Ancient Greece Art


Greek Pottery

The Parthenon

Work began on the Parthenon, built on the Acropolis, in 447 BC to replace an existing temple which was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC and cost 469 silver talents to build. The work began under the orders of Pericles to show the wealth and exuberance of Athenian power. The name of the building most likely came from a cult statue of Athena Parthenos housed in the eastern room of the building. This magnificent structure was built of ivory and gold and was sculptured by the renowned sculptor Phidias. As with most buildings on the Acropolis it was dedicated to Athena to thank the Goddess for their success. The Parthenon was finally finished in 432 BC and was to show the world the dominance and power of Athens. The vast majority of the money used in the construction came from the Delian League funds. The Delian League was a treaty between the Greek states in league against the Persian Empire. However two years before work started on the Parthenon, the Athenians had struck a peace treaty with the Persians ending the war, although the League continued to exist. It is believed that because of this the league stopped being a mutual defence against Persia but part of the Athenian Empire. This theory was reinforced when Athens moved the Leagues treasury from the Pan-Hellenic sanctuary at Delos to the Parthenon (Opisthodomos room). Not only was the Parthenon a magnificent structure to look at, but it also showed Athenian dominance over the rest of the Greek peninsula and that Athens was its Greek imperial master.

The five main instigators of the design and construction on the Parthenon were Pericles, Phidias, Kalamis, Ictinus and Calibrates. Pericles was the leading Athenian statesman at the time, Phidias and Kalamis were in charge of the design of the sculptures and decorations, and Ictinus and Calibrates were the main architects. The vast majority of the 469 silver talents spent on the Parthenon went on transporting the stone from Mount Pantelakos, which was about 16 kilometres from Athens, to the Acropolis. It is thought there are around 13400 stones in the building. The Parthenon is a clear example of Doric design with Ionic architectural features. The architects used a clever visual effect in their design of the building. The curvature of the Stylobate, the taper of the Naos walls (housing the cult statue) and the Entasis of the columns allow the visual effect to make the temple appear more symmetrical than it actually is. This design was so renowned it has been copied centuries later, even the Romans incorporated it into the design of their buildings, and a good example of this can be seen at the Roman library at Ephesus. Measured at the top step, the dimensions of the base of the Parthenon are 69.5 meters by 30.9 meters (228.0 x 101.4 ft). The Cella was 29.8 meters long by 19.2 meters wide (97.8 x 63.0 ft), with internal Doric colonnades in two tiers, structurally necessary to support the roof. On the exterior, the Doric columns measure 1.9 meters (6.2 ft) in diameter and are 10.4 meters (34.1 ft) high. The corner columns are slightly larger in diameter. The Stylobate has an upward curvature towards its centre of 60 millimetres (2.36 in) on the east and west ends, and of 110 millimetres (4.33 in) on the sides.

Inside the Cella it was made up of both old and new elements. There was a double pi-shaped colonnade which held the statue Athena Parthenos. The statue showed Athena dressed in full armour holding Nike (Goddess of Victory) to the Athenians in her right hand. In the west room (Opisthodomos) were 4 Ionic columns. The two sloped wooden roofs had marble tiles with false lion shaped spouts in the corners and false palmette shaped antefixes running along the edge. The room also held large marble statues placed on corner pediments, which were adorned with depictions of Athena's life. The East Pediment showed Athena's birth from Zeus' head whilst the Olympian Gods watched. The West pediment portrayed the dispute between Athena and Poseidon over control of Athens in front of Heroes, the Gods and the mythical Kings of Attica. The Outer Colonnade was made up of 92 metopes alternating with Triglyphs that were placed above the epistyle underneath the architrave, all of which held reliefs, (Trojan War on the northern side, Centauromachy on the southern side, Amazonomachy on the western side and Gigantomachy on the eastern side). The Frieze (dated 442-438 BC), which ran along the top of the Opisthodomos, Pronaos and the Cella was of the Ionic order and showed the greatest Athenian festival 'Panathinaia'. The festival held a procession from the Dipylon Gate in the Koromikos to the Acropolis. The procession was held yearly and had a special procession every fourth year. Athenians and foreigners came together at the festival, with all paying tribute and offering sacrifices to Athena.

The Parthenon had been kept in relatively good condition right up until the 19th century. During this time it had seen a number of changes. For nearly a thousand years the Parthenon was still used as a temple to Athena until as late as the 4th Century AD. By this time Athens had been turned into a province of the Roman Empire and had lost most of its former glory. Unfortunately sometime in the 5th Century the Parthenon was raided by a Roman Emperor and the statue of the cult image of Athena was stolen and taken to Constantinople where it was later destroyed during the crusades (around 1204 AD). After the looting by the Roman Emperors the building itself was still intact and was turned into a church in the 5th Century AD by the Christians. The Byzantine Christians converted the Parthenon in honour of Parthena Maria (Virgin Mary), or the Church of the Theotokos (Mother of God), which it remained for around 250 years. Turning the temple into a church meant that the building was still kept in good condition apart from a bit a restructuring internally; for example a few of the columns were removed as well as some of the marble statues. It also meant that statues and other motifs depicting more than one god were either removed or destroyed. The Ottomans converted the Parthenon from a church to a mosque (ca. 1460s). Again the Parthenon was well maintained and looked after until the late 17th Century. In 1687 the Venetians, under Francesco Morosini, attacked the Ottomans in Athens. The Acropolis had been fortified by the Ottomans (as well as the Athenians over a century before). The building was also used as a gunpowder store and when the Parthenon took a direct hit from a mortar fired by the Venetians from the Hill of Philopappus, the gunpowder exploded and destroyed a large part of the building. Morosini and his men soon plundered the building, looting what they could find and destroying the rest, leaving the partial ruins that can be seen today. As most of the sculptures and depictions were either looted or destroyed we only know what they looked like from drawings by Jacques Carrey, a Flemish artist in 1674. What was left was further damaged in 1801 when many of the depictions and remaining antiques were forcibly removed by the British Ambassador at Constantinople, the Earl of Elgin, under orders to make casts and drawings by the Sultan.

It was only in 1975 that a concertive effort was made by the Greek government, with help from Europe, to try and restore the damage caused by the explosion as well as the modern day damage caused by pollution. Unfortunately the Parthenon will never be restored to its former glory; however, in time we will hopefully be able to have a better idea of what it once looked like.

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