If there's one place not to be missed when visiting Athens, it's the Parthenon. Not just because it is perhaps the city's greatest icon, but also because of its unparalleled beauty and majesty, which have remained unchanged over the course of centuries. We speak of its beauty, of course, because its structure has undergone a multitude of alterations. And knowing them will make your visit much more enriching and interesting. Do you want to know why the Parthenon ruins look like they do now, and not something else?
Today, the Parthenon is not only a symbol of Greek culture, but one of the Western world. However, at the time of its construction it ruffled feathers, and in the centuries that followed, it suffered all kinds of assaults and plundering.
After a long period of internal wars and conflicts with the Persian Empire, when Pericles took power in Greece he had the idea of establishing something called democracy. And, in order for it to work, the entire Greek population had to be given employment. But back then there were no taxes or other types of fiscal measures
What there was, however, was a military alliance that Pericles used to raise funds for the restoration of Athens. It was called the Delian League, and from this Pericles channelled funds to build the Parthenon, among other things. There were groups that were opposed, of course: the aristocracy and the philosophers, who were a little more hypocritical than is usually believed.
The construction of the Parthenon began in 447 BC and only marble was used for this purpose. Even the tiles were made of marble. In fact, be careful when visiting, especially in the middle of summer when it's hot. The floor is slippery because it's made of this material. And it's a genuine miracle that it's been preserved.The fire of 267 BC
267 years before the birth of Christ the Heruli occupied Athens and set fire to the Acropolis. This destroyed the original roof, the ceilings and several columns, as well as the inner parts of the walls.
And no attempt at restoration was made until a century and a half later! Julian the Apostate, known as the apostate because he maintained certain hostilities with the Christians, was in charge. The quality of the restoration was not particularly high.
The Christians who murdered Hypatia, as recounted in Alejandro Amenabar's film, were determined to put an end to all pagan gods at any cost. In the 5th century AD, the Parthenon became a church and its statues were on the receiving end of Christian wrath. This is when the first sculptures were lost. But not only that, but also windows were added to its structure, for which several frieze blocks were destroyed.
It was then that the Parthenon lost its name to become the church of the Panagia Atheniotissa
Strange as it may sound, the Crusader knights placed a bell tower in the Parthenon after the fourth crusade. The temple continued to be used as a church, although its structure continued to be recognisable and dominated the Acropolis.
Relations between Greeks and Turks have never been easy, and in 1458 the latter managed to occupy Athens and transformed the Parthenon into a mosque. The bell tower became a minaret, but the new occupants did no more damage to the original structure.
The barbarians, the Christians, the Crusaders and the Turks were nothing compared to the collectors. In the 19th century, Lord Elgin, the British ambassador, ransacked the building and took everything he could. Most of it is on display today in the British Museum. So, to see the Parthenon, visiting the Acropolis is a good start, but the best thing is to finish off... in London!
Fortunately, this iconic and beautiful building has been cared for by art lovers who have worked and continue to work for its recovery.
It is a temple 31 metres in width with 25 columns. It's unlikely you'll be able to see them all, since the temple is still undergoing reconstruction.
It's a misleading building; although the eye perceives the size of the columns as if they were all the same, some are wider than others: the central ones are wider, while those at the ends become steadily slimmer. But the decrease in size is small and gradual, so the human eye only perceives the architectural harmony.
The Parthenon is one of the most popular monuments in Athens, so you will always find other travellers there. Try to go early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
The Acropolis is a steeply sloping hill. You can take a bus or walk. If you walk, avoid the central hours of the day in summer, as the heat can be dangerous. And always carry a bottle of water with you.
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