Parthenon (12)

Do the test. At random, ask anyone to name a single building anywhere in Greece, the first one that comes to mind. Without a doubt, the answer is swift and decisive: "the Parthenon". And the fact is that it is the best example of Greek architecture. The Parthenon has been taken as an icon of an entire civilization, and it is impossible not to associate it with the golden age of Greek history.

The Parthenon was built as part of the great project of Pericles, who was its driving force, in terms of design and implementation. This building was built approximately between 447 and 438 BC on the foundations of an earlier building which was dedicated, as in this case, to the goddess Athena Parthenos. Like most buildings in this complex and the rest of the city, the Persian invasion of 480 BC destroyed it completely. Therefore, with the arrival of Pericles, he had an entire city to rebuild and lead back to its former glory, not just the Parthenon on the high rock of the Acropolis.

The Parthenon was designed by Ictinus, with the backing of Calicrates, and sculpted by Phidias; all three, great names in classical times.

A splendid place of worship dedicated to the goddess Athena, the patron and protector of the city. The large marble Doric building measures about 70 metres long, with 16 fluted columns on each side, and 30 wide, with eight columns at the front and the back. It was built on a foundation of three monumental steps.

Inside the Parthenon on the Acropolis there were two cells, or rooms in the east and west. The latter, decorated with four Ionic columns, was reserved to hold the treasures, and only the priestesses had access to it.

The eastern cell was separated from the former by marble walls, and had a Doric columned portico which surrounded it. Inside, a treasure that has failed to reach the present: the immense statue of Athena, 12 metres in height, was erected in marble and gold. It is a misfortune that it has not survived, but at the Archaeological Museum a copy is on display.

One of the wonders of the Parthenon is undoubtedly its architectural tricks, which play and take advantage of the visual effects to simulate symmetry. The Parthenon was meant to fulfill the dream of perfection and even to deceive the gods themselves with its shapes.

All the Parthenon was built with a proportion of 9: 4 to make it completely symmetrical. The goal, to achieve a temple of perfect proportions and for this purpose the sculptors did not hesitate to use optical effects to counter the laws of perspective. For example, at the base of the temple, the central portion is slightly higher, and the corners are slightly convergent. Other tricks included tilting the columns inward, or the curvature in the centre of the entasis, so that the columns appear perfectly straight.

A separate matter in this great building is the sculptural decoration. Phidias is believed to be the author of the magnificent masterpieces that adorned the building. Obviously, many have been lost over the years to stone decay, conquest, etc. Many others are in the British Museum mainly. Some, however, can be seen in the Acropolis Museum in Athens. The sculptures that you can see at the Parthenon are in the majority, replicas of the originals.

Ninety-two metopes or scenes that made up the exterior frieze that decorated the Parthenon. All of them represented symbolically the idea of the Greek victory over the eastern barbarians through different motifs and episodes. Thus, in the east, one could admire the scenes of gigantomachy (gods against giants) in the west, the amazonomachy (Athenians against Amazons) and in the north and south, respectively, the conquest of Troy and the Centauromachy (Lapiths against centaurs). The tympana depicted such mythological scenes as the birth of Athena, or the dispute of the goddess with Poseidon for the patronage of the city. Friezes, covering the perimeter of the building, represented the Panathenaic procession, and on them appeared human and mythological characters and beasts.

What will seem more surprising is that the Parthenon, in antiquity, was polychrome. However, you can only enjoy this image through your imagination or, more practically, through re-enactments shown in the information panels with retouched photographs. Blue, red and gold reliefs and sculptures decorated the temple giving it a spectacular appearance.

This marvel of construction remained virtually intact until 1682, when the Venetian siege was intensified and General Morosini bombarded the building, causing very serious damage, such as the collapse of the roof, the interior and 14 columns. It was used as a church, a mosque and finally as an arsenal, before being turned into a pilgrimage centre of world tourism, which comes here in search of the grandeur of the ruins of one of the most important buildings in Western civilization.

During the 19th century, more than half of the frieze, 15 of the 92 metopes and part of the tympanum and other pieces were acquired by Lord Elgin and are known, along with elements of the Erechtheion, the Propylaea and the Temple of Athena Nike as the "Elgin marbles". For 10 years they were pulling parts from the Parthenon, which were sent to the UK, slowly increasing the Greek wound. The controversy over the return to Athens of these pieces which are in foreign museums, thousands of kilometres away, is still alive after more than two hundred years.

Even with a flood of tourists walking the paths created around the temple, the majestic Parthenon emanates something very special that you should not miss the opportunity to feel. Enjoy letting time pass in front of the ruins of this symbol of Greek history and civilization.

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