8 Fascinating Facts About The Parthenon, The ‘Cultural Icon’ From Ancient Greece

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Dedicated to goddess Athena Parthenos – the Greek goddess of wisdom, courage and warfare; the imposing Parthenon in every sense is the symbolic manifestation of the apical power of Athens. A huge constructional undertaking by any standard, the grandiose temple was roughly completed in 438 BC. And after more than 2,450 years, the imposing monument has proudly stood the test of time – as the enduring bastion of a bygone era of Classical architecture, Ancient Greece and even historical democracy.

And, as can be comprehended from this expansive epoch, the great Parthenon’s ‘destiny’ has had its fair share of turns, twists and mysteries. So, without further ado, let us present to your some of the fascinating facts (and probable facts) regarding the Doric-styled architectural specimen from the ancient world.

Vital Statistics –

Rectangular plan – 69.5 by 30.9 m (228 by 101 ft).

Elevation height – 13.72 m (45 ft).

Historical Facts –

1) Parthenon was not only a religious building 

Parthenon was actually constructed upon an older shine which in all probability was also dedicated to Athena. However in an interesting note, the Parthenon itself cannot to be considered as a true temple dedicated to strictly religious functions.

In fact, many historians consider the monument’s purpose resembling the unique function of ‘a temple and an art gallery’ that magnificently showcased the ensemble of various sculptures from the period. The chief among them must have been a colossal of statue of Athena herself, crafted by Phidias, and entirely made from chryselephantine (a sculptural medium of actual gold and ivory).

2) Parthenon was (mostly) not financed by the Athenians 

The construction of Parthenon in many ways reflected the upbeat mood of the Athenians in the 5th century BC. The so-called Athenian Empire reached its zenith during this time period, years after defeating the Persians at Marathon.

The lavish project was an structural outcome of such collective levels of self-confidence and economic boom. Oddly enough, the money that financed the opulent endeavor mainly came from tributes exacted from the allied city-states under Athens’ protection (rather than from the Athens residents themselves).

3) Parthenon had a ‘gold reserve’!

While the main building was symbolic of the city-state’s glory, the minds of many leaders of Athens during the time were still governed by the practicality of the grand project. Thucydides, a contemporary historian once wrote that Pericles (one of the greatest Greek statesmen – who commissioned many building projects on the Acropolis, including the Parthenon) considered the imposing Athena statue as ‘gold reserve’.

According to many sources, this statue was made from melted pure gold derived from coins, and contained a whopping 40 talents (1,040 kg) of the precious metal. So, in Pericles’ stoic judgement, the statue could be melted back to make coins, if the city ever needed them!

4) Parthenon was a church, and a mosque

The Parthenon was converted to a church during the last decade of the 6th century AD, and even became an important Christian pilgrimage center in the Eastern Roman Empire. Unfortunately, many pagan sculptures were removed during the period, while the architecture was also refurbished with changed orientation and entrance, along with addition of conventional church elements.

The monumental ‘temple’ was also converted to a mosque by the Ottomans, towards the end of the 15th century. Moreover, after almost 200 years later (in 1687), the Parthenon was used as a gunpowder store by the Turkish army, and the besieging Venetian forces blew up the site – which caused significant damage to the building and even started a fire that destroyed many nearby habitats.

Architectural Facts –

1) Parthenon had multi-colored facades 

While modern media depicts Greek temples and structures as having gleaming white facades, it is actually the opposite that was true. To that end, the Parthenon was probably quite colorful (if not colorfully loud) in its ancient state.

Of course, the visual vibrancy had lost its shine due the rigors of the longs years that have passed. Furthermore, scientists and historians also believe that the rising smogs levels from present day cosmopolitan Athens are also harmfully affecting the marble.

2) Parthenon had a wooden roof

Since we had brought up marble, the imposing columns and expansive pediments and entablature above them were indeed constructed from solid marble. However, the (now non-existent) roof of the Parthenon was entirely constructed from a timber arrangement.

This was the only feasible way, as a marble roof structure would have put immense pressure on the supporting members of 46 columns, which could have caused the building to collapse.

3) Parthenon’s design is earthquake-resistant!

While the Parthenon is often considered as the greatest example of surviving Doric-style architecture, the simplicity of the building’s form and plan is deceptive to say the least, courtesy of architect-extraordinaire Iktinos.

For example, the columns of the temple subtly lean inwards to the structure that makes the perspective easier for a human when he views them on an upward angle. In spite of this calculated arrangement, the Parthenon boasts of a very fine parabolic upward curvature that allows the monument to decisively shed rainwater while also reinforcing it against earthquakes!

4) Parthenon has depictions of the heroes of Battle of Marathon

It has been suggested by a few contemporary historians (including art-historian Sir John Boardman) that the frieze (above the Doric columns) of the imposing structure of Parthenon depicts the 192 Greek warriors who fell in the Battle of Marathon, against the Persians in 490 BC.

There is a inspiring symbolic side to this whole affair, with the building showcasing these fallen heroes being presented in a ceremonious manner to the Olympian gods.

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