The Greeks had an eager individualistic strain that led them to high levels of creative thinking in art, science, and literature. They were by nature sensitive to beauty and made its creation and enjoyment an important and necessary part of their lives. The Parthenon is a beautiful monument noted for its perfect simplicity of design and the harmony of its proportions. 1 From the architecture, to the sculpture, to the history of this great monument the Parthenon remains a masterpiece.
The Parthenon is an ancient Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin), on the Acropolis in Athens. 2 Most Greek cities had an acropolis (meaning “high city” in Greek). The Greeks developed three architectural systems, called orders, each with their own distinctive proportions and detailing. The Greek orders are Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. 3 The Parthenon architecture is of the Doric order. It is the earliest and simplest of the Greek architectural orders. The Parthenon’s columns give an impression of graceful solidity and power.Order now
It was built from 447 to 432 BC, under the leadership of Pericles. The Parthenon was a rectangle marble temple measuring about 102 by 230 feet. It had 17 columns along each of its sides and 8 columns on each end. 4 The distances between the columns of the Parthenon vary mathematically so that when viewed from a distance, the columns reflected optical distortions. For example, a column that was perfectly straight would look like it was leaning outward. In order to compensate for this distortion, the builders inclined the columns inward just slightly.
There were four types of sculptures featured in the Parthenon. They were the statue of Athena, the Ionic frieze, the Doric metopes, and the pediments. Except for the gold and ivory statue of Athena, all of the other sculptures were painted with bright colors. When the Greek temple builders placed a sloped roof over the entablature it left a triangular space at each end of the building. This empty space needed decoration so the pediment was created. The East Pediment over the front entrance depicts the birth of Athena, with a number of gods and goddesses on either side.
The battle between Athena and Poseidon, the god of the sea, is located on the West Pediment. 5 The metopes were square panels carved in relief that showed battles between mythological figures. Originally there were 92 metopes, 32 on each side and 14 on each end. The Ionic frieze decorated the outer perimeter of the naos walls and was around 325 feet long and three-feet three inches in height. It represented the festival of Athena and portrayed young men and women, musicians, priests, and sacrificial animals in ceremonial procession to make an offering to Athena.
The ivory and gold statue of Athena was located at the rear of the central chamber and was approximately 33 feet tall. The helmeted goddess stood resting one hand on a shield and holding a winged statue of Victory in the other. 6 A war with the Persians that ended in 479 BC destroyed the buildings and monuments on the Acropolis. A program was put into place by the Athens leader Pericles to beautify Athens and demonstrate its cultural importance. His plan was to rebuild the Acropolis with the showpiece being the Parthenon.
Construction of the Parthenon began in 447 BC, and the dedication of the temple took place in 438 BC with the installation of the statue of Athena. The Parthenon was converted to a Christian church in AD 426 and dedicated to Hagla Sophia. Later, in 622, it was rededicated to the Virgin Mary. In order to accommodate the worshippers in the church a bell tower went up in one corner and an altar was placed at the end of the building. In 1687 a Venetian general laid siege to Athens and the Parthenon suffered extensive damage. 7 In Closing, the Parthenon is a beautiful structure.
The sculptures have to be some of the greatest works of Greek art. From the decorative frieze that wrapped around the outer walls of the temple, the metope panels depicting figures in combat, to the East Pediment portraying the birth of Athena and the West Pediment showing the battle between Athena and Poseidon how vividly alive they must have seemed. It’s unfortunate that there is not much left of this beautiful structure. What a sight it must have been to see the intricate detail that went into creating such a beautiful structure.