Why is the Parthenon famous

The Acropolis - abode of the gods

With the Parthenon frieze, Lord Elgin took control of the heart of the Acropolis. A varied procession can be seen on it: the annual parade in honor of the city goddess Athena - young men with sacrificial animals, riders, musicians.

In the center of the representation, the goddess is given a robe. Just as the Athenians did in reality.

During the feast days they made a pilgrimage up to the Acropolis and dressed the statue of Athena anew. An impressive interweaving of cult, art and reality: on the frieze of the Parthenon, the celebrating Athenians recognized nothing but themselves.

A temple as a show of power

When the Parthenon frieze was created, its depictions were something entirely new. In addition to the gods, suddenly putting people at the center of a work of art - is that allowed? Is that appropriate for a temple?

Absolutely, says the statesman Perikles - it is he who campaigned for the Parthenon building and its frieze.

After the Persian Wars, Athens became the proud supreme power in the Attic League in 448 BC - the first great victory of the still young democracy over its enemies. And this new self-confidence, Pericles wants it, should also be reflected in the cityscape.

The Parthenon is to be the new center of Athens, Athens the new center of Greece. A decision that the General Assembly of Athens' citizens is only too happy to approve - even if the construction work is anything but cheap.

For the next few years, the Athenians will be able to observe changes on the hill above their city almost every week - if they are not directly involved.

Every morning hosts of craftsmen make a pilgrimage up to the Acropolis, including slaves, who have to give a large part of their wages back to their owners. The Acropolis construction site is also quickly becoming the new center of the country economically.

Resourceful architects, unruly priests

For the artistic concept of the Acropolis, Pericles' best names are just good enough. Classic lines and clear proportions float before him. The Parthenon architects Iktinos and Kallikrates cleverly ensure that the desired geometry does not overturn into uniformity.

Each column tapers towards the top, and the corner columns are slightly thicker than the rest. Minimal corrections that breathe life into the strict marble architecture.

After the Parthenon was completed in 438 BC in a record time of nine years, a building is to be built that has almost the same meaning for Pericles: the Propylaea, a representative gateway through which one is to enter the Acropolis hill in the future.

Diplomats and state guests are to be entertained in the ballrooms. Pericles wants the building monumental and powerful. It is best if it should extend over the entire western foothills of the Acropolis hill.

But here the influential statesman has to make compromises for the first time. The Nike priests, for example, fear that their deity could fall behind the city goddess Athena, who is preferred by Pericles, and are demanding part of the western rock for a Nike temple - with success.

An altar is also dedicated to Athena's divine adversary, Poseidon. In the years from 420 to 406 BC, everything finally focuses on the building of the Erechtheion. Pay homage to several gods and the mythical King Erechtheus. The Propylaea, Pericles' heart project, remains unfinished.

And so the Acropolis Hill will never be the cohesive, grandiose that Pericles wanted - but perhaps it reflects the diversity and contradictions of Athens.

The Acropolis is a place of the gods that celebrates the power and ingenuity of the people at the same time; a homage to ancestors and protective powers as well as a celebration of art and beauty.

Although it is never fully completed, the Acropolis heralds the greatness of the Hellenic civilization well into modern times.

The dispute over the temple continues

In the 19th century, the gaining strength of the Greek national movement wanted to restore the Acropolis to its former glory. After having belonged to the Ottoman Empire for centuries, the Greeks fought for independence in 1830 and were looking for evidence of their former greatness to establish their identity.

What is more suitable than the Acropolis? So begins an ambitious reconstruction program. All buildings that are not from antiquity are removed - first of course, of course, the mosque that the Ottomans built in the middle of the Parthenon temple.

But the closer the Acropolis gets to its original ancient state, the more striking it becomes, which treasures Lord Elgin once carried out of the country. But Great Britain is anything but willing to bring the works of art back out. After all, Elgin agreed with the Ottoman rulers what he himself calls salvation and Greece robbery. A conflict that continues to this day.

However, with a newly built museum at the foot of the Acropolis hill, Greece hopes to still be able to decide the dispute for itself. Because so far the British Museum has always argued that there was no suitable place in Athens for the fragile art treasures.

With its fully air-conditioned rooms designed according to the latest conservation standards, the Acropolis Museum could offer just that. But that hasn't impressed the British Museum so far.