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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Athens - Acropolis: Parthenon

The Parthenon (ancient Greek: Παρθενών) was a temple of Athena, built in the 5th century BC on the Acropolis of Athens. An octostyle, peripteral Doric temple with Ionic architectural features, it is the most famous surviving building of ancient Greece, and has been praised as the finest achievement of Greek architecture and one of the world's greatest cultural monuments.

The Parthenon was built at the initiative of Pericles under the general supervision of the sculptor Phidias, who also had charge of the sculptural decoration. The architects were Iktinos and Kallikrates. Construction began in 447 BC, and the building was substantially completed by 438 BC, when the chryselephantine gold and ivory statue of Athena Parthenos, from which the name is derived, was sculpted by Pheidias and dedicated and the 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 were completed. Modest construction continued until the beginning of the Peloponnesian War in 432 BC. Some of the financial accounts for the Parthenon survive and show that the largest single expense was transporting the stone from Mount Pentelicus, about 16 kilometers from Athens, to the Acropolis. The funds were partly drawn from the treasury of the Delian League, which was moved from the Panhellenic sanctuary at Delos to the Acropolis in 454 BC.

In the 6th century AD the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin; after the Turkish conquest, it was converted into a mosque. In 1687 AD, a Turkish ammunition dump inside the building was ignited by a Venetian cannonball; the resulting explosion severely damaged the Parthenon and its sculptures. In the 19th century AD, Lord Elgin removed some of the surviving sculptures and took them to England. These sculptures, now known as the Elgin Marbles or Parthenon Marbles, are on display in the British Museum. An ongoing dispute concerns whether the Elgin Marbles should be returned to Greece.

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, the platform on which the columns stand, has an upward curvature towards its center of 60 millimeters (2.36 in) on the east and west ends, and of 110 millimeters (4.33 in) on the sides. Entasis refers to the slight swelling of the columns as they rise, to counter the optical effect of looking up at the temple. The effect of these subtle curves is to make the temple appear more symmetrical than it actually is. Some of the dimensions form the golden rectangle expressing the golden ratio, praised by Pythagoras in the previous century. The roof was covered with large overlapping marble tiles known as imbrices and tegulae.

The ninety-two metopes were carved in high relief, a practice employed until then only in treasuries. Their design is attributed to the sculptor Kalamis. The metopes of the east side of the Parthenon, above the main entrance, depict the Gigantomachy . The metopes of the west end show Amazonomachy. The metopes of the south side (with the exception of the somewhat problematic metopes 13-20, now lost) show the Thessalian Centauromachy (battle of the Lapiths aided by Theseus against the half-man, half-horse Centaurs). On the north side of the Parthenon the metopes are poorly preserved, but the subject seems to be the sack of Troy.

The most characteristic feature in the architecture and decoration of the temple is the Ionic frieze running around the exterior walls of the cella. Carved in bas-relief, it most likely depicts an idealized version of the Panathenaic procession from the Dipylon Gate in the Kerameikos to the Acropolis. In this procession held every 4 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). The entire frieze was carved in situ and it is dated in 442-438 BC.

The richness of the Parthenon's decoration is unique for a classical Greek temple. It is, however, in agreement with the function of the temple as a Treasury. In the opisthodomus (the back room of the cella) were stored the monetary contributions of the Delian Alliance of which Athens was the leading member.

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