A detailed karyotype of Arabidopsis thaliana is presented using meiotic pachytene cells in combination with fluorescence in situ hybridization. The lengths of the five pachytene bivalents varied between 50 and 80 microns, which is 20-25 times longer than mitotic metaphase chromosomes. The analysis confirms that the two longest chromosomes (1 and 5) are metacentric and the two shortest chromosomes (2 and 4) are acrocentric and carry NORs subterminally in their short arms, while chromosome 3 is submetacentric and medium sized. Detailed mapping of the centromere position further revealed that the length variation between the pachytene bivalents comes from the short arms. Individual chromosomes were unambiguously identified by their combinations of relative lengths, arm-ratios, presence of NOR knobs and FISH signals with a 5S rDNA probe and chromosome specific DNA probes. Polymorphisms were found among six ecotypes with respect to the number and map positions of 5S rDNA loci. All ecotypes contain 5S rDNA in the short arms of chromosomes 4 and 5. Three different patterns were observed regarding the presence and position of a 5S rDNA locus on chromosome 3. Repetitive DNA clones enabled us to subdivide the pericentromeric heterochromatin into a central domain, characterized by pAL1 and 106B repeats, which accommodate the functional centromere and two flanking domains, characterized by the 17 A20 repeat sequences. The upper flanking domains of chromosomes 4 and 5, and in some ecotypes also chromosome 3, contain a 5S rDNA locus. The detection of unique cosmids and YAC sequences demonstrates that detailed physical mapping of Arabidopsis chromosomes by cytogenetic techniques is feasible. Together with the presented karyotype this makes Arabidopsis a model system for detailed cytogenetic mapping.