The greatest sanctuary of ancient Athens, dedicated primarily to its patron, the goddess Athena, dominates the center of the modern city from the rocky crag known as the Acropolis.
To the Athenians who built it, the Parthenon, and other Periclean monuments of the Acropolis, were seen fundamentally as a celebration of Hellenic victory over the Persian invaders and as a thanksgiving to the gods for that victory.
After the Athenians defeated the Persians at Marathon, in 490 BC, they began building a very large temple, the so-called Pre-Parthenon. This temple was still unfinished when the Persians invaded Attica in 480 BC, pillaged the Acropolis and set fire to its monuments.
The Parthenon is a peripteral octastyle Doric temple with Ionic architectural features. It stands on a platform or stylobate of three steps. It is of post and lintel construction and is surrounded by columns carrying an entablature. There are eight columns at either end and seventeen on the sides. There is a double row of columns at either end. The colonnade surrounds an inner masonry structure, the inner chamber, which is divided into two compartments. At either end of the building, the gable is finished with a triangular pediment originally occupied by sculpted figures. The columns are of the Doric order, with simple capitals, fluted shafts, and no bases. Above the architrave of the entablature is a frieze of carved pictorial panels, separated by formal architectural triglyphs, typical of the Doric order. Around the inner chamber and across the lintels of the inner columns runs a continuous sculptured frieze in low relief.
The dimensions of the base of the Parthenon are 70 by 31 meters. The inner chamber (naos) was 30 meters long by 19 meters wide. On the exterior, the Doric columns measure 2 meters in diameter and are 10 meters high. The corner columns are slightly larger in diameter. The Parthenon had 46 outer columns and 23 inner columns in total. The roof was covered with large overlapping marble tiles.
The inner chamber of the Parthenon housed the chryselephantine statue of Athena Parthenos. The massive sculpture of the Greek goddess, made by Phidias and his assistants, was the most renowned cult image of Athens, and one of the greatest achievements of the most acclaimed sculptor of ancient Greece.
A few sculptures from the Parthenon are in the Louvre in Paris, in Copenhagen, and elsewhere, but more than half are in the Acropolis Museum in Athens. The Greek government has campaigned since 1983 for the British Museum to return the sculptures to Greece.