The Parthenon

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The Parthenon: A Symbol of Greek Art and Architecture

The goddess of Athens was honored in the Greek temple known as the Parthenon. Between 447 and 432 BC, the old temple was built by the Greeks Phidias, Ictenus, and Callicrates. The Parthenon was constructed in 384 BC, but it wasn’t fully decorated until 432 BC (see “Parthenon | History & Facts”). The architectural wonder can be found atop the Acropolis in Athens.

Exquisite Sculptures and Ionic Elements

One of the most important Classical Greek buildings still standing is the Parthenon. The Parthenon | History & Facts website notes that it also contains exquisite sculptures that are considered to be among the best examples of Greek art. The ionic elements of architecture and sculpture employed in the construction of Parthenon create an amazing effect. The building is a peripteral octastyle Doric temple that stands on a platform of three bases. Just like many other Greek temples, The Parthenon it created of post and lintel and is encircled by columns that carry an entablature (Delvesco, Andrea et al.).

Characteristics of the Parthenon

The building has seventeen columns on the sides and eight on each of the two ends arranged in double rows. Both ends of the building’s gable are finished with a triangular pediment. The columns are of the Doric order and have no bases, fluted shafts and simple capitals. The colonnade surrounds the inner masonry structure (cella), and the cella is made up of two compartments. A frieze of metopes (curved pictorial panels) stands on the architrave of the entablature. Architectural triglyphs separate the metopes. Also, a sculptured frieze runs around the cella and across the lintels of the interior columns. This characteristic of architecture is considered Ionic, but the separation of metopes by formal architectural triglyphs is of the Doric order (Delvesco, Andrea et al.). The Parthenon had twenty-three interior columns and forty-six outer columns, with each column having twenty flutes. The roof of the Parthenon was covered with the telugae and imbrices, which are large overlapping marble tiles (Neils, Jenifer).

The Outer Colonnade and Sculptured Metopes

The outer colonnade of the temple was decorated with sculptured metopes that represented centaurs and Greeks on the south, Amazons, and Greeks on the west, and a battle between the giants and the gods on the east. The low relief frieze surrounding the cella wall represented the yearly procession of citizens honoring Athena. Phidias created Athena’s sculpture, and all the stone works were highly colored (“Parthenon | History & Facts”).

Factors that Influenced the Construction of Parthenon

The creation of the Parthenon appears to have been influenced by the Greeks’ desire to identify with the gods and more so with the supposed most powerful god. At the time of Parthenon’s construction, Athena was the most powerful god, and they had to please her by building a highly decorated building that matches her position in the universe. Moreover, the Greek culture of the 5th century BC was deeply rooted in art and philosophy (Delvesco, Andrea et al.). Thus, the desire to identify with the surrounding was replicated in what they loved to do, including the arts. That is why their sculptures, architecture, and drama expressed the ideas that were in their minds at that time. In other words, the Parthenon was a representation of the Greeks’ ideas on rationalism, idealism, and humanism.

Construction and Cost

Also, construction of the Parthenon is believed to have been the result of a building campaign that started around 450BC. The Athenians, as part of the Greek city-states, had achieved heroic victories over the Persian attackers. The alliance later became an empire ruled by the Athenians, and hundreds of cities across the Aegean started paying huge sums of protection money to Athenians (Hadingham, Evan). Athenians thus had more than enough money to build a temple for their god in the most lavish style. There are surviving fragments of financial accounts attributed to the cost of constructing the Parthenon. The stone inscriptions have led to a cost estimation of about 340-800 silver talents (Hadingham, Evan).

Parthenon as an Expression of Idealism and Humanism

The Parthenon portrays humanism through the manifestation of human ideas in the art known as idealism. The belief held by the Greeks in their gods and goddesses exemplifies idealism in that they wanted to achieve that perfection both psychologically and physically by creating the Parthenon (Hadingham, Evan). The decorations on the Parthenon also depict the Athenians’ reference to their god Athena. Her sculpture plus other artworks surrounding her image are all about her powers. For instance, the decorations on the East pediment illustrate the birth of the goddess. All the figures, including the goddesses and the gods, were created in human form, a factor that tended to make it easy for the people to identify with the gods and goddesses and have a better understanding of worshipping them. The building was also built to suit the goddesses and the gods perfectly. The large-scale steps of the Parthenon may have been designed for the gods to make strides on because they did not match the standard steps for human strides (Neils, Jenifer). Also, the size of its entrance may have been perfectly made to allow for the gods and the goddesses to enter and exit the temple.

Parthenon as a Symbol of Patriotism, Power, and Prestige

But, in as much as the temple was dedicated to the goddess, the Parthenon primarily represented humanism as opposed to religion. The Parthenon expressed patriotism, power, and prestige. Many scholars have interpreted the frieze as depicting a procession of the Athenian annual festival (Delvesco, Andrea et al.). The incorporation of public celebration scenes on the Parthenon brings out the idea of flourishing democracy in Athens, especially on the will of the citizens who voted to fund the construction of the temple (Hadingham, Evan).

Architectural Designs and Visionary Effects

Another aspect of idealism in the Parthenon is exhibited through the architectural designs, which are believed to have been intentionally crafted to create some visionary effects. The effects may be linked to the powers of the goddess Athena, as well as to show perfection in their artwork. It is notable that the temple has no straight line, a fact that has led experts into arguing whether the lack of straight lines was meant to counter optical illusions. According to Carr, Karen, the architects of the Parthenon knew that if they built straight columns, the optical illusion would make them appear thinner in the middle. Therefore, the designers made the columns thicker in the middle to correct the optical illusion and make them appear straight. The floors of the Parthenon were built to bulge towards the middle as a means of correcting optical illusion because if the floors could have been made flat in the middle, they would appear to be sagging (Hadingham, Evan).

Meanings and Symbolism of the Parthenon

One can derive several meanings from Parthenon based on the factors that influenced its construction as discussed in the previous section of this paper. One interpretation of the Parthenon is that it was a symbol of heroism and success. Before the creation of Parthenon, there existed a temple in the same location only referred to as the old Parthenon, which was destroyed during the Persian Invasion in 480 BC (Neils, Jenifer). The Athenians had experienced wars against invaders and won most of those battles, which led to their rule in the Aegean region and also uplifted their financial power. It is out of the protection money paid to Athenians by other cities that Parthenon was built. That classifies Parthenon as a symbol of both political and economic power. However, Athenians did not attribute 5th-century success to their human power but acknowledged the help of gods and goddesses. That is why the temple was dedicated to Athena and other gods. In that regard, the aspect of culture and beliefs of the Greeks is communicated through the Parthenon, and its existence today serves as an archive of the Greeks’ political and cultural history. The Parthenon represents the story of the Athenians, their identity, values, and memory. It is also notable that the Parthenon has served as both a church and a mosque, a fact that signifies its high position in the eyes of humans that equate to supreme beings. In that case, the Parthenon can be defined as a symbol of supernatural powers and control over humankind.

Artistic Skills and Creativity of the Ancient Greeks

Apart from the culturally embedded meanings of the Parthenon, the building serves to showcase the artistic skills of the ancient Greeks and their passion for perfection, which is exhibited in their attempts to correct optical illusions. The building represents the richness of art and creativity of the ancient Greeks.

Works Cited

Delvesco, Andrea et al. “Greek Art / Parthenon –Architecture.” Sasgreekart.Pbworks.Com, 2009,

Hadingham, Evan. “Unlocking Mysteries of the Parthenon.” Smithsonian, 2008,

Neils, Jenifer. The Parthenon. New York, N.Y., Cambridge University Press, 2010.

“Parthenon | History & Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017,

March 17, 2023

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