Building the Parthenon was a greater feat than they ever would have known. Work on the Parthenon began in 477 BC. A much smaller shrine already stood on this site, one to which we can attribute various pieces of surviving decorative material--lions and snakes, a cornice incised with flying birds, and a blue-bearded trinity that may conceivably represent Cecrops, Erechtheus, and Poseidon. If such an edifice in fact existed, it was torn down to make way for a huge limestone platform, roughly 252 by 103 feet in size, that was built as a base for the new temple. The slope of the Acropolis was such that while on the north side the foundations rested directly on bedrocks, the southeast corner needed to be built up with no less than twenty-two courses, in order to correct a vertical drop of thirty-five feet. This was only the beginning of the temple. The actual base of the new temple was smaller than the platform, as can be still be clearly seen. The temple itself was Doric, with a peristyle of six columns at each end and sixteen along the sides. Except for the lowest course of the base, the structure was to be built entirely of Pentelic marble.
The first year of construction was consumed almost entirely with quarrying and transporting marble from Mount Pentelicus-that pure white, finely grained stone that, because of its slight iron content, weathers to the pale honey gold so characteristic of the Parthenon itself. This part of the work, too often ignored or taken for granted, presented formidable obstacles that were overcome only with extraordinary ingenuity. One can still see the chisel marks where rectangular blocks were first cut and then split away from the rest of the excavation by means of water--soaked--and consequently expanding--wooden wedges. More hazardous still was the business of transportation, especially during the first stages, when the quarried blocks had to be brought down a steep and rocky mountainside from heights of between two and three thousand feet. The blocks had to be maneuvered on sleds down a paved quarry road (parts of which still survive), and only the smaller ones could be eased along on rollers. At intervals, there were stout posts, carrying rope and tackle, which were used to help brake the sleds downward momentum. Accidents were not unknown, and one rough dresses column drum, probably destined for the Parthenon lies in a nearby ravine to this day.
Even when the plain was safely reached, difficulties still abounded. Shifting a total of 22,000 tons of marble across ten miles of level plain to the Acropolis proved a major operation itself. These drums, blocks, and architraves were so enormously heavy that special methods of transport had to be devised for them, and the existing road had to be rebuilt so that it was strong enough to support their weight. Traffic was restricted to the dry summer months for fear that the blocks would bog down in the mud, and the largest blocks of all...