History of The Parthenon

Built during the peak of the ancient Greek Empire, the Parthenon serves as one of the most significant monuments in Greece and one of the most renowned architectural masterpieces in the world. Dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena Parthenos, the temple dominates the Acropolis hill at Athens and is deemed the Doric order’s apex. Across many centuries, the structure held out against looting, fires, explosions, earthquakes, and wars remains a strong insignia of Greek history and culture.

Parthenon dominating the Acropolis as seen from afar

Early History

During the Athen’s Golden Age, democracy, culture, education, and arts flourished in Athens. Thanks to the leadership of Pericles, the brilliant orator, general, and statement, the city was revolutionized and became the center of the country’s culture and power. Part of this significant era was constructing different structures and works, such as the Temple of Hephaestus, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Acropolis, and the Discus Thrower.

Construction of the Parthenon started in 447 BCE and was completed in 438 BC. Yet, ornaments were added to the building until 432 BC. It was constructed for Athena, the goddess of handicraft, wisdom, warfare, and the city’s patron. To all the Athenians who erected the Parthenon, alongside the other monuments built during that time, the structures were powerful symbols of the Greeks’ victory against the Persian invasion and as tokens of their gratitude to the gods for their triumph.

After the Parthenon was built, it stood 45 feet tall and stretched 98 by 68 feet. Considered as the vertex of Dorian architecture, the building was surrounded by the iconic Doric columns (46 outer columns and 19 inner columns). Meanwhile, a total of 92 carved metopes accentuated Parthenon’s exterior walls, with the East side showcasing Gigantomachy, the West depicting Amazonomachy, the North illustrating the Trojan War, and the South portraying Centauromachy.

Details from the Parthenon’s West metopes

The friezes were stunning as well. They ran along the walls of Parthenon’s cella or inner chamber, believed to be representing Pandora’s sacrifice or the Panathenaic procession. Adding to the adornment are the pediments on each side of the building. The east region shows Athena’s birth while the West illustrates Athena’s conflict with Poseidon to claim Attica.

The sculptor responsible for the Parthenon is no cut-price as well. It was Phidias, the artist behind the famed Zeus statue. He chose to build the Parthenon on the Acropolis to resemble Athena’s status. Along with other renowned architects, Callicrates, Iktinos, and Mneskiles, Phidias spent two years devising the plan and finding labor for the structure. After the long preparation, the first stone was set during the Panathenaic festival, a celebration still for goddess Athena. Under Pericles’ financing and rule, Phidian supervised the work for the Parthenon. In line with this, he also created an ivory and gold statue of Athena, which stood and was revered in the shrine inside the Parthenon.

Recent History

The Christian Byzantines invaded Greece in the sixth century A.D. and forbade worshipping the Greek Gods. As such, the Parthenon was transformed into a Christian Church. It remained a symbol of Christianity until 1458 A.D until the Ottoman conquest, which has seen the building this time being converted into a mosque.

Parthenon’s East pediment

In 1687, forced by the assault from the Holy League, the historic structure was attacked with cannonballs. Its ammunition dump was ignited by one of the bombardments, resulting in an explosion, leaving hundreds dead, and severe damage to Parthenon. Once a formidable symbol of Greece, it sat in ruins and became a subject of looting.

In the early 19th century, the 7th Earl of Elgin, Thomas Bruce, took some of the marble friezes and sculptures and brought them to London. Now called the “Elgin Marbles,” they are on display in the British Museum. It is shrouded in mystery whether Elgin acquired permission to take the pieces, and Greece is still requesting to have them returned.

Parthenon continued to suffer massive damage following the Greek’s war of independence against the Turks. Though the country was liberated in 1830, it was only in the 1970s when the government became serious about the restoration of the Parthenon and the Acropolis. Since then, numerous large-scale works have been undertaken for the country’s national treasure.

Though the Parthenon cannot be reinstated in its pristine condition, it still reflects a huge part of its rich past and its awe-inspiring framework. Today, it is one of the most visited landmarks in Greece and globally, proving its gargantuan historical, cultural, and architectural value.