About the Parthenon and Acropolis in Athens, Greece

The Parthenon

 TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

At the Parthenon in Athens, you'll see the remains of a temple built for the Greek goddess Athena, the patron goddess of the ancient City of Athens, in 438 BC. The Parthenon is located on the Acropolis, a hill overlooking the city of Athens, Greece. 

About the Acropolis

Acro means "high" and polis means "city," so Acropolis 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.

When the Parthenon was built, Lycabettus Hill was outside the Athens city limits. But Lycabettus is actually now, the highest hill in Athens. Climb it for a brilliant view of the Acropolis and the Parthenon.

In addition to the obvious classical monuments you'll see at the Acropolis, there are more ancient remains dating from the Mycenean period and prior. You can also see in the distance the sacred caves that once were used for rites to Dionysos and other Greek deities. These are not generally open to the public.

The Acropolis Museum is located beside the rock of the Acropolis and holds many of the finds from the Acropolis and Parthenon. This building replaced the old museum that was located on top of the Acropolis itself.

About the Parthenon

The Parthenon in Athens is considered to be the finest example of Doric-style construction, a simple, unadorned style characterized by plain columns. Although expert opinions differ, the best estimate of the Parthenon's original size is 111 feet by 228 feet or 30.9 meters by 69.5 meters.

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 was no official transliteration of Greek into English, resulting in many alternate spellings.

Work on the building began in 447 BC and continued over a period of about nine years until 438 BC; some of the decorative elements 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 from that period have been found there.

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."

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.

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. From 1453 with the fall of Constantinople until the revolution in 1821, Greece was under the rule of the Ottoman Turks.

In 1687, during a battle with the Venetians, an explosion tore through the building and caused much of the damage seen today.

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 in the early 1800s. But based on surviving documents, he apparently interpreted that "permission" quite liberally. It may not have included shipping out decorative marbles and sculptures to England. The Greek government has been demanding the return of the Parthenon Marbles and an entire vacant floor awaits them at the 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 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 limited curation cards. One tour that you can book directly ahead of time is the Athens Half-Day Sightseeing Tour with Acropolis and Parthenon. From November to March, the first Sunday of each month is free entry to the Parthenon.

If you want an ideal photo from your visit, 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.

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