T h e   P a r t h e n o n   a t   A t h e n s

Full screen image
The Parthenon at Athens
(Click the image for a full screen view)

The Parthenon at Athens

The Pre-Parthenon

   Slightly east of the center of the Acropolis a Doric peripteral temple was discovered under the remains of the Parthenon. This temple was built ca. 488 - 480 B.C.E. with 102.9 ft. x 252 ft. (31.39 m x 76.82 m). With 6 x 16 columns, double cella (inner sanctum) with a long cella at the east end and a smaller cella at the west end, with opisthodomos (the rear room) and pronaos (the antechamber), both with prostyle. The east cella has 2 rows of interior columns with 10 columns in each row. The west cella has  4 interior columns arranged in a square in the center.
   This Temple was never completed and must not have past the lower column drums and cella courses. The construction must have been pulled down shortly after the Persians invasion of 480/79 B.C.E., to make way for a new marble Sanctuary dedicated to the Goddess Athena. Many components from this Temple were subsequently re-utilized.

The Project

   In the time of Pericles all Athens was willing to contribute to the building and ornamentation of a great new Temple, in addition to a number of other monuments. Plutarch commented: The monuments were imposing in their unrivaled grandeur, beauty and grace; the artists vied with one another in the technical perfection of their work, but the most admirable thing was the speed of execution. Pericles entrusted the overall management of the project to the sculptor Phidias, who presided over everything especially the decor, for which he employed Athens' greatest artists. The architects Ictinos and Callicrates were commissioned to draw up and execute the plans. Construction began in 447 B.C.E. and was completed nine years later, the last of the sculptures being set place in 432 B.C.E. Pericles and his architects decided from the start to build the new sanctuary on the foundations of the Pre-Parthenon; slightly south and east of the center of the Acropolis. Apart from the limestone foundations and the ceilings and wooden doors, the Temple was built entirely of marble, even its roof tiles. The stone came from the quarries of the Pentelic Mountains. Parian marble being reserved for the sculptures.

The Plan

   The Parthenon rests on a plinth three steps high. The upper level of the plinth measures about 225 x 85 feet (30.88 m x 69.50 m). It is a Temple surrounded by a single row of columns. This peristyle consists of eight Doric columns on the west and east sides and seventeen along the north and south sides. The shafts consist of twelve fluted drums and are about 33 feet high (10.43 m), including the capitals, with diameters tapering from 6 feet 3 inches (1.92 m) at the base to 4 feet 9 inches (1.49 m) at the top. There is a perceptible bulge two fifths up each column; the Greeks knew the principle of the outward curvature of a column (entasis), which compensates for the optical effect that makes columns seem thinner in the middle when viewed from below. The corner columns are thicker, reducing the space between them and their neighbors: because they receive more sunlight, they would otherwise have appeared thinner than the rest. Finally, to give the impression of absolute perfection, the plinth gradually increased in height, by about 4 inches in the middle of the long sides and by about 3 inches at the center of the facades.

The Pediments

   The theme of the east pediment is Zeus' presentation of Athena to the Gods of Olympus. The west pediment portrays Athena's strife with Poseidon for the land of Attica.

The Frieze

   In the frieze the sculptor innovated by crowning a Doric ensemble with an Ionic frieze. The subject matter is the procession of the Panathenaic Games, celebrated each year on the occasion of Athena's birthday.

The Metopes

   Each metope featured a different scene, consisting of two figures in high relief. The metopes along the east side of the Temple represent the struggle between the Gods and the Giants; those of the west side, an Amazonomachy; those of the south side, the battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs; and those on the north side, scenes from the Trojan War. The theme common to all is the triumph of the Greeks and of their Gods over their human or mythical adversaries.


   Inside, the Temple has a double cella (inner sanctum) with pronaos (the antechamber, with the only door into the cella) and opisthodomos (the rear room). The smaller west cella had 4 interior columns. Inside the east cella was a U-shaped colonnade of 9 columns and a pier on each long side, and 3 columns between the 2 piers on the short side. (Travlos reconstructs columns in place of the piers.) Toward the west end of the interior colonnade was a statue base for the cult statue of Athena Parthenos with a large shallow rectangle cut to create a reflecting pool in front of it. The Phidias' statue was made of gold and ivory with polychrome details. The sculptor handed his work to a painter, whose job was to add the final touch of perfection and endow the statue with religious meaning. Bronze doors are postulated for both eastern and western cellas.


   The Temple was opened to the public the moment it was finished, and was formally dedicated to the Goddess during the Panathenaic Games of 438 B.C.E.
   The Classical Parthenon seems to have been damaged by fire but the exact date of the fire and subsequent repairs is debated, with suggestions ranging from 150 B.C.E. to 267 C.E. (during the invasion of the Herulians). In any case, repairs included the exact reconstruction of the colonnade of the eastern cella, a new statue base and repairs to the capitals on the columns of the western porch.
   The Parthenon was converted to a Christian church ca. 600 C.E., and in 1687 a small mosque was built in the cella.

The Cult

   It was only later that this great edifice housed a cult at all: it was built originally as a proud statement of civic strength rather than a place of worship.

Present State

   The first restoration work was begun in 1834. Throughout the 19th century both Greeks and foreigners applied themselves to the work of restoration, but the Parthenon as we see it today was mostly reconstructed at the turn of the century. The intensive excavations on the Acropolis between 1885 and 1890 yielded many of the unique works of art now on view in the museum.
   Between 1923 and 1933 Balanos rebuilt the north colonnade and part of the south colonnade. His efforts were something of a disaster, because he cut holes in the marble and inserted steel tenons that later rusted. Orlandos, his associate, was against the restoration of the south colonnade without a similar restoration of the walls of the cella. On Balanos' death, in 1942, Orlandos took over the work, guided by the conviction that restoring the monument as closely as possible to its original form would allow visitors to appreciate its beauty properly.
   The new work on the Parthenon began with the east facade, which was judged to be in most danger after the damage caused by the 1981 earthquake. From 1992 to 1993 a very delicate operation was performed on the west side of the cella. The ceiling beams and the blocks below the entablature of the opistodomos (the back chamber) were lowered to the ground, and the portion of the frieze hitherto in situ was taken to the museum.
   By the year 2000, up to 50 percent of the side walls of the Parthenon have been restored. The calculation of the exact position of each block of marble has been made easier by the use of a specially devised computer program.

Clickable Plan

[Click to enlarge image]
Clickable plan of the Parthenon
(Click the image for a full screen view)

Gallery 1 of 6

[Click to enlarge image]
Acropolis plan
572 X 364
173 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
Parthenon plan
590 X 368
13,8 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
NW from W rec
510 X 447
69,0 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
NW from NW1
605 X 390
77,2 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
NW from NW2
483 X 704
151 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
NW from NW rec
875 X 638
183 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
NW from W rec
650 X 440
94,2 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
NW from NW3
800 X 482
52,6 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
NW from NW4
743 X 490
99,8 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
NW from NW6
590 X 442
45,2 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
NW from NW5
590 X 442
38,0 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
NW from NW7
445 X 705
82,8 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
NW from W
491 X 704
89,3 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
NW from NW9
590 X 442
32,3 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
NW from NW8
557 X 531
73,4 KB

[Next] [Last]

Other Views:


Back to the top
Copyright ©1998-2003 Roy George