Art and Architecture

(of the Parthenon)

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Pericles, Athens leader at the time, commissioned building the Parthenon. Under the supervision of Pheidias, and the architect Iktinos, the Parthenon was begun in 447 BC and was finished around 438 BC (Andronicos,7-8; Haynes, 2; Robertson, 9; Rodenwaldt,29).

General Features

The Parthenon had a rectangular shape with the dimensions of 70 meters by 30 meters, facing east, as any traditional Greek temple (Haynes, 3). The whole temple was made out of marble (Hopper, 121). The Parthenon was a Doric temple, and it happened to be the first Doric peripteral temple in the Greek world (Andronicos, 7; Hopper, 121). Unlike any other Greek temple, the Parthenon had 8 columns in the front and the back, and 17 columns on each side (Hopper, 121; Robertson, 6). All other Greek temples were 6 x 13.

Looking at the ground plan of the Parthenon (Biers, 201), the following sums up the general architectural features of the Parthenon:

Even though the Parthenon was a Doric temple, it incorporated an ionic feature, namely the frieze, which occurred around the outside of the cella of the temple (Hopper, 121; Robertson, 6; Rodenwaldt, 33). Both Ionic and Doric elements were created in harmony.


The pediments of the Parthenon summarized the vital moments of Athena's legend. The east pediment showed Athena's birth from Zeus (Haynes, 7; Robertson, 8; Rodenwaldt, 34). The west pediment showed Athena's contest with Poseidon over Attica (including Athens) (Haynes, 7; Robertson, 8; Rodenwaldt, 34). Poseidon struck the ground with his tripode and water came out, while Athena made an olive tree (Andronicos, 9). Obviously, we know who won the contest. Unfortunately, not much of the pediments have survived. The images below are courtesy of Dr. Solomon.

Notice how detailed and how elaborate the figures were. They seem almost real, and the drapery seem like it was and still is wet.


Pheidias used 92 metopes (Andronicos, 7) to characterize the struggle and triumph of the civilization (the Greeks) over the barbarians (Haynes, 7; Hopper, 125). The metopes in the east, narrated the Gigantomachy, or the battles between the Gods and the Giants; in the west, the metopes narrated the Amazonomachy, or the battles between the Greeks and the Amazons; in the South, the Centauromachy, the battles between the Lapiths (the good guys) and the Centaurs (half-human, half-horse, the bad guys); in the North, the sack of Troy and the Trojan Wars were represented (Andronicos, 7; Robertson, 8; Rodenwaldt, 34-5).

It is interesting to observe two different styles represented in different metopes (Rodenwaldt, 36). The first type, which was probably the older of two, represented more or less vertically alligned figures. The second, and newer style, however, filled the whole space. Looking at the first image (the older style), we can see that both the centaur and the Lapith were vertically alligned. In the second image, however, the spread of drapery as well as the position at which the figures were sculpted implied motion and flexibility, which made it life-like. Both images below are courtesy of Dr. Solomon.

Over the years, metops suffered greatly due to the historical conditions discussed in the History section. Out of the 92 metopes, only 28 survive (Hopper, 150).

Pheidias felt that the metopes did not provide enough space to record and characterize the greatness of Athens. He wanted to unify all aspects of Athens: Athena, the gods, men, women, children, and maidens, all in one composition depicting a very important ceremony, namely the Panathenaic festival (Andronicos, 7-8). The Panathenaic festival symbolized an event when all of Athens came together. Thus, Pheidias decided to add a frieze, an Ionic feature, to the Parthenon, which would unify all aspects of Athens in the Panathenaic festival. This was rather ingenous and creative of him.


Pheidias designed a frieze that would surround the pronaos, and the opisthodomos, which included a length of 160 meters, and a height of about 1 meter, and he utilized this space to paint us a scene very crucial to the Greek culture at the time (Andronicos, 8; Robertson, 10). Out of the 160 meters, there are 75 meters in the British Museum, 19 meters are in situ (still in position), 35 meters are in other museus, which leaves about 31 meters which have been lost (Haynes, 8), 17 meters of those 31 meters, however, are known to us from drawings (Hopper, 154).

Briefly, the Panathenaic festival was the celebration of Athena's birth during the 28th of the Hekatombaion, July-August (Robertson, 8). Every fourth year, the celebration involved a procession of citizens to the Acropolis. Athenian maidens and matrons were chosen to make a robe (Haynes, 6) which had the Giganamachy woven on it, and it was to be carried and wrapped around Athena's olive-wood image (Robertson, 8). Pheidias job was to represent this event on the frieze. Successfully, Pheidias was able to design a narrative and continuous frieze that depicted the Panathenaic festival.

This image (also courtesy of Dr. Solomon) shows the robe which would be used to wrap Athena's statue.

Starting from the south-western corner of the frieze, the procession moved in two direction, to the north and then east, and then south, and the other moved east and then north, both converged at the center of the eastern side of the frieze (at the front of the temple, and this was where the gods were placed, where the culmination of the festival took place; the handing of the robe from a member of the procession to the gods. (Andronicos, 8; Haynes, 8). Only the eastern side of the frieze represented the gods, all the other sides represented mortals (Rodenwadt, 35). Never before of any of the Greek temples where ordinary mortals were represented, not to mention they were represented alongside the gods (Haynes, 7). The image below is courtesy of Dr. Solomon. It shows part of the horsemen procession.

The fact that Pericles and Pheidias decided to represent mortals on the frieze is worth noting. This was making a profound statement, reflecting the way Athenians were thinking at that time, particularly Pericles, their leader. Pericles had a sense of pride about what Athens had accomplished and he wanted to use the frieze as a celebration of the achievements of the citizens of Athens. The frieze served as another Ode to Man (Sophocles, Antigone lines 332-74).

The frieze was some 12 meters above the ground, which made it almost impossible to see (Robertson, 10). In addition, as discussed previously, this frieze was actually located in the inside of the temple, which eliminated the possibility of being seen from far away. We can almost conclude that the frieze was not placed with the viewer in mind.

This image shows how difficult it was to look at the frieze from ground level and how difficult it would be to look at details with the front columns in the way. The image is courtesy of Dr. Solomon. Nonetheless, we can see that great effort was spent on the frieze, and fine details were not ignored, but the sculptors spent a great deal of effort to produce perfect and idealized figures. This shows the dedication that the workers had. In addition, it is also important to remember that the Parthenon was build as a holy house for Athena. Thus, it was not for humans to enjoy per se, but it was built in honor of Athena. The sculptors took this very seriously, and perfected their figures to make it an offering and an honor to Athena.


It is almost impossible to talk about the Parthenon without mentioning Pheidias' colossal gold and ivory (chryselephantine) statue of Athena. This statue was 12 meters high (Robertson, 6). Athena's statue was portrayed advancing, holding a shield in her left arm and a lance in her right hand (Rodenwaldt, 31). The inside of the shield had the Gigantomachy carved on it, while the Amazonomachy on the outside (Robertson, 8). Around the rims of the statue's sandals, the Centauromachy was carved (Robertson, 8). The image below is courtesy of Dr. Solomon. Take note of the size of the two people at the bottom right of the image, and compare them to the size of Athena.

Other sculptures from the pediments, survive in museums in Athens, Paris, and London, while many other sculptures were destroyed (Hopper, 150). The western pediment, for instance, was destroyed in the 1687 explosion, while the eastern pediment shared a similar disaster when the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church (Hopper, 150). The church destroyed some of the sculptures because they were scared that those sculptures would become a symbol for paganism.

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