The Propylaea was designed as a monumental entrance to the Acropolis, the plural title indicating a more important gateway than, for example, a simple entrance to a market. Construction started in 437 BC, immediately after the Parthenon was completed, easy access for heavy materials having been necessary during the construction of the temple. The architect was Mnesicles, whose design combined a raised central H-shaped gateway building with five entrances, preceded by a portico with six Doric columns. This was flanked by two wings, each with its own portico with three Doric columns, lower in height than the central block and perpendicular to it. Beyond the entrances facing into the Acropolis was another portico mirroring that at the front. While the original plan was symmetrical, it was not completed to that plan, and the massing of the building was unusual, each block being clearly defined by a separate roof structure. The two main façades also broke away somewhat from the strict rules of the Doric Order as the two centre columns were spaced further apart than the others. The majority of the building was of white marble, including the ceilings and the floor slabs, and parts of the interior were decorated with panel paintings.
When Joly de Lotbinière photographed for the first time at the Acropolis in October 1839 he found it difficult having to select between "so many masterpieces". He made his choice on a very practical basis, familiar to many photographers:
"In the end, the position of the sun led me to decide on the view of the Propylaea, that marvelous gateway which is such a worthy introduction to the wonders of the Acropolis. I cannot deny that I regretted having to turn my back on the divine Parthenon and the Erechtheion, but my regret soon faded before the magical view laid out before me."
Three engravings after daguerreotypes made by Joly de Lotbinière were included in Lerebours publication Excursions daguerriennes, one of which is a view of the Propylaea. None of his daguerreotypes have survived. Girault de Prangey's views of the Acropolis are the earliest surviving photographs from Greece. Like Joly de Lotbinière before him and Baron Gros in 1850, he photographs the east façade of the Propylaea in this view, although here the image is laterally reversed. We see the remains of the great portico with parts of the five openings of the gateways behind, viewed from the Acropolis looking back down over the surrounding countryside. Later photographs illustrate that excavations eventually flattened the mountain of debris that fills the foreground, revealing the full height of the columns. To the right one can just see the edge of the tall "Frankish Tower" which was demolished in the 1870s and appears very obtrusively in many views of the Propylaea. The artist has used the darkening at the edges of the plate to great effect, so that the blackness absorbs much of this extraneous detail and draws our attention to the subject glowing out of the centre of the plate.
Girault de Prangey used several of his precious large format daguerreotype plates at the Acropolis, which tends to suggest that although this was still only close to the beginning of his own excursions daguerriennes, he felt the location was of such cultural and architectural importance that it deserved his very best attention. The evidence also suggests that the curious combination of chemistry, alchemy, art and patience that was necessary for the success of these early works was very much in harmony here.