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.
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.
The history of Parthenon
The Parthenon was built between 447 and 432 BC, by the architects Iktinos and Callicrates. It is a Doric temple with Ionian elements. 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.
Its foundations were made of limestone and its columns and walls of Pentelic marble, a material of high quality which was used for the first time.
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). The temple has 8 columns at its facade, and 17 columns at the flanks. 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. The details of the metopes would become more visible and decipherable and the frieze would become even more evident.
Today, the Parthenon is whitish, but when it was built it was actually colorful – it’s probably hard to imagine it this way, but the original version of the Parthenon is full of color.
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 actually 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 Parthenon Effect
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 considered 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.