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An Icon of Ancient Greek Architecture

Parthenon is the emblem of Athens and probably of Greece as well. Parthenon is considered the most perfect Doric temple ever built, and one of the most known and recognizable monuments in the world. It was constructed during the Golden Age of Athens under the supervision of the renowned architects Ictinus and Callicrates. The architectural marvel was part of Pericle’s ambitious building program, aiming to showcase the city’s power and wealth.

The heart of Acropolis!

A Journey Through History and Art

The temple of Parthenon is known for its imposing position on the Acropolis, its architectural refinements and the reflection of the ancient Greek culture throughout the centuries. For many philosophers and historians, the Parthenon is a symbol of Western civilization. The name Parthenon comes from the Greek word “parthenos” which means of “virgin”, referring to the Virgin Apartments where the young priestesses of Goddess Athena lived in the temple. The Parthenon was dedicated to Goddess Athena.

Parthenon site

Perched majestically atop the Acropolis Hill in Athens, Greece, the Parthenon claims its place as a stunning architectural marvel. To reach the Parthenon, visitors ascend the slope of the Acropolis, passing through the Propylaea, a monumental gateway. Along the way, they can observe various other ancient structures, such as the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike, which further enrich the historical significance of the site.

While the Parthenon undoubtedly steals the spotlight, its location offers easy access to other iconic landmarks. Just a stone’s throw away, you’ll find the Erechtheion, a temple known for its iconic Caryatid statues, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a breathtaking ancient theater that still hosts performances today. Its location within the city provides a remarkable contrast between the ancient and modern worlds, as the temple overlooks the bustling streets, modern architecture, and vibrant life of the capital.

Parthenon Dimensions

The Parthenon measures about 69.5 meters long, 30.9 meters wide, and 13.5 meters tall.  Including the stylobate (the foundation platform) and the columns supporting the entablature, it stands at just under 17 meters high at its highest point. Upon entering the Parthenon, one encounters a vast interior space divided into different chambers. The naos, or cella, is the central area housing the colossal statue of Athena. Adjacent to the naos are the pronaos, the front chamber, and the opisthodomos, the back chamber. Each of these areas serves a specific purpose within the temple.

The architects of the Parthenon employed mathematical precision in its design and construction. They followed sacred geometry principles, including the Golden Ratio. The Golden Ratio, represented by the mathematical constant phi (φ), is a proportion found in nature and believed to convey aesthetic beauty and balance. The Parthenon’s architects incorporated the Golden Ratio in various aspects of its dimensions, such as the spacing of the columns and the relationship between the width and length of the temple.

This mathematical precision adds to the overall harmony and visual appeal of the structure. In addition to the Golden Ratio, the Parthenon’s dimensions showcase other mathematical principles. The architects employed subtle curves in the temple’s columns and entablature to counteract the optical illusion of straight lines appearing concave. This technique, known as entasis, gives the columns a sense of strength and stability.

The history of Parthenon

The Birth of an Architectural Marvel: Constructing the Parthenon

Construction began between 447 and 432 BC during the Golden Age of Pericles under the supervision of architects Ictinus, Callicrates, and Mnesicles. The main function of the temple of Parthenon was to house the immense statue of Goddess Athena made of gold and ivory by Phidias (similar to the one made for Zeus in Olympia).

Masterful Craftsmanship: Materials and Techniques Used

Ancient Greek architects and designers lavished attention upon the Parthenon, creating innovative methods of constructing curved surfaces such as the interior of the pediments using hundreds of tiles set into an intricate pattern. Its perfect proportions and subtle curves draw the eye toward the focal points.

The construction of the Parthenon required exceptional craftsmanship and a keen understanding of architectural principles. The temple was primarily built using Pentelic marble, sourced from the nearby Mount Pentelicus. This fine-grained marble is known for its durability and captivating luster, making it the perfect choice for such a monumental structure. The builders employed innovative construction techniques, including interlocking joints and metal clamps, to enhance stability and longevity.

Architecture of the Parthenon

Some architectural details of the Parthenon were completely new; the subtle details make the temple look so refined but so practical at the same time. What is most interesting is that the Parthenon has no straight lines, a fact that was a huge innovation for that time. The columns of the peristyle are not completely straight, because the human eye cannot see the pure straight line as it is; therefore, the architects made them a little curvy, allowing the faulty human eyes to perceive them as straight! The columns incline slightly towards the center of the temple. Moreover, the outside columns at the corners of the temple are larger than the others, because they stand against the bright sky, a fact that makes them look thinner. This means that 2,500 years ago, the architects of the temple were perfect creators of an optical illusion.

Such features make the Parthenon stand out from every other temple because its architectural style is more dynamic and refined, following a rather unprecedented perfection and precision that is challenging to achieve even in our days. The lavish sculptural and decorations of the Parthenon can be seen today at the New Acropolis museum, while some parts of the metopes and friezes are at the British Museum of London – hoping that one day the marbles of the Parthenon will be finally united. The Athenians did not desire grandeur through subtle features; they wanted to outshine everything else known at the time, and of course, they achieved their goal. This is the Parthenon effect, which is evident even today; hardly can any visitor climb on the Acropolis and stand in front of the Parthenon without opening his mouth in awe. The people of Athens consider themselves civilized among barbarians, and more advanced culturally and politically. Therefore, their goal was to set the example and make everyone in the world talk about them. Of course, they did not know that the temple of Parthenon would impose the city of Athens for thousands of years, beguiling visitors from all over the world.

Exploring the Doric Order

Parthenon is a Doric temple with Ionian elements characterized by its sturdy columns with simple, fluted shafts and plain capitals. The integration of Ionic and Doric elements was not something new but not common either. The goal of the architects was to create a monument that would blend delicate and austere characteristics. The temple has 8 columns on its facade, and 17 columns at the flanks. The carefully calculated curvature of the columns and entasis (subtle bulging) created an optical illusion that enhanced the overall visual appeal of the temple. The rear room of the temple was designed to house the treasure of the Goddess. The Parthenon was conceived in a way that the visitor would see it in 3/4 view when entering the Propylaea. The idea was that the visitor should confront the majestic and imposing proportion of the temple, and see the details of the temple when moving closer. 

Parthenon Sculptures: Unlocking the Magnificence of Ancient Greek Art

The Parthenon sculptures, created under the supervision of renowned sculptor Phidias, adorned the temple’s pediments, metopes, and friezes. These meticulously carved marble sculptures depicted mythological narratives, religious scenes, and iconic figures, showcasing the exceptional talent of ancient Greek artists. From the graceful figures of the Panathenaic procession to the dramatic scenes of the Centauromachy, these sculptures reveal the ancient Greeks’ unparalleled artistic skill.

Dedication To Goddess Athena: The Goddess of Wisdom, Warfare, and Civilization

Known for her strategic prowess and intellect, Athena symbolized the virtues and values cherished by the Athenian society, including wisdom, courage, and justice. The Parthenon was built to commemorate the city’s victory over the Persians and was intended to house the greatest treasures of Athens including Phidias’ gold and ivory statue of Athena Promachos (Defender).

The Cult of Athena: Religious Practices and Festivals

The Parthenon played a vital role in the religious practices of ancient Athens. It served as the focal point of the Panathenaic Festival, a major celebration held every four years to honor Athena. During this festival, the Athenians conducted elaborate processions, athletic competitions, and musical performances, culminating in the presentation of a new robe (the peplos) to the cult statue of Athena housed within the Parthenon.

The Role of the Parthenon in Athenian Society

Beyond its religious significance, the Parthenon held immense cultural and political importance for the Athenians. It was considered a symbol of their city-state’s power, prosperity, and democratic ideals. The temple’s construction was part of Pericles’ ambitious building program, known as the Periclean Acropolis, which aimed to showcase Athens as the cultural and intellectual center of the Greek world.

Parthenon as a Byzantine Church and Ottoman Mosque

After the decline of ancient Greece, the Parthenon underwent various transformations. In the 5th century CE, it became a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. During Ottoman rule in the 15th century, the temple became a mosque for Islamic worship. These religious transitions led to modifications in the structure and the removal of some original features.

“ The Parthenon is really only a farmyard over which someone put a roof; colonades and sculptures were added because there were people in Athens who happened to be working and wanted to express themselves.“

Destroyed By Venetian Cannons in The Fifteenth Century

In April 1458 Ottoman Turks invaded Constantinople forcing Emperor Constantine XI Dragaš Paleologus to flee across the Bosphorus to his last remaining stronghold. After months of bitter fighting, Mehmet II took Constantinople and slaughtered tens of thousands of Christians leading to their eventual exodus throughout Europe including Italy where they spread Greek knowledge and ideas helping fuel the Renaissance.

During the early sixteenth century, the Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent ordered Ali Pasha of Ioannina to besiege Nicaea Castle which lay within the heartland of Peloponnesian despot brothers Constantine & George Palaiologos who controlled much of southern Greece outside the Principality of Achaea held by Spanish crusader/knights based on the island of Navarino. As part of a broader campaign against both the ruling houses and the infidel, Turkish forces marched against Attica seeking to claim the Acropolis, destroy the Parthenon, level everything connected with pagan worship, and erect mosques throughout the city as proof of conquest.

By then a small community had taken refuge near the base of the rocky hill upon which stood the greatest temple ever constructed by mortals. These residents fought bravely to protect Christian places of worship but failed to stop Turks from seizing key defenses. They finally breached the citadel gates and swiftly desecrated the Erechtheion, smashed statuary decorating the Propylaia, and destroyed nearly every statue save for the chryselephantine cult image at its heart – the true sanctuary housing the virgin goddess’ sacred relics. Muslim soldiers continued burning whatever structures remained before dynamiting the foundation stones, holding up the roof and collapsing porticos along both sides, leaving nothing unscathed yet sparing the inner core and columns themselves.

The Parthenon suffered significant damage during the Siege of Athens in 1687 when it was hit by artillery fire and exploded. The Siege of Athens was a conflict between the Ottoman Empire and the Holy League in the Great Turkish War. In September 1687, Venetian forces launched a devastating attack on the Ottoman-controlled city of Athens. As part of their assault, they bombarded the Acropolis, where the Parthenon stands. The explosion caused irreparable damage to the iconic columns, friezes, and pediments that adorned the Parthenon’s exterior.

Lord Elgin and the Removal of the Marbles

In 1801, Lord Thomas Bruce Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, obtained permission from the local authorities to remove several elements from the Parthenon. His motivations remain unclear, but historians speculate that he wanted to save the artifacts from decay caused by pollution and warfare. He eventually transported them to London, where they became part of his personal collection.

The removal of the Elgin Marbles significantly impacted the Parthenon’s artistic integrity. The marbles were sold to the British Museum and are currently on display there. The argument for their return to Greece revolves around the desire to reunite these cultural treasures with their place of origin. Additionally, debates have arisen regarding the use of replicas and reconstructions in restoring ancient monuments. Some argue that replicas can help visitors visualize the original splendor, while others emphasize the importance of preserving the authentic remnants of history.

Restoration Efforts and Preservation Challenges

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Greece regained independence and focused on restoring the glory of historical sites like the Parthenon. Architects, engineers, conservators, stone cutters, and other experts collaborated in what can be considered one of humanity’s grandest experiments; recreating what we have lost due to time or our own actions, blending authentic materials with modern techniques and understanding so that future generations can marvel just as we do today. The ongoing Acropolis Restoration Project, initiated in the 1970s, aims to stabilize the structure, repair damages, and protect the remaining original elements from further deterioration. These endeavors ensure that future generations can continue to appreciate the Parthenon’s magnificence.

Enduring Legacy: The Parthenon's Influence on Art and Culture

The influence of the Parthenon extends far beyond ancient times. The Parthenon’s aesthetic principles influenced the Neoclassical movement in the 18th and 19th centuries, reviving ancient Greek and Roman art styles and values. Architects, sculptors, and artists drew inspiration from the Parthenon’s proportions, symmetry, and restrained ornamentation, resulting in the creation of magnificent structures and artworks that echoed its timeless beauty.

The Parthenon Effect

The Athenians wanted to outshine everything else known at the time, and of course, they achieved their goal. This is the Parthenon effect, which is evident even today; hardly can any visitor climb on the Acropolis and stand in front of the Parthenon without opening his mouth in awe. The people of Athens consider themselves civilized among barbarians, and more advanced culturally and politically. Therefore, their goal was to set the example and make everyone in the world talk about them. Of course, they did not know that the temple of Parthenon would impose the city of Athens for thousands of years, beguiling visitors from all over the world.

Athens Parthenon

The Parthenon in Literature and Popular Culture

The Parthenon’s captivating presence has captured the imagination of writers, poets, and filmmakers across the centuries. Its iconic status in literature can be seen in works such as Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” where the temple symbolizes knowledge and enlightenment. The Parthenon’s role in various films and its status as a backdrop for adventure, mythology, and historical dramas have firmly cemented its place in popular culture.

The Parthenon Today: A Symbol of Democracy and Heritage

The Parthenon is an emblem of democracy, cultural heritage, and the timeless legacy of ancient Greece. Visitors worldwide are captivated by its brilliant architecture and rich history. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it showcases the ingenuity, artistic prowess, and cultural achievements of the ancient Greeks.

Preservation and Restoration Efforts

Over the centuries, the Parthenon faced numerous challenges, including wars, earthquakes, and looting. The Elgin Marbles controversy, which emerged in the early 19th century, raised concerns about the preservation of the temple’s sculptures. The marble sculptures, now housed in the British Museum, have sparked ongoing debates about their rightful ownership and the importance of returning them to Greece. Despite these challenges, extensive restoration efforts have been undertaken to safeguard the Parthenon’s structural integrity.


Got a Question?

The Parthenon is a famous ancient Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. It is located atop the Acropolis hill in Athens, Greece.

Important information:

  1. The Parthenon is an ancient Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Athena.
  2. It is situated on the Acropolis hill in Athens, Greece.
  3. The temple was built in the 5th century BCE and is considered one of the finest examples of Doric architecture.

The Parthenon was built by the ancient Athenians in the 5th century BCE, during the Golden Age of Athens. The construction was supervised by the renowned architects Ictinus and Callicrates, while the sculptural decorations were overseen by the sculptor Phidias.

Important information:

  1. The Parthenon was constructed by the ancient Athenians in the 5th century BCE.
  2. The architects Ictinus and Callicrates supervised the construction.
  3. The sculptor Phidias was responsible for the sculptural decorations of the temple.

The Parthenon holds great historical and cultural significance. It is considered a symbol of ancient Greece and the Classical era. The temple was dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens, and served as a symbol of the city’s power and prestige.

Important information:

  1. The Parthenon is a symbol of ancient Greece and the Classical era.
  2. It was dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens.
  3. The temple represented the power and prestige of the city of Athens.

The Parthenon exhibits exemplary architectural features of the Doric order. It is built on a rectangular platform called a stylobate and consists of a peristyle of Doric columns surrounding the cella, or inner chamber. The temple’s pediments and metopes were adorned with intricate sculptural reliefs.

Important information:

  1. The Parthenon showcases the architectural style of the Doric order.
  2. It is built on a rectangular stylobate and features a peristyle of Doric columns.
  3. The temple’s pediments and metopes were embellished with detailed sculptural reliefs.

Over the centuries, the Parthenon has experienced various transformations and events. It served as a temple, a church, and even a mosque at different points in history. It also endured damages caused by wars, earthquakes, and looting. In the early 19th century, Lord Elgin removed many of the sculptures, which are now housed in the British Museum.

Important information:

  1. The Parthenon had different uses throughout history, including as a temple, church, and mosque.
  2. It suffered damages from wars, earthquakes, and looting.
  3. Many of its sculptures were removed by Lord Elgin and are currently housed in the British Museum.

The Parthenon, like many ancient structures, has undergone significant damage and decay over time. Today, it remains a partially ruined temple. However, efforts have been made to restore and preserve the remaining elements of the structure. The Greek government and international organizations continue to work on conservation projects to protect this iconic monument.

Important information:

  1. The Parthenon is currently in a partially ruined state.
  2. Restoration and preservation efforts are ongoing to safeguard the remaining elements of the temple.
  3. The Greek government and international organizations are involved in conservation projects to protect the Parthenon.

Yes, visitors can explore the Parthenon and its surrounding archaeological site. Although certain sections are restricted for preservation purposes, the majority of the temple and the Acropolis can be accessed by the public. Visitors have the opportunity to appreciate the architecture, view the remaining sculptures, and learn about the history of this iconic landmark.

Important information:

  1. The Parthenon and the Acropolis are open to visitors.
  2. Some areas may have restricted access to ensure preservation.
  3. Visitors can admire the architectural features and view the remaining sculptures while learning about the history of the site.

Photography is generally allowed inside the Parthenon, but the use of flash and tripods may be restricted. It’s important to respect the guidelines and regulations set by the archaeological authorities and to be mindful of the fragility of the site. Taking photographs is a great way to capture the beauty and grandeur of this ancient masterpiece.

Important information:

  1. Photography is typically permitted inside the Parthenon, but flash and tripods may be prohibited.
  2. Visitors should follow the guidelines and regulations set by the archaeological authorities.
  3. Taking photographs is a wonderful way to preserve memories of the Parthenon, but it’s crucial to be respectful and considerate of the site’s fragility.

Yes, there are ongoing controversies surrounding the Parthenon, particularly regarding the ownership and display of the Elgin Marbles. These sculptures, originally part of the Parthenon, were removed by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century and are now housed in the British Museum in London. Greece has long sought their return, arguing that they are an integral part of their cultural heritage.

Important information:

  1. Ongoing controversies surround the ownership and display of the Elgin Marbles, removed from the Parthenon.
  2. The sculptures are currently housed in the British Museum, but Greece has requested their return.
  3. The issue raises questions about cultural heritage and the repatriation of artifacts.

To learn more about the Parthenon and its history, there are various resources available. You can visit museums and archaeological sites in Athens, such as the Acropolis Museum, which houses artifacts and exhibits related to the Parthenon. Additionally, books, academic journals, and online resources offer in-depth information on the temple’s construction, significance, and cultural context.

Important information:

  1. Museums and archaeological sites in Athens, like the Acropolis Museum, provide valuable information about the Parthenon.
  2. Books, academic journals, and online resources offer extensive knowledge on its construction, significance, and cultural context.
  3. Exploring these resources will enhance your understanding of the Parthenon and its historical importance.

Yes, there are replicas and reconstructions of the Parthenon in various parts of the world. Notable examples include the Parthenon replica in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, which is a full-scale reproduction of the original temple. Other reconstructions can be found in Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. These replicas provide an opportunity to experience the architectural splendor of the Parthenon outside of Greece.

Important information:

  1. Replicas and reconstructions of the Parthenon exist in several countries, including the United States, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom.
  2. The replica in Nashville, Tennessee, is a full-scale reproduction of the original temple.
  3. These replicas offer visitors the chance to appreciate the architectural beauty of the Parthenon beyond its original location.

Yes, it is possible to visit the Parthenon at night. The archaeological site and the Parthenon are often open for special events and nighttime visits. These occasions provide a unique atmosphere and allow visitors to appreciate the illuminated temple and the breathtaking view of Athens under the night sky. However, it’s important to check the official schedule and any restrictions before planning a nighttime visit.

Important information:

  1. The Parthenon and the archaeological site may have special events and nighttime openings.
  2. Nighttime visits offer a unique experience, with the temple illuminated against the night sky.
  3. Visitors should check the official schedule and any restrictions before planning a visit at night.

Efforts have been made to improve accessibility to the Parthenon and the Acropolis for people with disabilities. While some parts of the site may still present challenges, there are ramps and elevators available to facilitate access to certain areas. It is advisable to contact the archaeological authorities in advance to inquire about specific accommodations and assistance for visitors with disabilities.