As early as at prehistoric times, people had already settled on a natural rocky hill, later called "the Acropolis" (the edge of the city), turning it into a strong fortress that protected the palace of the ruler and the inhabitants in times of danger.
During the Geometric period (8th century B.C.) the Acropolis ceased to be a fortress and became the Sanctuary of Athena and the religious centre of the city. In the Archaic times (6th century B.C.) the first great temples were built. Many votives, especially statues, were dedicated in the Sanctuary. In the middle of the 5th century B.C. a great building programme was initiated, inspired mainly by the famous politician Pericles. The surface of the Sanctuary was expanded from 25,000 square metres to 34,000 square metres.
(On the second part of this blog, we will find out about the history of the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the temple of Athena Nike with more photos and links for you.)
The Parthenon was built between 447 B.C. and 438 B.C. by the architects Iktinos and Kallikrates. The famous sculptor Pheidias, a personal friend of Pericles, had general responsibilities for supervising the entire project.
It is a Doric temple with many Ionic features. It was made of white Pentelic marble, being some 70 metres long, 31 metres wide and 15 metres high. It is surrounded by a peristyle, having 8 columns across each narrow end and 17 columns along each of its long sides. The cella, the central closed part of the temple, was divided into two compartments which did not communicate with each other. The great, 13 metres high, gold and ivory statue of the goddess Athena, famous work by Pheidias, was housed in the east compartment. A Doric, two-tiered colonnade enframed the statue. In the west compartment, there were 4 Ionic columns. The cella had in addition a second row of a 6 Doric columns, east and west. The monument had in total 108 columns outside and inside.
The richness of the sculptural decoration of the Parthenon was unique. There are three basic sculptural groups: the pediments, the metopes and the frieze.
THE HISTORY OF THE TEMPLE
From the building of the Parthenon some 25 centuries have passed. The temple has endured many vicissitudes. The first great catastrophe occured at the end of the 4th century A.D. and was caused by conflagration. Then, many of the sculptures were cut off the temple. During the 6th century A.D. the Parthenon was converted to a church. In Medieval times, it was known as the Panaghia the Atheniotissa (the Virgin of Athens).
After 1205, it fell into the hands of the Franks of the 4th Crusade and became a church of the Latin faith. In 1458, the Ottoman Turks seized Athens and converted the great temple to a Mohammedan precinct. During the campaign of Francesco Morosin against the Turks in Athens in 1687, a large section of the temple was destroyed by an explosion.
From that time on, the temple suffered systematic looting, especially at the hands of Lord Elgin who, making use of the conditions of the time, soon after 1800, violently removed and carried off all the sculptures he could. They are today in the British Museum.
The Parthenon continues today to dominate the modern megalopolis. The Greek state is carrying out an original programme of conservation and restoration in order to make the temple more accessible to everyone.
For my American friends who cannot visit the original Parthenon, I would suggest taking a trip to Nashville, Tennessee. The Parthenon there is a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens. It was built in 1897 as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Today the Parthenon, which functions as an art museum, stands as the centerpiece of Centennial Park, a large public park just west of downtown Nashville.
There is also a reproduction of the statue of goddess Athena there.