The Parthenon, widely recognized as the pinnacle of classical Greek architecture, stands proudly as a symbol of Athens’ power, wealth, and elevated culture. Conceived in the 5th century BC during the city’s golden age, it is situated atop the Acropolis, a testament to the glory of ancient Greece. This Doric temple is an enduring icon of Greek civilization, reflecting the advancements in architectural design and craftsmanship that were seminal during this period. This article delves into the intricate details that make this ancient edifice a marvel of architectural prowess and the fascinating secrets it holds within its structure.
The Parthenon Technical Information
- Architects: Ictino, Calícrates
- Location: Athens, Greece
- Topics: Classic Architecture
- Dimensions: 70 x 30 m | 230 x 102 ft
- Area: 2,170 m2 | 23,370 ft2
- Project Year: 447 BC-432 BC
- Photographs: Various Artists, Image Caption Provided Below
The Parthenon is the basis of all measurement in art… The building is like a huge statue; you sense it with your body, you measure it with your own scale. You belong to it.– Le Corbusier1-2
The Parthenon Photographs
Construction: The Pursuit of Perfection
The construction of the Parthenon was initiated in 447 BC under the democratic leader Pericles and completed in 438 BC. Two of ancient Greece’s most celebrated architects, Ictinos and Callicrates, designed it, while the renowned sculptor Phidias oversaw the artistic embellishments.
In an era without modern tools and machinery, the Parthenon’s construction was a remarkable building. Each stone was carved with extreme precision, some weighing as much as 15 tons. The building was comprised of approximately 13,400 stones, assembled with iron clamps and dowels. The stone blocks were arranged in a way that there was a subtle curvature in the foundation, columns, and entablature to correct optical illusions. This idea, known as optical refinement, ensured that the temple would not appear distorted to the human eye when viewed from a distance or angle.
The Parthenon is primarily Doric in design but ingeniously incorporates Ionic elements. The exterior consisted of eight columns at the ends and seventeen along the sides, creating a grandiose display. The inner sanctum, the ‘cella,’ featured a colossal statue of Athena, the goddess to whom the temple was dedicated.
Architectural Innovations: A Symphony of Proportions
The Parthenon’s architects effectively combined aesthetic considerations with practicality, showcasing a thorough understanding of proportions and balance. The temple adhered to the golden ratio, demonstrating the ancient Greeks’ sophisticated grasp of mathematics in design.
The ratio of the building’s height to width was fixed at 9:4, a proportion that also applied to the inner cella. Moreover, the Parthenon embodies entasis, a Greek architectural refinement where columns are designed with a slight swelling in the middle to counteract the optical illusion of concavity. Such careful attention to the interplay of light and shadow, curvature, and alignment contributed to a visually harmonious structure.
Furthermore, the Parthenon was an early exemplar of the aesthetic principle of symmetry. Not only were the façades symmetrically designed, but the arrangement of the sculptural decorations also adhered to symmetrical principles, enhancing the visual equilibrium of the monument.
The Parthenon: A Timeless Inspiration
The Parthenon’s architectural prowess has made it an enduring source of inspiration for architects worldwide. Its principles of harmony, proportion, and balance have influenced countless architectural styles, from the Roman Pantheon to the U.S. Supreme Court building. It is a testament to the human creative genius and the capacity for beauty to endure through centuries.
Its cultural significance extends beyond its physical existence. The Parthenon is a reminder of the vibrant and powerful civilization that once flourished in Athens, leaving an indelible mark on art, architecture, politics, and philosophy. Its architectural genius and artistic grandeur serve as a visual narrative of ancient Athens’ glory and the human capacity for greatness.
The Architectural Legacy of the Parthenon
The Parthenon serves as a quintessential embodiment of Greek architectural prowess, embodying the principles of symmetry, proportion, and harmony that continue to define architectural aesthetics to this day. Its influence transcends geographical boundaries and has been seen in countless architectural movements throughout history.
In terms of construction techniques, the architects of the Parthenon demonstrated an extraordinary understanding of materials and their capabilities. The building’s longevity, despite natural disasters and human conflicts, is a testament to their mastery.
Moreover, the Parthenon’s aesthetic innovations were groundbreaking. The optical refinements, such as the subtle curvature of the columns and entablature, demonstrated a keen understanding of human perception. These refinements were not merely functional; they were also symbolic, serving to elevate the temple from a mere building to a piece of art, a celebration of the divine.
The Parthenon’s legacy continues to inspire and challenge architects today. Its timeless principles of design serve as an aspirational benchmark for architectural excellence, pushing us to exceed the limitations of our time, just as the architects of the Parthenon did in theirs. Indeed, the Parthenon remains not only a monument of ancient Greece but also a beacon of architectural inspiration for the ages to come.
The Parthenon Plans
The Parthenon Image Gallery
About Ictinos, Callicrates, and Phidias
Ictinos was one of the two main architects responsible for the Parthenon. He was a celebrated architect of his time and also worked on the design of the Telesterion, a large hall in the sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone in Eleusis, used for the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Alongside Ictinos, Callicrates played a significant role in the design and construction of the Parthenon. Not much is known about his life, but his work on the Parthenon, one of the most admired buildings from the classical world, has cemented his place in history.
While not an architect, Phidias was an essential figure in the construction of the Parthenon. A renowned sculptor, painter, and architect, he was commissioned by Pericles, the Athenian leader, to oversee the artistic program of the Parthenon. He is credited with creating the colossal gold and ivory statue of Athena Parthenos that resided in the Parthenon’s main cella (inner chamber). He also worked on the decorative reliefs and friezes that adorned the building.
- Le Corbusier’s reflection emphasizes the influence of the Parthenon’s architectural perfection on the art and design world and highlights the personal, almost physical connection that one experiences in its presence.
- Le Corbusier: Complete Works (Oeuvre Complete) by Willy Boesiger, Oscar Stonorov, Max Bill