The Panathenaea (Παναθήναια "all-Athenian festival") was the most important festival for Athens and one of the grandest in the entire ancient Greek world. Except for slaves, all inhabitants of the polis could take part in the festival.
This holiday of great antiquity is believed to have been the observance of Athena's birthday and honored the goddess as the city's patron divinity, Athena Polias ('Athena of the city').
The procession assembled before dawn at the Dipylon gate in the northern sector of the city. The procession, lead by the Kanephoros, made its way on the Panathenaic Way through the Agora toward the Acropolis. Some sacrifices were offered on the Areopagus and in front of the Temple of Athena Nike next to the Propylaea.
Each year a newly woven peplos was dedicated to Athena.
In 566 BC, at the initiative of Peisistratus, a special aspect of this festival was created for every fourth year, extending over a number of days with many public events (Great Panathenaea). The Panathenaic Games were held as part of the fourth year of the festival.
The existing Parthenon is the most famous building of ancient Greece, and has been praised as the finest achievement of Greek architecture. The Parthenon replaced an older temple of Athena that had been destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC.
The Parthenon Frieze, some scholars suggest, represents the Panathenaic procession . Its decorative sculptures are considered one of the high points of Greek art.
A monumental cult statue of Athena Parthenos was housed in the eastern room of the building. This statue was sculpted in ivory and gold by Phidias. A copy (shown at the right) taken from the statue, found in Italy dating from the second century, is thought to resemble the original closely.