Manual The Parthenon of Ancient Greece (Historys Great Structures)

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Sitting atop a limestone hill rising some feet above the Ilissos Valley in Athens, this soaring marble temple built in tribute to the goddess Athena brings the glory of ancient Greece into the modern world.


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Constructed with impressive speed during a massive fifth-century building project at the hilltop citadel known as the Acropolis , the Parthenon was not only beautiful—it was built to last. Through bombardments, occupations, neglect, vandalism and even earthquakes, the Parthenon and other structures of the Acropolis have remained standing, thanks to the sophisticated methods used in their construction. The Acropolis was inhabited as far back as the Bronze Age , when the Mycenaeans built a large walled compound there to house one of their leaders.

In B. Construction of the Parthenon began in B. Its design is credited to two architects, Ictinus and Callicrates, as well as the sculptor Phidias. Ancient and modern observers alike have marveled at the sophisticated techniques used to construct the temple, which mixed the Doric and Ionic styles of classical Greek architecture to stunning effect. Though the Parthenon looks perfectly straight and symmetrical, in fact it is subtly curved, beginning at the foundation and running up through the steps, colonnade and even the roof.

In addition, the columns have a slight swelling near the middle, known as entasis. But Hurwit suggests another, more artistically motivated reason for the refinements. The Parthenon is a building, but it's [also] almost a sculpture. The Parthenon was apparently completed by B. In all, construction took just nine years. The Propylaea, the gateway to the Acropolis, took even less time—just five years—to build.

Visitors to the Parthenon today, disappointed not to be allowed inside, should take some comfort from the fact that most Athenians in antiquity never were permitted inside the temple. Only priests ever entered the treasury, and the statue itself was viewed only rarely.

One of those who saw the statue was Pausanias, who describe the Athena as standing "upright in an ankle length tunic with a head of Medusa carved in ivory on her breast. She has a Victory about eight feet high, and a spear in her hand and a shield at her feet, and a snake beside the shield; this snake might be Erichthonios. The reflecting pool was filled with water to add humidity to the air and prevent splitting of the ivory elements of the huge chryselephantine composite gold and ivory statue.

The Parthenon

It is worth noting that the statue cost more than the building built to house it and the sculptor Phideas made it so that it's gold panels could be removed, weighed and sold should the need arise. That proved to be a wise decision because when he was later accused of pilfering some of the gold, he was able to quickly establish his innocence. Chryselephantine comes from the word chryso gold and elephantine ivory.

It was a standard technique of the Greek Classical period whereby beaten gold for clothing and ivory for flesh was attached to a wooden armature or core. It is estimated that the gold on the statue alone was worth many millions of dollars. According to early Greek writers, the tyrant Lachares later stripped the goddess of her gold and used it to pay his army. It was said that the statue was later supplied with a coat of gilt by way of replacement. The Parthenon is made almost exclusively of marble found at a site about 18 kilometers away from the Acropolis.

About , tons or marble was used. The marble was shaped at the quarry and transported to Athens and finally hauled up the steep slopes of the Acropolis. It was fortunate that marble was used. Many building made by the ancient Greeks were constructed of limestone, which dissolved over time in the rain and humidity.

Most of the monumental part of the Parthenon were built with ton marble blocks. The craftsmanship is extraordinary. The joints between the blocks are all but invisible even with a magnifying glass. The blocks were fitted together with iron clamps placed into carefully-carved grooves, lead was then poured in the joints to cushion them from seismic shocks and protect them from corrosion. As hard as quarrying, shaping, transporting and fitting these stone blocks is it was not as time-consuming and labor intensive as some of the detail work such as making the flutes vertical grooves that run up and down the columns.

After the columns were smoothed and polished, a stripling pattern was added to dull the shine and mask the flaws.

Parthenon - Athen's most famous landmark

It must have taken as much as quarter of the total construction expended on the monument. Athenians were able to devote such attention to detail and still finish the thing in under ten years based on dates determined from inscribed financial records it has been surmised using ropes, pulleys and wooden cranes like those used to build their great navy. Some scholars also believe the Athenians possessed chisels, axes and other tools that were stronger and more durable that their modern counterparts and this, combined with superior temple building skills honed over a century and a half, enabled them carve blocks at twice the speed of modern restorers.

The cost, according to public accounts engraved in stone, was silver talents. Attempts to translate that into a modern equivalent aren't entirely satisfactory.


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The main building material was Pentelic marble quarried from the flanks of Mt. The old Parthenon, the one destroyed by the Persians while it was partway through construction was the first temple to use this kind of marble. The huge pieces of stone had to be hauled to the building site by oxcart. This structure was, by no means, the largest but what distinguishes the Parthenon from most other temples is the quality and extent of the sculptures. Many of the sculptures were made of the more expensive Parian marble, from the island of Paros, which most sculptors proclaimed the best kind of marble for their work.

As a collection that shows Greek art at its zenith the Parthenon marbles sculptures are simply without peer. This thickening in the middle made it look as though the columns were straining a bit under the weight of the roof, thus making the temple less static, more dynamic. Although the lines and distances in the Parthenon appear to be straight and equal, the geometry has been altered to achieve that illusion.

The temple itself was adorned with sculpture, of a quality never before, and never since, equaled. The metopes rectangular panels above the columns were sculptured with scenes from the Trojan War, and from the Battles of the Athenians and Amazons, the Lapiths and Centaurs, and t he Gods and Giants. In addition, a sculptured frieze above the temple walls depicted the great Panathenaic procession. In this annual celebration, Athenian youths and maidens accompanied the new robe for Athena's statue from Eleusis to the Acropolis itself.

The young men on horseback, the maidens, the sacrificial oxeri, and the gods themselves all were depicted, and may be seen today - but not in Athens. Elgin Marbles, Pediments of the Parthenon. The sculptures, known as the Elgin Marbles, are on view in. London at the British Museum.

A few carvings remain in place on the Parthenon, and some fragments are on view in the Acropolis Museum.

In addition, the Parthenon had monumental sculpture in both pediments. As Pausanias concisely put it, "As you go into the temple called the Parthenon, everything on the pediment has to do with the birth of Athena; the far side shows Poseidon quarrelling with Athena over the country. However, the Athenians were always practical: the gold regalia which clad the great statue was designed so that it could be removed for safekeeping.

The Athenians had learned what could happen to their sacred sites in the Persian sack of the Acropolis of B. North of the Parthenon is one of the loveliest of all ancient monuments, the delicate Erechtheion, thought to have been built on the very spot where Athena and Poseidon had their contest for possession of Athens. Indeed, some said that the marks of Poseidon's trident were clearly visible in the rock; be that as it may, for some years it has been traditional for an olive tree to grow near the Erechtheion.

Alas, visitors today will see the exquisite temple through a screen of scaffolding. Like many of the monuments on the Acropolis , the Erechtheion is feeling the effects of time and urban pollution, and its elegant columns the Caryatid Maidens, have had to be removed and replaced with copies for safekeeping. Like the monumental Propylaea, the Erechtheum had to overcome irregularities of terrain, and its south and east walls stand some 9 feet above its north and west walls.

Although the Porch of the Caryatids is the more famous, the North Porch, with its elegant carved architectural ornament, is perhaps the more deserving of praise. Within the temple was both an ancient wooden idol a "xoanon" and an olive wood statue of Athena Polias Athena of the City. Like the great statue of Athena in the Parthenon, this statue also received a new robe in the Panathenaic festival. Today's visitor to the Acropolis gains but a fragmentary impression of its original splendor. One should keep in mind that the temples were brightly painted, and adorned with great bronze rosettes.

The honey-hue of the Parthenon was hidden in antiquity; each visitor will have to decide whether he is disappointed, or relieved, not to have seen the Parthenon and its neighboring temples bedecked with color. Beyond the Parthenon is the Belvedere of Queen Amalia, Otho's young bride, who loved to stand here and look out over the new capital of the Kingdom of Greece. One can see why: especially at dawn, when the sounds of the city are stilled, the view of the tile roofs of the Plaka is magical. Beyond sprawls Athens, framed by its mountain ranges, which gave so much marble to the monuments of the Acropolis.

The famous Parthenon frieze was a meter ft. It encircled the Cella at the ceiling. It would have been very difficult to see and appreciate from the temple floor, the usual place from where it could be seen. Phideas had the top portion of the frieze cut to that depth and the bottom portion incised somewhat less so as to make the scenes more apparent from the distant floor.

Despite the fact that it would have been difficult to discern details of the artwork from that viewpoint, especially given the dim, shadowy light of the temple, no less care was lavished on these images than on the other groupings. If only the gods could see and appreciate them, then that was sufficient. The frieze tells the story of the Great Panatheniac procession- a major parade, festival and games that took place in Athens every four years.

Each year a smaller event called the Lesser Panathenaea also celebrated the birthday of the goddess. On each occasion, a new peplos robe , woven by selected maidens would be presented to the goddess, who was also the patroness of weaving. The frieze tells the story of the marshalling of the parade, depicted on the western end, the parade participants musicians, horsemen, priests, maidens with offerings, sacrificial animals, etc.

On the eastern side, seated gods and goddesses and standing civic and religious leaders gather to receive the new garment and, naturally, to make speeches. There are two triangular pediments, one on each narrow end of the structure, and these were commonly used on temples as a place within which to display sculptures appropriate to the nature of the building.

The theme of the west pediment is the mythological competition between Athena and Poseidon to determine who should be patron of the city. Each offered a gift, a saltwater spring from Poseidon symbolizing sea power, and an olive tree from Athena. The people deemed the latter to be more practical.

Olives were a favorite food item and the oil was used in lamps, for cooking and in cosmetics as well as being a prime trading staple. In this sculptural grouping, the key figures are Athena and her uncle, Poseidon. They occupy the central, high point of the triangle and various other participants are assembled on each side- Cecrops, half-man, half-serpent founder and first king of Athens, Erechtheus, the second king, various water divinities, Hermes, Iris, etc.

This grouping of sculptures was in the most advantageous location to be seen and appreciated by anyone approaching the temple via the usual route. Appropriately, the theme dealt with the birth of Athena, which took place in the presence of the other gods and goddesses. The story is well-known. Zeus had developed a splitting headache and great pressure in his head, for which he could find no relief. He ordered his son, Hephaistos, to strike him across the head with his axe, to relieve his symptoms.

From that opening sprang a fully-grown Athena, dressed in complete battle regalia. Instead of the wail of a new-born baby observers heard the sound of a battle cry. The sculptural setting commemorates the event in stone. A seated Zeus fittingly occupies center stage with central players Athena and Hephaistos, while other deities take in the miraculous occasion. One, already described, ran around the exterior of the Cella. The second, which encircled the exterior of the building, just underneath the roof overhang, is a typical Doric frieze with alternating triglyphs and metopes.

The triglyph is a projecting block featuring two vertical, parallel glyphs or grooves. On the Parthenon there are 92 metopes 32 on each side and 14 on each end , each roughly 1. Each metope on the Parthenon is decorated, carved in high relief to the point that in some examples it is akin to sculpture in the round. Each side of the building had its own story to tell:. On the West. This end depicts a battle between the Greeks and the Amazons. According to Greek mythology, the Amazons were a bellicose tribe of women descended from Ares, the god of war.

Heracles came into conflict with the tribe in the course of doing his twelve labours. Symbolically this battle, and the others shown, symbolized the defeat of the barbarians the Persians by civilization the Greeks. On the East. This end portrays the mythical battle between the Giants and the gods for the control of Mount Olympus.

On the North. Trojan War. The subject on this side is the Trojan War, a favorite topic for illustrations for temples as well as vase paintings. On the South Centauromachy. Unlike the sculptural groupings on the other three sides that were all badly defaced and disfigured by early Christians, for some unknown reason, the South escaped that fate.

Depicted is the mythical battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs where the drunken Centaurs, who had been invited to the Lapith wedding party, tried to make off with the Lapith women. In her left hand she supports both a spear and her shield. Entwined inside the shield is a serpent representing Erechtheus, an early king of Athens, son of the earth goddess Gaia but who was raised by Athena.

That became one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and the model for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. What happened to the Athena sculpture? Then, no one is sure when, it disappeared. Other Acropolis Structures include the Chalkotheke "a place to store bronze" off the west end of the Parthenon. It's original purpose is unknown but at one time it held armor, weapons, possibly left as votive offerings. The Sanctuary Brauron next to the Chalkotheke once contained a huge representation of the Trojan Horse.

The Temple of Nike on one side of the Propylaea is a small and relatively intact temple honoring the God of Victory. It was built on the Acropolis in the 6th century B. It was destroyed by the Persians and rebuilt between and B. The Theater of Herodes Atticus A. Programs include theater, ballet, opera, chamber music and opera. The Stoa of Eumenes B. At the end of this wall is the Theater of Dionysus circa B. The Erechtheion B.

C on the side of the Acropolis opposite the Acropolis Museum is an odd shaped structure built to honor the legendary Athenian king Erechtheus as well as Poseidon and Athena. It housed a rare cult statue of Athena that been around for centuries before the temple was built. Nearby was a sacred olive tree that is said to have miraculously sprouted new growth overnight after the sacking by Persia. The temple stands on the site of the original Poseidon and Athena temple that existed before the Persian invasion.

It was built around the same time as the Parthenon as were the other buildings on top of the Acropolis. The founders creators of classical Athens, Erechtheus and Kekrops, were buried here and during the Turkish occupation it was the home of the Turkish commander's harem. The Erechtheum is a large and complex temple that consists of two porches: a large one facing the north and a small one facing the Parthenon.

The latter is supported by six female-shaped columns known as the caryatids. It is no wonder the Turkish governor chose this building to house his harem a thousand years later. The Propylaea B. The Propylaea was commissioned by Pericles immediately after the Parthenon was finished in B.

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It took five years to build and was left unfinished, probably because of the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. The Propylaea is a splendid example of architecture blending in with the terrain. It consists of two massive stone edifices with a wide stairway in between. At the top of the stairway is a set of large Doric columns.

The north wing of building houses the Pinakotheke, a large room that was used to display paintings, the first known example of an art gallery. Entering through this gate allows one to best appreciate the Acropolis. First you walk up a short switch-backed trail. Then you walk through a huge opening in the walls. Inside the Propylaea you walk between a corridor of massive columns into a huge vault-like structure which in turn leads to the top of the Acropolis.

Ancient processions used to travel this same route. As one toils up the slopes of the Acropolis, one is aware of the mighty presence of the Propylaia, designed by the famous architect Mnesicles. The Propylaia sits on uneven terrain, on a wedge-shaped bit of the rock, whose anomalies governed the irregularities of the building itself.

The terrain may have defeated the project, which was never completed. In essence, the Propylaia has a central hall flanked by two wings, one of which contained the famous Pinakotheke Picture Gallery , with many pictures by the legendary Polygnotos. As we knew from Pausanias, the pictures were both of legendary figures such as Perseus and of historical personages Alcibiades. Perseus is on his way to Seriphos, bringing Medusa's head In Mycenaean times, there was evidently a small shrine here, and Peisistratos constructed a more substantial altar, destroyed in the Persian conflagration of B.

The Periclean temple stood until it was destroyed by the Turks in ; happily, it was reconstructed and restored first in the 19th, and then again in the 20th centuries. The sculptural frieze of the temple, in a departure from tradition, showed not the contests of the gods, but scenes from the Battle of Plataea B. Some say that it was from this spot that Aegeus kept watch for his son Perseus, when he returned from Crete, after slaying the Minotaur. Others, however, believe that Aegeus kept watch from Cape Sounion, and threw himself into the sea from that cliff.

Be that as it may, if the nefos is not too enveloping, one has a spectacular view across the Bay of Phaleron and the Saronic Gulf toward the mountains of the Peloponnese. The statue itself is made of ivory and gold. On the middle of her helmet is placed a likeness of the Sphinx--the tale of the Sphinx I will give when I come to my description of Boeotia--and on either side of the helmet are griffins in relief. The gold which the griffins guard, he says, comes out of the earth; the Arimaspi are men all born with one eye; griffins are beasts like lions, but with the beak and wings of an eagle.

I will say no more about the griffins. Jones, Litt. Volume 1. The statue of Athena is upright, with a tunic reaching to the feet, and on her breast the head of Medusa is worked in ivory.

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She holds a statue of Victory about four cubits high, and in the other hand a spear; at her feet lies a shield and near the spear is a serpent. This serpent would be Erichthonius. On the pedestal is the birth of Pandora in relief. Hesiod and others have sung how this Pandora was the first woman; before Pandora was born there was as yet no womankind. The only portrait statue I remember seeing here is one of the emperor Hadrian, and at the entrance one of Iphicrates,1 who accomplished many remarkable achievements.

They call it the Locust God, because once when locusts were devastating the land the god said that he would drive them from Attica. That he did drive them away they know, but they do not say how. I myself know that locusts have been destroyed three times in the past on Mount Sipylus, and not in the same way. Once a gale arose and swept them away; on another occasion violent heat came on after rain and destroyed them; the third time sudden cold caught them and they died.

Such were the fates I saw befall the locusts. Parthenon reconstruction. Each is about two cubits, and all were dedicated by Attalus.

There stands too Olympiodorus, who won fame for the greatness of his achievements, especially in the crisis when he displayed a brave confidence among men who had met with continuous reverses, and were therefore in despair of winning a single success in the days to come.

But my narrative must not loiter, as my task is a general description of all Greece. Endoeus1 was an Athenian by birth and a pupil of Daedalus, who also, when Daedalus was in exile because of the death of Calos, followed him to Crete.