Intracellular proteolysis is an essential process. In eukaryotes, most proteins in the cytosol and nucleus are degraded by the ubiquitin (Ub)-proteasome pathway. A major component within this system is the 26S proteasome, a 2.5MDa molecular machine, built from more than 31 different subunits. This complex is formed by a cylinder-shaped multimeric complex referred to as the proteolytic 20S proteasome (core particle, CP) capped at each end by another multimeric component called the 19S complex (regulatory particle, RP) or PA700. Structure, assembly and enzymatic mechanism have been elucidated only for the CP, whereas the organization of the RP is less well understood. The CP is composed of 28 subunits, which are arranged as an alpha7beta7beta7alpha7-complex in four stacked rings. The interior of the free core particle, which harbors the active sites, is inaccessible for folded and unfolded substrates and represents a latent state. This inhibition is relieved upon binding of the RP to the CP by formation of the 26S proteasome holoenzyme. This review summarizes the current knowledge of the structural features of 20S proteasomes.