In the centre of the Parthenon Gallery on the 3rd floor, the visitor can observe a video presentation about the Parthenon and the sculptural decoration of the monument. In the same area are presented ancient marble inscriptions recording detailed cost records of the construction of the Parthenon and the statue of Athena Parthenos. As a result, visitors are informed on how democratic bodies functioned in the 5th century BC.
The installation of the frieze of the Parthenon on the rectangular cement core that has exactly the same dimensions as the cella of the Parthenon enables a comprehensive viewing of the details of the frieze, as one takes the perimetric walk of the Gallery. The narrative of the story of the Panathenaic Procession is pieced together with a combination of the original blocks of the frieze and cast copies of the pieces in museums abroad, such as the British Museum and the Louvre.
In contrast to the mythological subjects of the metopes and pediments, on the Parthenon frieze, Pheidias chose to depict the Great Panathenaia, the greatest festival of the city in honor of the Goddess Athena. The festival took place every four years, lasted 12 days and included rituals, sacrifices, as well as athletic and musical contests. The festivities culminated on the 28th day of the month – Hekatombaion in the heart of the summer – on Athena’s birthday. On that day, a procession advanced to the temple of Athena Polias (the Archaios Naos that was later replaced by the Erechtheion) in order to hand over to the priestess a new peplos for the old xoanon of the Goddess. This procession unfolds over the 160 meters of continuous sculptural decoration of the Parthenon frieze.
The frieze consisted of 115 blocks. It had a total length of 160 meters and was 1.02 meters high. Some 378 human figures and deities and more than 200 animals, mainly horses, are presented in the process. Groups of horses and chariots occupy most of the space on the frieze. The sacrificial procession follows next, with animals and groups of men and women carrying ceremonial vessels and offerings. The procession concludes with the giving of the peplos, the gift of the Athenian people to the cult statue of the Goddess, a xoanon (ancient wooden statue). Left and right of the peplos scene sit the twelve gods of Mount Olympos.
From the entire frieze that survives today, 50 meters are in the Acropolis Museum, 80 meters in the British Museum, one block in the Louvre, whilst other fragments are scattered in the museums of Palermo, the Vatican, Würzburg, Vienna, Munich and Copenhagen.
The 92 metopes were the first parts of the entablature to receive sculptural decoration. Each one reproduced a self-contained scene, usually including two figures. The subjects were taken from legendary battles and symbolized the victories of the Athenians against the Persians. The east side depicted the battle of the Olympian gods against the Giants, who tried to overthrow the order prevailing on Mount Olympus (Gigantomachy). The west side presented the fight of Athenian youths against the Amazons, who threatened even the Acropolis (Amazonomachy). The theme of the south side was the fight of the Thessalian youths (Lapiths) against the Centaurs who attempted to abduct their women during a wedding celebration (Centauromachy). The north side illustrated the Sack of Troy (Iliou Persis).
Once the Sacred Rock had been cleared of the ruins left behind from the Persian Wars, the Athenians quickly repaired the ruined temple of Athena Polias and continued their worship. A new temple was not built on the Acropolis until the middle of the 5th century BC. At that time, Pericles launched a new construction program, which began in 447 BC. Architects Iktinos and Kallikrates designed the Parthenon, while for the carving of the sculptures Pheidias collaborated with his pupils Agorakritos, Alkamenes and other great sculptors and painters. The temple, dedicated to the Athena Parthenos, was constructed in 15 years. Pheidias himself created the gold-and-ivory statue of the armed Goddess which adorned the cella interior.
The Parthenon architectural sculptures, namely the metopes, frieze and pediments, were made of Pentelic marble and embellished with the addition of metal attachments and paint.
The pediments, the triangular spaces formed by the horizontal and raking cornices of the roof at each end of the temple, were the last parts of the building to receive sculptural decoration (437-432 BC). They comprised colossal statues in the round and the themes were drawn from Attic mythology.
The east pediment above the temple entrance depicted the birth of the Goddess Athena from the head of her father, Zeus, in the presence of the Olympic gods. The west pediment illustrates the dispute between Athena and Poseidon for the claim of the land of Attica, a legendary fight that resulted in Athena’s victory.
Acropolis Museum, Athina, Greece
The Acropolis Museum is an archaeological site-specific museum, housing more than 3.000 famous artefacts from the Athenian Acropolis, the most significant sanctuary of the ancient city. Located in the historical area of Makriyianni, southeast of the Rock of the Acropolis, the Museum narrates the story of life on the Rock from prehistoric times until the end of Antiquity. From its opening in June 2009 until March 2012 more than 4 million local and foreign visitors have passed through the Museum’s doors.
Architect Bernard Tschumi’s new Acropolis Museum replaced the old Museum on the Rock of the Acropolis. The new museum has a total area of 25,000 square meters, with exhibition space of over 14,000 square meters, approximately ten times the size of the old Museum. A tailor made museum building with extensive use of glass ensures breathtaking views of the Acropolis, the surrounding historic hills and the modern city of Athens and immediate views of the archaeological excavation that lies below the Museum, visible through large expanses of glass floor. With the benefit of the changing natural light, visitors can discern and discover the delicate surface variations of the sculptures and select the vantage point from which to observe the exhibits. The archaeological excavation that lies beneath the Museum provides the opportunity to visitors to appreciate both the masterpieces of the Acropolis in the upper levels of the Museum against the remains of the day to day lives of the people that lived in the shadow of the Acropolis over various periods. After crossing the ground floor lobby of the Museum, the first collection that lies before the visitor presents finds from the sanctuaries and the settlement which were developed on the slopes of the Acropolis during all historic periods.
On Level One visitors learn about the history of life at the top of the Rock, from the 2nd millennium BC until the end of Antiquity. On Level Three, visitors are afforded the opportunity to view the sculptural decoration of the Parthenon, the most significant temple of the Acropolis. The Museum provides an increasingly diverse program of activities for its visitors, including the presentation of Museum conservators at work within the galleries – currently the delicate laser cleaning of the famous Caryatid sculptures – 3D projections about the Acropolis in antiquity, gallery talks by Archaeologists-Museum Hosts and family-focused activities aided by backpack materials. Restaurant, café and Museum shopping is available, as well as quiet reading areas with publications about the Acropolis.