Parthenon (Greece, 447 BC)

The Parthenon is one of the most important buildings in Greece and in the World. It is generally considered to be the culmination of the development of the Doric order.


Exterior View of the Parthenon ca. 447-438 B.C. Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Parthenon – Athens, Greece, 447 BC

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When was it built and why it is so important? 

The Parthenon is a former temple, on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, dedicated to the Goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron.

Construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the peak of its power. Its was completed in 438 BC although decoration of the building continued until 432 BC. It is the most importan surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered the zenith of the Doric order. Its decorative sculptures are considered some of the high points of Greek art. The Parthenon is regarded as an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece, Athenian democrazy and western civilization, and one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments.

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Although the rectangular white marble Parthenon has suffered damage over the centuries, including the loss of most of its sculpture, its basic structure has remained intact.

A colonnade of fluted, baseless columns with square capitals stands on a three-stepped base and supports an entablature.

  • Entablature (or roof structure) consisting of a plain architrave, or band of stone;
  • a frieze of alternating triglyphs (vertically grooved blocks) and metopes (plain blocks with relief sculpture, now partly removed);
  • and, at the east and west ends, a low triangular pediment, also with relief sculpture (now mostly removed).
Architrave, Parthenon

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The colonnade, consisting of 8 columns on the east and west and 17 on the north and south, encloses a walled interior rectangular chamber, called cella, originally divided into three aisles by two smaller Doric colonnades closed at the west end just behind the great cult statue.

Behind the cella, but not originally connected with it, is a smaller, square chamber entered from the west. The east and west ends of the interior of the building are each faced by a portico of six columns. Measured by the top step of the base, the building is 101.34 feet (30.89 metres) wide and 228.14 feet (69.54 metres) long.

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The Parthenon is a Doric temple with Ionic structural characteristics. The richness of the Parthenon is unique decorations for a classic greek temple.


The frieze of the Parthenon’s entablature contained ninety-two metopes Doric (made by Phidias and his pupils), carved as reliefs. The metopes, agreeing with the logs of the buildings, are dated as the years 446-440 BC.

  • The metopes of the east side of the Parthenon, above the main entrance, depict the Gigantomachy (mythical battles between the Olympian gods and the Giants).
  • The metopes of the west side show Amazonomachy (mythical battle of the Athenians against the Amazons).
  • The metopes of the south side – with the exception of 13-20 metopes now lost – show the Thessalian Centauromachy.
  • On the north side of the Parthenon, the metopes are poorly preserved, but the subject seems to be the sack of Troy.

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Detail of the West metopes, illustrating the current condition of the temple in detail after 2,500 years of war, pollution, erratic conservation, pillage and vandalism.

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The most characteristic feature in the decoration of the Parthenon is surely the long Ionic frieze on the outside walls of the cell. It is an innovative feature, since the rest of the temple is built in Doric style.

The continuous marble frieze was 160 meters long of which 130 have survived, about 80%, now located in various European museums.

In a first simple reading, the frieze is the solemn procession that was held every four years during the Panathenaic festivals.

Are possible different interpretations about the meaning of the representation, or its possible attribution to a specific historical event.

The fact that it is the representation of a Community event, which was tied to the worship of Athena and then of the home and the goddess represented: individuals of all stratum of society could identify with the characters of the frieze and recognize the various moments of the ceremony.

The entire frieze was designed to be read from the corner south-west: the viewer from this angle could choose to head north, or head directly to the east. From the corner southwest of the frieze take off thus two processions that run around the cell to merge then on the east side (the entrance to the temple), the center of which is represented the gesture of delivery of Peplum to the goddess Athena. The gesture of delivery attends the hosts of gods and heroes.

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Cavalry from the Parthenon Frieze, West II, 2–3, British Museum.

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The traveller Pausanias, when he visited the Acropolis and saw the Parthenon, he only described the gables.

  • The East pediment narrates the birth of Athena from the head of her father, Zeus.
  • The West pediment narrates the dispute between Athena (the olive branch) and Poseidon (which gives the water) during their competition for the honour of becoming the city’s patron, and consists of statues in the round recessed in the eardrum.

The work on the pediments lasted from 438 to 432 BC, and the sculptures of the Parthenon pediments are some of the finest examples of classical Greek art.

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Group from the east pediment, now in the British Museum, London.


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