The Parthenon is one of the most iconic ancient structures in the world. It was built in Athens, Greece, between 447 and 432 BCE as a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena.
The Parthenon was designed by architects Iktinos and Kallikrates and decorated with sculptures by Phidias. However, over the centuries, the Parthenon has undergone significant changes that have altered its appearance and purpose.
Construction of the Parthenon
The construction of the Parthenon began in 447 BCE under the leadership of Pericles, one of Athens’ most prominent statesmen. The temple was built to replace an earlier temple that had been destroyed by the Persians in 480 BCE. The Parthenon was constructed using marble from Mount Pentelicus and stood on a base measuring 69.5 by 30.9 meters (228 by 101 feet).
The Original Appearance of the Parthenon
The original design of the Parthenon featured eight columns on each end and seventeen columns on each side. The columns were Doric in style, which means they were plain and lacked decorative capitals like those found on Ionic or Corinthian columns.
The exterior of the temple was adorned with sculptures depicting scenes from Greek mythology, including battles between gods and giants, as well as depictions of major events in Athenian history.
Inside, visitors would have seen a statue of Athena made out of ivory and gold that stood nearly 40 feet tall.
The Changes to the Parthenon Over Time
Over time, the Parthenon underwent several changes that altered its appearance significantly.
1) Conversion into a Christian Church: In 426 CE, Athens became part of the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as Byzantium). During this time, many pagan temples were converted into Christian churches. The Parthenon was no exception and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
2) Damage from Wars: The Parthenon suffered significant damage during various wars. In 1687, during the Venetian siege of Athens, the Parthenon was hit by a cannonball and exploded. The explosion destroyed much of the temple’s roof and caused significant damage to the sculptures and other decorations.
3) Conversion into a Mosque: In 1458, Athens fell to the Ottoman Empire, and the Parthenon was converted into a mosque. The Ottomans added a minaret to the temple’s southwest corner and covered many of the sculptures with plaster.
4) Restoration Efforts: In the early 19th century, a group of British architects known as “the Elgin Marbles” began removing many of the surviving sculptures from the Parthenon and taking them back to England. This caused significant controversy in Greece and around the world.
Since then, several restoration efforts have been undertaken to preserve what remains of the original structure. Today, visitors can see several remaining columns and sculptures on display at the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
The Parthenon is an important symbol of ancient Greek culture and has undergone significant changes over time due to its conversion into a Christian church, damage from wars, conversion into a mosque, and restoration efforts. Despite these changes, it continues to be an important cultural icon today.