The marble sculptures that form the Parthenon

Room 18

Greece: Parthenon

447–432 BC

Visiting the gallery

Opening times

Daily 10.00–17.30 (20.30 on Fridays)

Free spotlight tour

Fridays 17.00 and 17.30, 20 minute tour

The Parthenon was built as a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena.

It was the centrepiece of an ambitious building programme on the Acropolis of Athens.

The temple's great size and lavish use of white marble was intended to show off the city's power and wealth at the height of its empire. Room 18 exhibits sculptures that once decorated the outside of the building.

The pediments and metopes (square spaces between triglyphs in a Doric frieze) illustrate episodes from Greek myth, while the frieze represents the people of contemporary Athens in religious procession.

Rooms 18a and 18b feature fragments of the Parthenon sculpture and also pieces of architecture. Video displays using computer graphics explain how the sculptures were placed on the building, and a touch tour for visually impaired visitors includes a model, some original architecture and plaster casts of the frieze.

Gallery facts

  • The word parthénos (παρθένος) meant 'maiden, girl’ or 'virgin, unmarried woman'.

  • The temple was decorated with sculptures representing scenes from mythology and cult, while inside the building stood a colossal image of Athena Parthenos, constructed of gold and ivory.

  • The temple was richly decorated with sculptures, designed by the famous artist Pheidias, which took until 432 BC to complete.

  • The Parthenon sculptures have been on permanent display since 1817.

  • The frieze shows the procession of the Panathenaic festival, the commemoration of the birthday of the goddess Athena.

  • On either end of the main room are transepts (in a cross-shaped church, transepts are either of the two parts forming the arms of the cross shape, projecting at right angles from the nave). Displayed here are sculptures from the east and west pediments including Iris, goddess of the rainbow, and Dionysos. On the walls are metopes carved in high relief.

Accessibility

  • Some objects in this collection feature on the British Sign Language guide handset, available from the audio guide desk in the Great Court.
  • Some objects in this collection feature on the audio description guide, available from the audio guide desk in the Great Court.
  • Seating is available.
  • Step-free access.
  • View sensory map (opens in new window).

Visit Accessibility at the Museum for more information.