top of page

W. Dörpfeld, "Parthenon I, II, III", AJA 39(1935:497 - 507)

W. Dinsmoor, AJA 39(1935:508)

W.B. Dinsmoor, "Metric Measurements of Temples," appendix in: The Architecture of Ancient Greece: An Account of Its Historic Development, Biblo and Tannen, London

DoricOrdertemplate2 copy.jpg

Athens Parthenon  447-432  BC

8  17

The monumental sculpture of Athena Parthenos by Phidias is a work which stood on a pedistal at the rear of the sanctuary. Athena's helmet was adorned with a sphinx flanked by two griffins. In her right hand she bore a winged Nike and in her left hand the goddess held a spear and touched her shield with her finger. The inner surface of the shield was decorated with scenes depicting the battle of the Amazons with the Athenians and the Giants against the Gods. A snake rising along the shaft of the spear from a coil nestled against the inside of the shield represents Erichthoinius whom Athena raised and was the one whom is said to have started her worship on the Acropolis. The pedestal on which she stood showed the birth of Pandora, the first priestess of her temple.


The chryselophantine statue was destroyed in 435 AD, only some Roman representations survive to indicate its original form.

The Parthenon has 14 metopes along the ends and 32 along each side. The metopes decorating the eastern end depict scenes from the Gigantomachia, the battle between the Gods and the Giants, while those of the southern flank show the battle of the Lapithae and their Athenian allies against the Centaurs as a way to show the valor of the city and the people to their goddess Athena. The western end bore a representation of the battle with the Amazons; the northern flank portraying the Trojan War.


The Hekatompedon, or proto-Parthenon, was undoubtedly demolished sometime around 490 B.C and a new temple erected in its place using some of the remains of the earlier structure for its foundation elements. The new temple was to be 220 feet long and a little more than 77 feet wide. It was planned as a peripteros with six columns along the front and back, and eight columns along each side. Hardly had the work begun when the Persian Invasion of 480 B.C. destroyed the Acropolis and the “old Parthenon” before it had been completed.

It wasn’t until 447 B.C. during the leadership of Pericles that the present Parthenon was built. Plutarch (XIII) tells us that, “quite particular astonishment was aroused at the speed with which these buildings went forward.”  And so, during the Great Panathenaea of 438 BC, was the Parthenon dedicated. The Parthenon name means the "temple of the virgin goddess" and refers to the cult of Athena Parthenos that was associated with that temple.

The Parthenon survived as a temple to Athena for close to a thousand years, and still intact in the 4th century AD. Sometime in the 5th century AD, the great cult image of Athena was looted by one of the Roman emperors and carried off to Constantinople where it was later destroyed, possibly during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 AD. For the next 250 years the Parthenon served as a Roman Catholic church of Our Lady. The conversion to a church involved removing the internal columns and some of the walls of the cella, along with the creation of an apse at the eastern end.

In 1456, Athens fell to the Ottomans and a portion of the Parthenon was converted to a mosque. Then in September of 1687, Venetian invaders surrounded the Acropolis intent on capturing the Turks who had taken refuge within the temple. The Venetians lobbed more than 700 cannonballs against the structure, eventually setting off a store of gunpowder that demolished the roof and severely damaged the exterior columns.













In 1801, the British Ambassador at Constantinople, the Earl of Elgin, obtained many of the antiquities on the Acropolis, detatching sculptures and causing additional damage to what was left of the building. Some of the frieze blocks were even sawn in half to lessen their weight for shipment back to England, where they were subsequently placed in the British Museum.

The frieze depicts the Panathenaic procession that begins in the southwestern corner of the Parthenon and moved around the building, finally meeting on the eastern wall above the entrance. Some discussion has surfaced around the identification of the two sets of six deities at the eastern end. Twelve gods are there to receive the Peplos, or robe, of the goddess the procession brings with it. Since the Panathenaic Procession was a strictly local festival, the deities’ participation is most likely of local interest to the history of Athens. Five of the figures are easily identified as Athena, Hephaestus, Zeus, Hermes and Aphrodite. Theseus is likely one of the other figures, and seated in front of him is Pandrosus, the first priestess of Athena. Philochorus records the requirement that if anyone sacrifices a cow to Athena, he had to offer a sheep to Pandrosus. Thus is seems that the cows in the northern frieze are victims for Athena and the sheep for Pandrosus.

The Parthenon restorations began in the 1880's by the architect N. Balanos. In 1934 and 1935, William Dörpfeld published his excavation findings, stating the existence of three structures on the Acropolis that were sanctuaries to Athena. Dorpfeld was the first to relate the serpent pediment sculpture found in the excavation and determine that it had once been part of the demolished Hekatompedon. W.B. Dinsmoor published his findings of the three buildings the same years and another work on the Hekatompedon in 1947.

bottom of page