The Parthenon (/ˈpɑːrθəˌnɒn, -nən/; Ancient Greek: Παρθενών; Greek: Παρθενώνας, Parthenónas) is a former temple on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron. Construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the peak of its power. It was completed in 438 BC, although decoration of the building continued until 432 BC. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered the zenith of the Doric order. Its decorative sculptures are considered some of the high points of Greek art. The Parthenon is regarded as an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece, Athenian democracy and Western civilization, and one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments. To the Athenians who built it, the Parthenon and other Periclean monuments of the Acropolis were seen fundamentally as a celebration of Hellenic victory over the Persian invaders and as a thanksgiving to the gods for that victory. As of 2007 the Greek Ministry of Culture was carrying out a programme of selective restoration and reconstruction to ensure the stability of the partially ruined structure.
The Parthenon itself replaced an older temple of Athena, which historians call the Pre-Parthenon or Older Parthenon, that was destroyed in the Persian invasion of 480 BC. The temple is archaeoastronomically aligned to the Hyades. Like most Greek temples, the Parthenon served a practical purpose as the city treasury. For a time, it served as the treasury of the Delian League, which later became the Athenian Empire. In the final decade of the sixth century AD, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
After the Ottoman conquest, it was turned into a mosque in the early 1460s. On 26 September 1687, an Ottoman ammunition dump inside the building was ignited by Venetian bombardment. The resulting explosion severely damaged the Parthenon and its sculptures. From 1800 to 1803, Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elginremoved some of the surviving sculptures with the alleged permission of the Ottoman Empire. These sculptures, now known as the Elgin Marbles or the Parthenon Marbles, were sold in 1816 to the British Museum in London, where they are now displayed. Since 1983 (on the initiative of Culture Minister Melina Mercouri), the Greek government has been committed to the return of the sculptures to Greece.
The origin of the Parthenon’s name is from the Greek word παρθενών (parthenon), which referred to the “unmarried women’s apartments” in a house and in the Parthenon’s case seems to have been used at first only for a particular room of the temple; it is debated which room this is and how the room acquired its name. The Liddell–Scott–Jones Greek–English Lexicon states that this room was the western cella of the Parthenon, as does J. B. Bury. Jamauri D. Green holds that the parthenon was the room in which the peplos presented to Athena at the Panathenaic Festival was woven by the arrephoroi, a group of four young girls chosen to serve Athena each year. Christopher Pelling asserts that Athena Parthenos may have constituted a discrete cult of Athena, intimately connected with, but not identical to, that of Athena Polias. According to this theory, the name of the Parthenon means the “temple of the virgin goddess” and refers to the cult of Athena Parthenos that was associated with the temple. The epithet parthénos (παρθένος) meant “maiden, girl”, but also “virgin, unmarried woman” and was especially used for Artemis, the goddess of wild animals, the hunt, and vegetation, and for Athena, the goddess of strategy and tactics, handicraft, and practical reason. It has also been suggested that the name of the temple alludes to the maidens (parthenoi), whose supreme sacrifice guaranteed the safety of the city. Parthénos has also been applied to the Virgin Mary, Parthénos Maria, and the Parthenon had been converted to a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the final decade of the sixth century.
The first instance in which Parthenon definitely refers to the entire building is found in the writings of the 4th century BC orator Demosthenes. In 5th-century building accounts, the structure is simply called ho naos (“the temple”). The architects Iktinos and Callicrates are said to have called the building Hekatompedos (“the hundred footer”) in their lost treatise on Athenian architecture, and, in the 4th century and later, the building was referred to as the Hekatompedos or the Hekatompedon as well as the Parthenon; the 1st-century-AD writer Plutarch referred to the building as the Hekatompedos Parthenon.
Because the Parthenon was dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, it has sometimes been referred to as the Temple of Minerva, the Roman name for Athena, particularly during the 19th century.
Although the Parthenon is architecturally a temple and is usually called so, it is not really one in the conventional sense of the word. A small shrine has been excavated within the building, on the site of an older sanctuary probably dedicated to Athena as a way to get closer to the goddess, but the Parthenon never hosted the cult of Athena Polias, patron of Athens: the cult image, which was bathed in the sea and to which was presented the peplos, was an olivewood xoanon, located at an older altar on the northern side of the Acropolis.
The colossal statue of Athena by Phidias was not related to any cult and is not known to have inspired any religious fervour. It did not seem to have any priestess, altar or cult name. According to Thucydides, Pericles once referred to the statue as a gold reserve, stressing that it “contained forty talents of pure gold and it was all removable”. The Athenian statesman thus implies that the metal, obtained from contemporary coinage, could be used again without any impiety. The Parthenon should then be viewed as a grand setting for Phidias’ votive statue rather than a cult site. It is said[by whom?] in many writings of the Greeks that there were many treasures stored inside the temple, such as Persian swords and small statue figures made of precious metals.
Archaeologist Joan Breton Connelly has recently argued for the coherency of the Parthenon’s sculptural programme in presenting a succession of genealogical narratives that track Athenian identity back through the ages: from the birth of Athena, through cosmic and epic battles, to the final great event of the Athenian Bronze Age, the war of Erechtheus and Eumolpos. She argues a pedagogical function for the Parthenon’s sculptured decoration, one that establishes and perpetuates Athenian foundation myth, memory, values and identity. While some classicists, including Mary Beard, Peter Green, and Garry Wills have doubted or rejected Connelly’s thesis, an increasing number of historians, archaeologists, and classical scholars support her work. They include: J.J. Pollitt,Brunilde Ridgway,Nigel Spivey, Caroline Alexander, A.E. Stallings.
The first endeavour to build a sanctuary for Athena Parthenos on the site of the present Parthenon was begun shortly after the Battle of Marathon (c. 490–488 BC) upon a solid limestone foundation that extended and levelled the southern part of the Acropolis summit. This building replaced a hekatompedon (meaning “hundred-footer”) and would have stood beside the archaic temple dedicated to Athena Polias (“of the city”). The Older or Pre-Parthenon, as it is frequently referred to, was still under construction when the Persians sacked the city in 480 BC and razed the Acropolis.
The existence of both the proto-Parthenon and its destruction were known from Herodotus, and the drums of its columns were plainly visible built into the curtain wall north of the Erechtheion. Further physical evidence of this structure was revealed with the excavations of Panagiotis Kavvadias of 1885–90. The findings of this dig allowed Wilhelm Dörpfeld, then director of the German Archaeological Institute, to assert that there existed a distinct substructure to the original Parthenon, called Parthenon I by Dörpfeld, not immediately below the present edifice as had been previously assumed. Dörpfeld’s observation was that the three steps of the first Parthenon consisted of two steps of Poros limestone, the same as the foundations, and a top step of Karrha limestone that was covered by the lowest step of the Periclean Parthenon. This platform was smaller and slightly to the north of the final Parthenon, indicating that it was built for a wholly different building, now completely covered over. This picture was somewhat complicated by the publication of the final report on the 1885–90 excavations, indicating that the substructure was contemporary with the Kimonian walls, and implying a later date for the first temple.
If the original Parthenon was indeed destroyed in 480, it invites the question of why the site was left a ruin for thirty-three years. One argument involves the oath sworn by the Greek allies before the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC declaring that the sanctuaries destroyed by the Persians would not be rebuilt, an oath from which the Athenians were only absolved with the Peace of Callias in 450. The mundane fact of the cost of reconstructing Athens after the Persian sack is at least as likely a cause. However, the excavations of Bert Hodge Hill led him to propose the existence of a second Parthenon, begun in the period of Kimon after 468 BC. Hill claimed that the Karrha limestone step Dörpfeld thought was the highest of Parthenon I was in fact the lowest of the three steps of Parthenon II, whose stylobate dimensions Hill calculated at 23.51 by 66.888 metres (77.13 ft × 219.45 ft).
One difficulty in dating the proto-Parthenon is that at the time of the 1885 excavation the archaeological method of seriation was not fully developed; the careless digging and refilling of the site led to a loss of much valuable information. An attempt to discuss and make sense of the potsherds found on the Acropolis came with the two-volume study by Graef and Langlotz published in 1925–33. This inspired American archaeologist William Bell Dinsmoor to attempt to supply limiting dates for the temple platform and the five walls hidden under the re-terracing of the Acropolis. Dinsmoor concluded that the latest possible date for Parthenon I was no earlier than 495 BC, contradicting the early date given by Dörpfeld. Further, Dinsmoor denied that there were two proto-Parthenons, and held that the only pre-Periclean temple was what Dörpfeld referred to as Parthenon II. Dinsmoor and Dörpfeld exchanged views in the American Journal of Archaeology in 1935.
In the mid-5th century BC, when the Athenian Acropolis became the seat of the Delian League and Athens was the greatest cultural centre of its time, Periclesinitiated an ambitious building project that lasted the entire second half of the century. The most important buildings visible on the Acropolis today — the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the temple of Athena Nike — were erected during this period. The Parthenon was built under the general supervision of the artist Phidias, who also had charge of the sculptural decoration. The architects Ictinos and Callicrates began their work in 447 BC, and the building was substantially completed by 432, but work on the decorations continued until at least 431.
The Parthenon is a peripteral octastyle Doric temple with Ionic architectural features. It stands on a platform or stylobate of three steps. In common with other Greek temples, it is of post and lintel construction and is surrounded by columns (“peripteral”) carrying an entablature. There are eight columns at either end (“octastyle”) and seventeen on the sides. There is a double row of columns at either end. The colonnade surrounds an inner masonry structure, the cella, which is divided into two compartments. At either end of the building the gable is finished with a triangular pediment originally occupied by sculpted figures. The columns are of the Doric order, with simple capitals, fluted shafts and no bases. Above the architrave of the entablature is a frieze of carved pictorial panels (metopes), separated by formal architectural triglyphs, typical of the Doric order. Around the cella and across the lintels of the inner columns runs a continuous sculptured frieze in low relief. This element of the architecture is Ionic in style rather than Doric.
Measured at the stylobate, the dimensions of the base of the Parthenon are 69.5 by 30.9 metres (228 by 101 ft). The cella was 29.8 metres long by 19.2 metres wide (97.8 × 63.0 ft). On the exterior, the Doric columns measure 1.9 metres (6.2 ft) in diameter and are 10.4 metres (34 ft) high. The corner columns are slightly larger in diameter. The Parthenon had 46 outer columns and 23 inner columns in total, each column containing 20 flutes. (A flute is the concave shaft carved into the column form.) The roof was covered with large overlapping marble tiles known as imbrices and tegulae.
The Parthenon is regarded as the finest example of Greek architecture. The temple, wrote John Julius Cooper, “enjoys the reputation of being the most perfect Doric temple ever built. Even in antiquity, its architectural refinements were legendary, especially the subtle correspondence between the curvature of the stylobate, the taper of the naos walls and the entasis of the columns.” Entasis refers to the slight swelling, of 4 centimetres (1.6 in), in the centre of the columns to counteract the appearance of columns having a waist, as the swelling makes them look straight from a distance. The stylobate is the platform on which the columns stand. As in many other classical Greek temples, it has a slight parabolic upward curvature intended to shed rainwater and reinforce the building against earthquakes. The columns might therefore be supposed to lean outwards, but they actually lean slightly inwards so that if they carried on, they would meet almost exactly a mile above the centre of the Parthenon; since they are all the same height, the curvature of the outer stylobate edge is transmitted to the architraveand roof above: “All follow the rule of being built to delicate curves”, Gorham Stevens observed when pointing out that, in addition, the west front was built at a slightly higher level than that of the east front.
It is not universally agreed what the intended effect of these “optical refinements” was; they may serve as a sort of “reverse optical illusion”. As the Greeks may have been aware, two parallel lines appear to bow, or curve outward, when intersected by converging lines. In this case, the ceiling and floor of the temple may seem to bow in the presence of the surrounding angles of the building. Striving for perfection, the designers may have added these curves, compensating for the illusion by creating their own curves, thus negating this effect and allowing the temple to be seen as they intended. It is also suggested that it was to enliven what might have appeared an inert mass in the case of a building without curves, but the comparison ought to be, according to Smithsonian historian Evan Hadingham, with the Parthenon’s more obviously curved predecessors than with a notional rectilinear temple.
Some studies of the Acropolis, including the Parthenon, conclude that many of its proportions approximate the golden ratio. The Parthenon’s façade as well as elements of its façade and elsewhere can be circumscribed by golden rectangles. This view that the golden ratio was employed in the design has been disputed in more recent studies.
The cella of the Parthenon housed the chryselephantine statue of Athena Parthenos sculpted by Phidias and dedicated in 439 or 438 BC. The appearance of this is known from other images. The decorative stonework was originally highly coloured. The temple was dedicated to Athena at that time, though construction continued until almost the beginning of the Peloponnesian War in 432. By the year 438, the sculptural decoration of the Doric metopes on the frieze above the exterior colonnade, and of the Ionic frieze around the upper portion of the walls of the cella, had been completed. In the opisthodomus (the back room of the cella) were stored the monetary contributions of the Delian League, of which Athens was the leading member.
Only a very small number of the sculptures remain in situ; most of the surviving sculptures are today (controversially) in the British Museum in London as the Elgin Marbles, and the Athens Acropolis Museum, but a few pieces are also in the Louvre, and museums in Rome, Vienna and Palermo.
The frieze of the Parthenon’s entablature contained ninety-two metopes, fourteen each on the east and west sides, thirty-two each on the north and south sides. They were carved in high relief, a practice employed until then only in treasuries (buildings used to keep votive gifts to the gods).According to the building records, the metope sculptures date to the years 446–440 BC. The metopes of the east side of the Parthenon, above the main entrance, depict the Gigantomachy (the mythical battle between the Olympian gods and the Giants). The metopes of the west end show the Amazonomachy(the mythical battle of the Athenians against the Amazons). The metopes of the south side show the Thessalian Centauromachy (battle of the Lapiths aided by Theseus against the half-man, half-horse Centaurs). Metopes 13–21 are missing, but drawings from 1674 attributed to Jaques Carrey indicate a series of humans; these have been variously interpreted as scenes from the Lapith wedding, scenes from the early history of Athens and various myths. On the north side of the Parthenon, the metopes are poorly preserved, but the subject seems to be the sack of Troy.
The metopes present examples of the Severe Style in the anatomy of the figures’ heads, in the limitation of the corporal movements to the contours and not to the muscles, and in the presence of pronounced veins in the figures of the Centauromachy. Several of the metopes still remain on the building, but, with the exception of those on the northern side, they are severely damaged. Some of them are located at the Acropolis Museum, others are in the British Museum, and one is at the Louvre museum.
In March 2011, archaeologists announced that they had discovered five metopes of the Parthenon in the south wall of the Acropolis, which had been extended when the Acropolis was used as a fortress. According to Eleftherotypia daily, the archaeologists claimed the metopes had been placed there in the 18th century when the Acropolis wall was being repaired. The experts discovered the metopes while processing 2,250 photos with modern photographic methods, as the white Pentelic marble they are made of differed from the other stone of the wall. It was previously presumed that the missing metopes were destroyed during the Morosini explosion of the Parthenon in 1687.
The most characteristic feature in the architecture and decoration of the temple is the Ionic frieze running around the exterior walls of the cella, which is the inside structure of the Parthenon. The bas-relief frieze was carved in situ; it is dated to 442 BC-438 BC.
One interpretation is that it depicts an idealized version of the Panathenaic procession from the Dipylon Gate in the Kerameikos to the Acropolis. In this procession held every year, with a special procession taking place every four years, Athenians and foreigners were participating to honour the goddess Athena, offering sacrifices and a new peplos (dress woven by selected noble Athenian girls called ergastines).
Joan Breton Connelly offers a mythological interpretation for the frieze, one that is in harmony with the rest of the temple’s sculptural programme which shows Athenian genealogy through a series of succession myths set in the remote past. She identifies the central panel above the door of the Parthenon as the pre-battle sacrifice of the daughter of King Erechtheus, a sacrifice that ensured Athenian victory over Eumolpos and his Thracian army. The great procession marching toward the east end of the Parthenon shows the post-battle thanksgiving sacrifice of cattle and sheep, honey and water, followed by the triumphant army of Erechtheus returning from their victory. This represents the very first Panathenaia set in mythical times, the model on which historic Panathenaic processions was based.
The traveller Pausanias, when he visited the Acropolis at the end of the 2nd century AD, only mentioned briefly the sculptures of the pediments (gable ends) of the temple, reserving the majority of his description for the gold and ivory statue of the goddess inside.
The figures on the corners of the pediment depict the passage of time over the course of a full day. Tethrippa of Helios and Selene are located on the left and right corners of the pediment respectively. The horses of Helios’s chariot are shown with livid expressions as they ascend into the sky at the start of the day; whereas the Selene’s horses struggle to stay on the pediment scene as the day comes to an end.
The supporters of Athena are extensively illustrated at the back of the left chariot, while the defenders of Poseidon are shown trailing behind the right chariot. It is believed that the corners of the pediment are filled by Athenian water deities, such as Kephisos river, Ilissos river and nymph Callirhoe. This belief merges from the fluid character of the sculptures’ body position which represents the effort of the artist to give the impression of a flowing river., Next to the left river god, there are the sculptures of the mythical king of Athens (Kekrops) with his daughters (Aglauros, Pandrosos, Herse). The statue of Poseidon was the largest sculpture in the pediment until it broke into pieces during Francesco Morosini‘s effort to remove it in 1688. The posterior piece of the torso was found by Lusieri in the groundwork of a Turkish house in 1801 and is currently held in British Museum. The anterior portion was revealed by Ross in 1835 and is now held in the Acropolis Museum of Athens.
Every statue in the west pediment has a fully completed back, which would have been impossible to see when the sculpture was on the temple; this indicates that the sculptors put great effort into accurately portraying the human body.
The only piece of sculpture from the Parthenon known to be from the hand of Phidias was the statue of Athena housed in the naos. This massive chryselephantine sculpture is now lost and known only from copies, vase painting, gems, literary descriptions and coins.
In 1975, the Greek government began a concerted effort to restore the Parthenon and other Acropolis structures. After some delay, a Committee for the Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments was established in 1983. The project later attracted funding and technical assistance from the European Union. An archaeological committee thoroughly documented every artifactremaining on the site, and architects assisted with computer models to determine their original locations. Particularly important and fragile sculptures were transferred to the Acropolis Museum. A crane was installed for moving marble blocks; the crane was designed to fold away beneath the roofline when not in use. In some cases, prior re-constructions were found to be incorrect. These were dismantled, and a careful process of restoration began. Originally, various blocks were held together by elongated iron H pins that were completely coated in lead, which protected the iron from corrosion. Stabilizing pins added in the 19th century were not so coated, and corroded. Since the corrosion product (rust) is expansive, the expansion caused further damage by cracking the marble.
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