For several years after its destruction by the Persians in 480 BC, the Acropolis remained in ruins, with its temples left in a poor state of repair. As the image this presented was not worthy of the power and authority that the city had meanwhile gained, Perikles, the charismatic leader of Athens, conceived an ambitious plan to renovate the hilltop sanctuary.
The first new building to be completed was the Parthenon, the temple of the warrior Athena Parthenos. Famous for its “refinements”, in which the structure’s straight lines were given almost imperceptible curves, as well as for its harmonious proportions and the exquisite quality of its sculptural decoration, the Parthenon became an architectural paragon which not only impacted its own time, but all subsequent periods as well.
The temple’s plans were drawn by the architects Iktinos and Kallikrates, while the sculptor Pheidias, a personal friend of Perikles, oversaw the project. The construction of the Parthenon involved an unprecedented number of artists and craftsmen of all specialties. The work begun in 447 BC and was completed just fifteen years later. The entire temple – even its tiled roof – was constructed from white Pentelic marble.
At the core of the temple, the cella was divided into two separate compartments with no communication between them. The main entrance, located at the east end, led into the larger compartment, which housed the gold-and-ivory statue of Athena Parthenos, a work by Pheidias himself. A second entrance at the west end provided access to the smaller compartment, the opisthodomos. This rear chamber, which the Athenians called the “parthenon” (usually meaning the young women’s quarters), ultimately gave the entire building its name.
The Athenians stored precious objects in the opisthodomos, as well as the Delian League’s collected tribute, which cities allied with Athens had to pay in return for protection provided to them by the Athenian fleet. Part of this tribute was appropriated by the Athenians to fund Perikles’ building program on the Acropolis.