Fun Facts About the Parthenon and the Acropolis

Athena's jewel crowns her city of Athens

Old Historic Ruins Against Sky At Acropolis
••• Pinghung Chen / EyeEm / Getty Images

The Parthenon is the remains of a temple for the Greek goddess Athena, the patron goddess of the ancient City of Athens.

Where is the Parthenon?

The Parthenon is a temple located on the Acropolis, a hill overlooking the city of Athens, Greece. The exact coordinates are 37°58 17.45 N/23°43 34.29 E. 

What is the Acropolis?

The Acropolis is the hill in Athens on which the Parthenon stands. Acro means "high" and polis means "city," so it means the "high city." Many other places in Greece have an acropolis, such as Corinth in the Peloponnese, but the Acropolis usually refers to the site of the Parthenon in Athens.

In addition to the obvious classical monuments, there are more ancient remains from the Mycenean period and even earlier at the Acropolis. You can also see from a distance the sacred caves that once were used for rites to  Dionysos and other Greek deities, though they are not generally open to the public. The New Acropolis Museum is located beside the rock of the Acropolis and holds many of the finds from the Acropolis and Parthenon. It replaced the old museum that was located on top of the Acropolis itself.

What Kind of Greek Temple is the Parthenon?

The Parthenon in Athens is considered to be the finest example of Doric-style construction.

What is Doric Style?

Doric is a simple, unadorned style characterized by plainer columns.

Who Built the Parthenon in Athens?

The Parthenon was designed by Phidias, a famous sculptor, at the behest of Pericles, a Greek politician credited with the founding of the city of Athens and with stimulating the "Golden Age of Greece." The Greek architects Ictinos and Callicrates supervised the practical work of the construction.

Alternate spellings for these names include Iktinos, Kallikrates, and Pheidias. There is no official transliteration of Greek into English, resulting in many alternate spellings.

What Was in the Parthenon?

Many treasures would have been displayed in the building, but the glory of the Parthenon was the gigantic statue of Athena designed by Phidias and made out of chryselephantine (elephant ivory) and gold.

When Was the Parthenon built?

Work on the building began in 447 BC and continued over a period of about nine years until 438 BC; some of the decorations were completed later. It was built on the site of an earlier temple that is sometimes called the Pre-Parthenon. There were probably even earlier Mycenean remains on the Acropolis as some pottery fragments have been found there.

How Big is the Parthenon?

Experts differ on this because of variations in the way it is measured and due to damage to the structure. One common measurement is 111 feet by 228 feet or 30.9 meters by 69.5 meters.

What Does Parthenon Mean? 

The temple was sacred to two aspects of the Greek goddess Athena: Athena Polios ("of the city") and Athena Parthenos ("young maiden"). The -on ending means "place of," so "Parthenon" means "place of the Parthenos."

Why Is the Parthenon in Ruins?

The Parthenon survived the ravages of time pretty well, serving as a church and then a mosque until finally it was used as a munitions depot during the Turkish occupation of Greece. In 1687, during a battle with the Venetians, an explosion tore through the building and caused much of the damage seen today. There was also a damaging fire in ancient times.

What Is the "Elgin Marbles" or "Parthenon Marbles" Controversy?

Lord Elgin, an Englishman, claimed he received permission from the local Turkish authorities to remove whatever he wanted from the ruins of the Parthenon. But based on surviving documents, he apparently interpreted even that "permission" quite liberally. It may not have included shipping out marbles to England. The Greek government has been demanding the return of the Parthenon Marbles and an entire vacant floor awaits them at the New Acropolis Museum. At present, they are displayed at the British Museum in London, England.

Visiting the Acropolis and Parthenon

Many companies offer tours of the Parthenon and the Acropolis. You can also join a tour for a small fee in addition to your admission at the site itself or just wander about on your own and read the curation cards, though the information they contain is relatively limited.

Here's one tour that you can book direct ahead of time: Athens Half-Day Sightseeing Tour with Acropolis and Parthenon

Here's a tip: The best picture of the Parthenon is from the far end, not the first view that you get after climbing through the propylaion. That presents a hard angle for most cameras, while the shot from the other end is easy to get. And then turn around; you'll be able to take some great pictures of Athens itself from the same location.