Parthenon

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Parthenon

Parthenon (pär´thənŏn) [Gr.,=the virgin's place], temple sacred to Athena, on the acropolis at Athens. Built under Pericles between 447 BC and 432 BC, it is the culminating masterpiece of Greek architecture. Ictinus and Callicrates were the architects and Phidias supervised the sculpture. The temple is peripteral, with eight Doric columns at each end and 17 on the flanks (46 in all); it stands upon a stylobate three steps high. The body of the building comprised a cella and behind it an inner chamber (the Parthenon proper), which gave the temple its name. At front and rear, within the outer colonnade, were two porticoes, the pronaos and opisthodomos, respectively, with six columns each.

Within the cella a Doric colonnade two tiers high supported the roof timbers and divided the space into a lofty central nave bounded by an aisle on three sides. Toward the west end of this nave stood the Athena Parthenos, the colossal gold and ivory statue by Phidias dedicated c.438 and destroyed in antiquity. The inner chamber, to the west, apparently served as treasury and was entered through a large western doorway. The pediments terminating the roof at each end of the building were ornamented with sculptured groups depicting the birth of Athena on the eastern end and the contest between Athena and Poseidon on the western end. The upper part of the cella walls and the friezes above the porticoes formed a continuous band of sculpture around the building. The friezes traditionally have been said to represent the Panathenaic procession held every fourth year in homage to Athena, but this interpretation of them only dates to the late 1700s; no ancient description of the subject of the friezes survives. Of the 525 ft (160 m) of this sculptured frieze, 335 ft (102 m) still exists. The western portion is now in the Acropolis Museum; the greater part of the remainder, removed by Lord Elgin, is in the British Museum (see Elgin Marbles). Fragments also are in museums in six other countries.

In the 6th cent. the Parthenon became a Christian church, with the addition of an apse at the east end. It next served as a mosque, and a minaret was added to it. In 1687, in the Venetian attack on Athens, it was used as a powder magazine by the Turks and the entire center portion was destroyed by an explosion. The beauty of the Parthenon began to be appreciated in the 18th cent., and in 1762 measured drawings by James Stuart and Nicholas Revett gave strong impetus to the classic revival. After the end of Turkish control (1830), intensive archaeological study of the Parthenon commenced. Numerous attempts have since been made to establish the mathematical or geometrical basis supposedly employed in producing the design's high perfection. Restoration work is still being done.

See studies by P. E. Corbett (1959), R. Carpenter (1970), M. Beard (2003), and J. B. Connelly (2014).

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