For most of us, the Parthenon, which overlooks Athens, represents the pinnacle of ancient Greek art. The Parthenon is often regarded as the greatest structure in the world. It's said to be the temple of the Greek goddess Athena, with tapering columns and outstanding realistic architecture that impacted art. Today, it remains one of the most important monuments in Athens.
The word "Parthenon" comes from the Greek phrase "parthenos nuptial," meaning "virgin bride." This refers to a sculpture of the goddess that stood in the pediment (a decorative element at the top of a wall or door) of King Eumenes' palace in Pergamum. According to tradition, this sculpture was taken by Theseus when he sailed into Piraeus (the port of Athens) looking for his kidnapped daughter Ariadne. In 431 B.C., the Athenian army led by Pericles destroyed the palace of Eumenes on suspicion that he had hidden the statue. There are reports that the Athenians stole other pieces of art from the palace, but no evidence of this has been found. What's certain is that the destruction of the palace helped inspire Aristophanes' play The Birds, in which he makes fun of the Athenians for being so obsessed with war that they destroy everything beautiful.
The building we know today as the Parthenon was originally built between 447 and 432 B.C. by the architect Ictinus.
The Acropolis of Athens The Parthenon, dedicated to the goddess Athena and built on top of the Acropolis in Athens, is undeniably the most renowned of ancient Greek temples and one of the country's most popular tourist attractions. It was here that important decisions were made for the city-state of Athens: battles were fought, laws were passed, and artists and poets gathered to exchange ideas.
For more than a thousand years the site has been protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, thanks to ongoing restoration efforts, the Parthenon is again being used for its original purpose: as a museum and venue for cultural events.
In addition to the Parthenon, the ruins of several other classical buildings are located within the Acropolis complex. These include the Erechtheion, which was originally a fourth century B.C. Athenian temple devoted to the god Erechtheus. It was later converted into a Christian church named after the Holy Trinity. Next to it stands the Propylaia, which is the entrance to the Acropolis. It was here that visitors would enter the city during its time as a free state. Finally, there is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a large Roman theater that once seated up to 15,000 people. It was here that Plato held his annual musical competitions called Dionysies.
Acropolis Temples and political structures were frequently constructed on top of a hill, or acropolis. The famed Parthenon of Athens is a surviving example of a building key to an ancient acropolis. The Parthenon was a temple erected to worship Athena, the goddess of wisdom. It was built by Phidias and completed in 447 BC.
Other important sites include the Propylaia, which led to the Acropolis; the Erechtheion, one of Athens' most important religious centers; the Temple of Olympian Zeus; and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
Government buildings and temples were also constructed in other cities throughout ancient Greece. These include the Parliament Building in Athens, which is now used for different purposes including holding trials; the Ephesos Museum, which is dedicated to the discovery and preservation of art dating back to the early years of Christianity; and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, which is one of the seven wonders of the world.
Artemis was a Greek goddess associated with wild animals and hunting. She was originally from Asia Minor but later became popular across Greece. Women played an important role in her cult and many stories were told about their connection with him. One of the most famous stories involves Artemis saving her virgin priestess from being raped by Pan. After this incident, she became associated with protection from sexual assault and others related forms of violence against women.
The magnificence of the old buildings may still be seen today through the few remnants. The Temple of Hephaestus, next to the famed Acropolis, is one of the best-preserved Greek temples in the world, created by Iktinus, one of the architects who also worked on the Parthenon. The Temple of Hephaestus was built around 438 B.C. and it's estimated that its gold and silver decorations weighed about 70 pounds (32 kg).
Other important ruins on the Acropolis are those of the Treasury, which was used to store sacred gifts given to the temple by grateful cities; the Propylaea, two monumental gates leading up to the Acropolis; and the Erechtheion, a beautiful temple dedicated to Athena Polias (Athena the City), whose pediment is an example of Hellenic art.
The sanctuary of Athena Nike was once located on top of the Acropolis but it has been moved below ground level. Today you can only see its base, which is all that remains of one of the most important statues in ancient Greece: the Statue of Athena Nike. It was made around 450 B.C. by the famous sculptor Polycleitus. The statue was cast in one piece and it shows Athena wearing a helmet, chest armor, and leggings with footgear. She holds in her right hand a spear and in her left a shield with a lion's head.