to survive for more than two millennia. Now it is one of the most popular tourist attractions — the main building of the Acropolis.

How the Parthenon was built

The temple of Parthenon in Athens was built in 447-438 BC and was a part of a large Periclean construction project, so it received the name of the "Periclean Parthenon". The Athenian statesman Pericles allocated money for its construction, and the architects Iktinos and Kallikrates, under the leadership of Phidias, turned the project into reality. For its construction, the builders of the Parthenon extracted about 100 000 tons of marble from a quarry located 10 km from Athens. The blocks were cut and finished manually — it was necessary to precise carefully, since the construction was carried out without grout. According to experts, the dragging of marble blocks to the construction site was carried out due to a well-established system of pulleys and ropes.   

In 438 BC, by the time when the construction of the temple was completed, Phidias produced a colossal statue of Athena made of gold and ivory for the interior. The statue didn’t survive to nowadays. The interior decoration of the temple was completed by 432 BC.

Before the Periclean Parthenon was constructed, some other structures had existed at this place. It is believed that even in geometric period, in the 7th century BC, there was a plastered temple on stone bases. In 570 BC, the first brick building called the Parthenon was erected, and just 80 years later, after the victory in the Marathon, the construction of the Marble pre-Parthenon was started here. However, the project was not fated to be completed, as it was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC. Thus, before the Parthenon of Periclean times was erected, there had been three structures dedicated to Athena on this site.

Historical milestones

In 267 AD, the Parthenon was first destroyed by the herulians who occupied Athens. They burnt the building up that caused the original roof and the entire interior colonnade to be completely destroyed. Other parts of the structure were severely damaged. About a century later, during the Emperor Julian’s reign, some corrections were made.

After the schools of philosophy were closed in 529, Athens were not the centre of philosophy any more — Christianity was becoming widespread. In the last decade of the 6th century, the Parthenon became a Byzantine church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In 1205, Athens came under the rule of the Franks, and the Parthenon became a Catholic cathedral. 

In 1456, after the Turkish invasion, the building turned into a mosque. During the war with the Venetians, the Turkish weapons were stored in it. In 1687, the Venetian army surrounded the Ottomans on the Acropolis. A mortar missile that hit the Parthenon caused an explosion that seriously hurt the building. After occupying the Acropolis, the Venetians, headed by Morosini, tried to steal some of the sculptures from the Parthenon. This caused more damage.

In 1801, the British ambassador to Constantinople, Thomas Bruce, the earl of Elgin, received permission from the Turkish sultan to take away any antiquities that he liked from the countries under sultan’s jurisdiction. In his pursuit to capture as much as possible, the earl removed 18 pediment statues, 15 metopes, and 50 frieze stones from the Acropolis. In 1815, he sold these sculptures to the British Museum.

Finally, the Turks left the Acropolis in 1833. By that time, the visible part of the minaret had been destroyed, and just its base and a spiral staircase had left. The settlement had appeared on the Sacred rock during that period, so its removal was began. This place has become a historical site controlled by the Greek government. In 1898 the work on the restoration of monuments began. It continues to this day.


Being a double peripheral Doric temple, the Parthenon has a number of unique architectural features. There is a main temple here, the back part faces west, there are projections at the western and the eastern sides. On the narrow side, there are 8 columns and 17 ones are along the long part. The diameter of the columns is the same as of the pre-Partenon columns, so the marble prepared for the previous structure could be used during the construction of the Parthenon.

Measurements of the building that were made on the upper stage of the foundation indicate that the Parthenon had quite an impressive size: it was about 31 m long and almost 70 m wide. 

Inside the colonnade of 8 and 17 columns, there was a rectangular room surrounded by a wall — the cella. It was originally divided into three passages by two smaller Doric colonnades. The only light was coming from the eastern doorway, except the places where the light could penetrate between the marble tiles on the roof and ceiling of the building. Behind the cella, there was a small square room that could be entered from the western side.

The interior of the Parthenon combines old and new elements: in the nave, there was a two-dimensional P-shaped Doric colonnade, which served as the background for the magnificent statue of Athena made of gold and ivory, which was installed inside. In the western part of the Parthenon, the city treasury was located, surrounded by four Ionic columns. The roof was sloped and covered with marble tiles. On the western and eastern sides, the pediments were low and triangular in shape. They were decorated with sculptures showing the life of the goddess Athena. On the eastern side there was a scene of the birth of Athena from Zeus’s head in the presence of all the Olympic gods, and on the western side there was a dispute between Athena and Neptune about who would patronize Athens, as well as images of mythical kings and heroes of Attica. The corners of the pediments were decorated with marble statues, and their tops had the palmettes, which were richly decorated.

Today the Parthenon appears dazzling white, but the descriptions in ancient sources, as well as traces of paint that were found on its sculptures, suggest that in ancient times both the temple and its stucco decorations, were brightly decorated in blue, red and gold shades.

Above the outer colonnade of the temple, there were 92 metopes — flat marble blocks with relief sculpture. They were decorated with reliefs — the earliest sculptures of the Parthenon, representing battles from ancient Greek myths: gigantomachy in the east, the Trojan War in the north, amazonomachy in the west and centauromachy in the south. Another Ionic element that complemented the Doric structure was a frieze consisting of alternating triglyphs — vertically ribbed blocks. The subject of the decoration was the Panathenaic procession — the most important Athenian festival in honour of the patron goddess of the city.

The Parthenon in Greece is the part of the Acropolis of Athens, so it is not difficult to find it in the Greek capital, given that the Sacred hill is located in the heart of Athens. 

  • It is convenient to get here by metro — the “Acropolis” station is a few minutes’ walk from the Acropolis.
  • If you decide to see the Parthenon temple after visiting the Syntagma square, the walk will take about 15 minutes — follow the Leoforos Vasilissis Amalias street to its intersection with Dionysiou Areopagitou, where you need to turn right.
  • By buses No. 1, 5, 15, 040, 230 and A2 connects to the Makrygianni stop.