Greek pride

The Parthenon is the most important and characteristic monument of the ancient Greek civilisation and still remains its international symbol. Shirish Joshi on this architectural masterpiece.

The Parthenon is associated with the worship of Athena Parthenos
The Parthenon is associated with the worship of Athena Parthenos

OLYMPICS 2004 are being held in Athens, the capital of Greece. Thousands of people from all countries in the world, including India, will visit Athens to watch the games. A visit to Greece will not be complete without going to the Parthenon on Acropolis.

Acropolis is the citadel of ancient Athens. Rising high above the city, the fortified outcrop contains the national treasury and many sacred sites and shrines, most of them such as the Parthenon associated with the worship of Athena Parthenos — the Virgin — the patron goddess of Athens and goddess of wisdom and the arts.

However, the term Acropolis in its general sense is not restricted to Athens, but applies to any such citadel in ancient Greece. The Parthenon, built on the highest part of the Acropolis, is the most important creation of ancient Greek architecture and a symbol of the perfection that marked the classical spirit of the age of Pericles who lived in the 5th century B.C., the golden age of Greek history. Even in ruins, it is witness to the glory that was Greece.

It was built during the period 447-438 B.C. by the architects Ietinus and Callicrates. The composition and sculpture of its ornamentations were the work of the great Phidias, who was also the coordinator of the whole plan.

An eternal symbol of aesthetic perfection, the temple was dedicated to goddess Athena. The temple was made of marble extracted from Mt. Pendeli. Its length is 69.51 m and its width 30.87m. Although partly ruined, largely due to the bombardment by Morozini in 1687, it still fills the visitor with admiration and awe.

The Acropolis or (high city) is a rocky hill 156 m above the sea level, dominating the centre of the town. It is a true natural fortress since it is inaccessible from all sides except the west side where the entrance is located.

From the earliest times, it had been both a fortress and the religious centre of the state. The principal cult was that of the goddess Athena and splendid temples were constructed on the Acropolis in her honour.

The temple was the brainchild of Pericles, ruler of Athens from 443 to 429 B.C., and was intended to symbolise the city’s power. The temple was built almost entirely from white marble; only the doors and ceilings were made of wood. Some 22,000 tons of the stone were transported from nearby Mount Pentelicon. Once it was on site, the stonemasons dressed the blocks-already cut close to their finished shapes so that they could be positioned.

They used iron chisels, saws, drills, and callipers, set squares and plumb lines. Because no mortar was used, the surfaces where blocks met had to be a perfect fit. The masons flattened only the outer rim of the face of each block where it joined its neighbour, and left a rougher hollowed surface on the inner section-avoiding contact with the adjoining block. The blocks were clamped together with iron clamps set in lead.

The builders constructed a large flat base with three steps leading up to it, measuring 69 by 31 m on the top step. Next, they raised a colonnade around the edge — 17 pillars on each side and eight at either end. In the centre, they built the two-room inner temple, with six columns at each end.

Before the roof was added, labourers put 92 carved panels, depicting siege and battle scenes from the Greek mythology above the colonnade, each panel measuring 1/3m square. They were carved at the ground level and then hoisted up on a pulley and positioned.

The roof was of sturdy timber, covered with tiles, hand-carved, from white marble from the island of Paros were laid. By 432 BC, the Parthenon was complete and it remained in good condition for 700 years. Athena’s statue was carried off to Constantinople, and in the seventh century, the temple became a Christian church under the Byzantines.

It was made into a mosque in 1460 under the Ottoman Turks. In 1687, the Turks, besieged by an Italian army, used it as an ammunition store. The shelling exploded a powder magazine, shattering columns and walls.