Standing gracefully for the past 2,500 years, defying all the challenges imposed by the time, the Parthenon demonstrates the brilliance of the Greek architecture. This imposing monument was dedicated to the goddess Athena, Athens’ patron deity & was standing atop the ‘Acropolis of Athens’. Throughout its long life, the ‘Parthenon’ has played many roles. It was built initially as a ‘Greek temple’ which, later on was converted into a treasury of the ‘Delian League’. It was converted into a ‘Christian church’ during the ‘Roman’ era & after the ‘Ottoman’ conquest, the ‘Parthenon’ was turned into a grand mosque!
Today, this massive structure has become a one of the most celebrated surviving landmarks of the ‘Ancient Greece’. It is now reckoned as one of the most widely recognizable monuments & popular tourist destinations in the world!!!
HISTORY IN BRIEF:
The current manifestation of the ‘Parthenon’ itself is a replacement of the older temple destroyed by the Persians. One of the prominent Athenian nobilities- Pericles, took initiative in the resurrection of the destroyed temple in the 5th century. The work began under the supervision of master sculptor Phidias & the architects Iktinos & Kallikrates contributed exceedingly well to erect a massive temple to house a gargantuan statue of the goddess ‘Athena’ made by ‘Phidias’ out of ivory & gold!
The year 447 BC saw the beginning of the ‘Parthenon’ & by 438 BC, substantial work was accomplished although, the interior ornamentation continued till 433 BC. In 454 BC, the ‘Parthenon’ was used as a treasury for housing the Delian League treasures. For the next thousand years, the ‘Parthenon’ served as the great temple of the Greek reign.
In the 5th century, when the Romans had a strong hold over ‘Athens’, the colossal statue of ‘Athena’ was plundered & taken to Constantinople by one of the ‘Roman Emperor’. Soon after this, the ‘Parthenon’ was converted into a Catholic church dedicated to the ‘Theotokos’ (Virgin Mary). The conversion into the church was carried out by removing the internal pillars & some part of the walls in order to create an apse on the eastern flank. The sculptures of pagan deities were also moved out to erase off any traces of the Greek reign.
‘Athens’ was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1456 AD, after which the ‘Parthenon’ was converted into a grand mosque. A minaret was the solitary addition by the ‘Ottomans’ in the ‘Parthenon’ complex, although, the rest of the structure remained undamaged until the 17th century.
However, the building was severely damaged during the Venetian invasion in 1687. The interior part, the relics of the roof & pillars on the southern flank were heavily suffered & the sculptures got mutilated. The pieces of the statues were taken away as souvenirs & the structure was left deserted! In the year 1801, the British ambassador at ‘Constantinople’, the Earl of Elgin received a permission from the ‘Sultan of Ottomans’ to remove the surviving sculptures from the ‘Parthenon’, which later on, were sold to the British Museum in ‘London’. These sculptures are now displayed as the Elgin Marbles or the Parthenon Marbles. Although, the Greek government has been campaigning since 1983 to regain the possession of the sculptures, their efforts hasn’t been fruitful so far!
WHAT TO SEE AT THE PARTHENON?
The ‘Parthenon’ is an epitome of the ‘Doric Order Temple’ structure & its architecture was considered as the role model even during the period of antiquity. The platform upon which the ‘Parthenon’ is erected is called as the Stylobate. The columns of the temple widen as they soar above the ground in order to balance the optical effect resulted from the slight upward curvature of the ‘Stylobate’. The widening of the columns is referred as Entesis.
The ‘Parthenon’ was ornately decorated using the marble statues from both, outside & inside. The East Pediment boasts an inscription depicting the birth of ‘Athena’ whereas; the West Pediment flaunts the inscription narrating the tale of Athena’s battle with ‘Poseidon’ for seizing the land of ‘Attica’.
Friezes those surrounds all four sides of the temple, including the spaces above the colonnades, depict the scenes from the ancient Greek mythology & history. The southern façade depicts the battle of the ‘Lapiths’ & the ‘Centaurs’, whereas the eastern side & west side describe the scenes of the battles between the gods & the giants & between the Greeks & the Amazons, respectively! The depiction on the northern side is unknown, although it is widely believed to be the scenes from the Trojan War!
As far as the interior is concerned, the Cella, flanked on the three sides by a frieze illustrating the majestic procession of Athena’s annual festival called Panathenaia, is located. The fourth side of the ‘Cella’ features a mural that depicts all the gods of the Greek pantheon.
THE PARTHENON IN NUMBERS:
The spectacular ‘Parthenon’ stands on a 69.5 meters X 30.9 meter base. The ‘Cella’ measures 29.8 meters X 19.2 meters in dimension & the internal Doric colonnades those surround it, provide necessary support to the roof. The external Doric colonnades stand 10.4 meters tall & measures 1.9 meters in diameter, although the columns at the corners are slightly wider than the rest. The ‘Stylobate’ is endowed with a bulge at its center that measures 60 mm in the east & west, & of 110 mm on the remaining sides.
Today, this most important surviving structure of the ancient Greece magnetizes almost millions of the tourists every year. The aesthetic wealth of ‘Parthenon’ is considered as the zenith of the Greek artistry & it is regarded as the lasting emblem of Athenian democracy & western civilization!
The ‘Parthenon’ now stands as the herald of the prowess & the glory possessed by the world’s first ever democracy that thrived in this part of the world, some 2500 years back & it is reckoned as one of the greatest cultural monuments in the world!