Jan
17
2009

What is the Parthenon?

Parthenon - courtesy zoonabar - CC-BY

Parthenon - courtesy zoonabar - CC-BY

Athens had reached the height of empire.  While the Delian League continued to exist (a defense league against the Persians) it no longer had real reason.  It was now evident that Athens was no longer just a member but was actually master over the other Greek states.

Because the Parthenon was built with League money, the building was as an expression of the confidence of the Athenians in their now open imperialism.

The temple was the ultimate development of the Doric Order.

Pericles began an ambitious building project which lasted half a century. The most important buildings visible on the Acropolis today were erected during this time.

The Parthenon was built between 447-432 BC as the focus of this new Acropolis complex. It was dedicated to the goddess Athena Pallas.

The cella was larger than normal to accommodate the oversized statue of Athena, and a colonnade of 23 small Doric columns surrounded the statue in a two storied arrangement.

All temples in Greece were seen only from the outside. The viewers never entered a temple and could only glimpse the interior statues through the open doors.

When one faced the front of the temple, they could see in through the immense open doors.  They would be awed by the shimmering gold and ivory hues of the monumental statue of Athena standing at the back of the dim cella. It was reflected on the olive oil covered surface of the water pool floor.  The two stories of smaller columns surrounding the statue made it look even larger.

It is almost certain that the architects and planners of the Parthenon designed it so a visitor would have an emotional and awe inspiring event.  It was designed as ‘theater.’  The building in its glory was not the white marble temple most today picture it as being.  It was covered in magnificent color from roof to foundation.  Every figure was painted in natural color and the overall temple may have been painted red.  Traces of some of this, now oxidized, red pigment can still be found on column drums.

There is controversy over just how much of the temple was painted.  But I see no reason the Parthenon should have been any different than any other building of its time. So, I venture to state that it was painted from top to bottom.  The Parthenon was once a riot of color.

For more information about ancient Greece

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