The Parthenon Temple
The Parthenon is the most famous and the most recognizable ancient Greek building. It was completed in 432 B.C. at the cost of 12,000,000 drachmae (an average worker earned about two drachmae a day). On the inside of the temple a thirty-five to forty foot statue of Athena was created by the famous Greek sculptor Phidias. Athena was the goddess of war and wisdom and was the patron goddess of Athens.
Two architects, Ictinus and Callicrates, designed the Parthenon. The base of the temple is 228 feet (69.51 meters) long by 101 ¼ feet (30.86 meters) wide. The temple has a total of forty-six columns, eight in the front and seventeen along the sides (corners being counted twice). Both the base and columns were designed for visual effect.
Long floors tend to have an appearance to sag in the middle. To correct this optical illusion in the Parthenon, the center of the base was raised four inches along the sides and two inches along the front. In addition, straight columns have the appearance of being thinner in the middle. The Greeks made the middle of the columns slightly wider in the middle and smaller at the top. The adjustment drew the viewer’s eyes upward to the sculptures along the top of the building.
Above the columns of the Parthenon’s outer wall was a series of small sculptured panel called metopes that represented, on the east side, the famous battle between the gods and the giants of Greek mythology; on the west, the battle between the Greeks and the mythical Amazon warriors; and on the south side, a battle between men and centaurs. The metopes on the north side are almost gone, but probably portrayed the Trojan War.
The Parthenon’s central area, the cella, once contained a gold and ivory statue of Athena. Across the top of the cella was a continuous band of flat-panel sculpture called a frieze. The frieze portrayed the people of Athens in a parade celebrating the birthday of Athena.
In the early 1800’s, Lord Elgin of Britain got permission from the occupying Turkish authorities to take a large portion of the remaining sculptures back to England. He sold the marble sculptures to the British Museum in London, where they are displayed today. Ownership of these important pieces of Greek history remains a controversy even today.