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The Parthenon - Ancient Greece

The Parthenon is one of the many buildings on the Acropolis of Athens which symbolized the Athenians’ wealth and power. The original building on the site was built as an offering to honor the goddess Athena because the people of ancient Athens believed that she helped the Greeks conquer the Persian Empire in the Persian Wars as well as watched over them and the city. Therefore, the temple is dedicated to Athena Parthenos. Parthenon was built in the year 448 BC and was completed by 432 BC.

However, in 480 BC, Parthenon was destroyed by the Persians when they attacked Athens.

The building sat in ruins after the war due to other repairs the city needed, so the reconstruction of Parthenon was hold for about 30 years. The great Athenian leader Perikles resumed construction of Parthenon in 447 BC. When work began on the Parthenon in 447 BC, the Athenian Empire was at the height of its power. Work on the temple continued until 432; the Parthenon, then, represents the tangible and visible efflorescence of Athenian imperial power, unencumbered by the depradations of the Peloponnesian War.

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Likewise, it symbolizes the power and influence of the Athenian politician, Perikles, who championed its construction.

The Parthenon was completely replaced by the Architect. With its architectural features, the Parthenon is a Doric peripteral temple, which means that it consists of a rectangular floor plan with a series of low steps on every side, and a colonnade (8 x 17) of Doric columns extending around the periphery of the entire structure. Each entrance has an additional six columns in front of it.

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The larger of the two interior rooms, the naos, housed the cult statue. The smaller room (the opisthodomos) was used as a treasury. The Parthenon was built to replace two earlier temples of Athena on the Acropolis.

One of these, of which almost no trace remains today, stood south of the Parthenon between the Parthenon and the Erechtheum. The other, which was still being built at the time of the Persian sack in 480, was on the same spot as the Parthenon. We know the names of the architects (Iktinos and Kallikrates) and also of the sculptor (Pheidias) who made the massive chryselephantine cult statue of the goddess. In the central area of the smaller of the two inner rooms, stood the famous statue of Athena which was plated with gold and ivory.

The building was made of mostly marble, no mortar or cement was used. Each block was accurately measured and cut to fit. Clamps and dowels were used to hold them in place during construction and later they were leaded into place. The 92 metopes (small squares above the columns on the sides of the building with sculptures on them) found on the Parthenon depicted a series of dual combats between mythical figures. The metopes on the western side show the mythical battle against the Amazons. On the south side is the battle between the Laptihs and Centaurs.

On the east side gods and giants fight, and on the north side, the Greeks fight the Trojans. On the eastern pediment (the trianglar shapes on the ends of the building below the roof) are images of the story of the birth of Athena. The legend tells about how Zeus wanted the knowledge of Athena’s mother, so he turned her into a fly. He ended up swallowing her and when Athena was born his head began to swell as she grew. His head ached more and more so he call upon his blacksmith, Hephaestus, who used one of his tool to crack open Zeus’ skull. Out came Athena, born full-grown.

The birth of Athena is usually associated with rebirth or starting something new. On the north and south sides (on the base) heading west to east are mounted horsemen, chariot groups, and citizens of Athens. In front musicians and people with gifts and offerings lead the way. The Golden Age of Athens ended when Athens and Sparta went to war. Even though the Parthenon survived the attacks on the city, it went through several other changes. About 298 BC Cachares stripped gold plates from the sculpture of Athena to help fight the Romans. In AD 426, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church.

The Christians dedicated it to Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) and in AD 662 they re-dedicated it to the Virgin Mary. In 1460, the Turks turned it into a mosque, and in 1687, the Venetian general, Morosini, used it as a powder magazine. During the war it suffered damage when a cannon shell caused an explosion which destroyed most of the central area and no repairs were ever made again until the 1920s. Lord Elgin removed most of the damaged sculptures in 1799. They are currently in the British Museum. In 1928, a fund to repair the columns was raised and in 1950, the northern colonnade was repaired.

Since that time constant work trying to preserve what is left of the Parthenon has continued. The Parthenon is a beautiful work of art that shows the power and confident spirit of the Athenians. The story behind the building is incredible historically and it teaches a great background of how art is a major part of Athenians. The relationship between the Parthenon building and the Acropolis is very interesting, looking at democratic side of it. Politically, Acropolis brought people of Athens together. It was more of people responsibility.


Kleiner, Mamiya, Tansey, Gardner’s Art through the Ages, The Western Perspective, vol. I

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The Parthenon - Ancient Greece. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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