In the year 447 BC, work to build the Parthenon began, as the Athenians wanted their power to be known and felt all over. In the year 432 BC, the work on the unique temple began, and the Parthenon would be a representation of the visible and tangible efflorescence of imperial power held by the Athenians. It means that the Parthenon would represent a building that would not be affected by the depredations of the famous Peloponnesian War. Furthermore, the building would represent the power of the person who was behind its construction, Perikles, an Athenian politician. This paper will seek to give a critical analysis of the structural system of the Parthenon temple.
A number of historians believe that a peace treaty between Persia and Athens was concluded in the year 449 BC. This is exactly two years before the construction of the Parthenon began. The importance of the peace treaty was that the Athenian Empire/Delian League would continue with its existence even if a valid reason for this existence no longer existed. Therefore, Athens would become the leader of the entire Greek defence league as well as the master of all the other states in Greece. Athenians made the decision in 454 BC to ensure that the League treasury was situated at Delos, an acropolis, as opposed to the former location at the Pan-Hellenic sanctuary. The money provided by the League funded the Parthenon and the building marked the imperialism being portrayed by the Athenians. The Greeks had their own idealized way in which they lived and the paid attention to all the details. They had a deep understanding of mathematical harmony existing in the natural world (Neils 28).
The Parthenon is a unique Doric peripheral temple and this means that it had a plan with a rectangular floor. Furthermore, a number of series of steps that lay quite low on all sides existed. An (8 by 17) colonnade of Doric columns extended to entire structure’s periphery. On all the entrances to the temple, there were an additional six columns, which were situated in its front. The larger of the two rooms found in the interior known as the naos were cult statue’s house. The Athenians used the other smaller room known as the opisthodomos for their treasury matters. The Parthenon was built in order to replace two other temples that existed earlier on the Acropolis of Athena. There are quite a few traces of one of the temples up-to-date, as it stood between the Erechttheum and the Parthenon. The other temple that was built was under construction at the time when the Persians were building their sack and this was in 480 BC (Woodford, 55).
The Greek used the types of columns mainly when building their public buildings and temples. These were the Corinthian, Ionic and Doric, which were extremely popular at the time the Parthenon was being built. The proportions were the ones that distinguished the three orders in the most basic and truest forms. The Parthenon used the elements found in the Ionic and Doric orders. This means that in a temple that has a Doric peripteral element, there will be a continuous sculpted frieze, which is continuous and has been borrowed from an order that is Ionic. In addition, it uses other four Ionic columns that support the roof at a point known as the opisthodomos (Woodford, 55).
There is a frieze found in the Parthenon and it runs all-round the temple’s wall upper edge. Its size is quite small as it is 5 inches and 3 feet tall and the placement ensures that it is not easy to view the temple well from the ground. In addition, in the inside of the structure, there are metopes and triglyphs. There is a single subject in the four sides that the frieze holds, as it has been witnessed. On the three sides, which are south, west, and north, there is a depiction of a procession of sacrificial animals, musicians, and horsemen, among other figures, all taking part in some rituals (Neils 52).
The temple does not have straight lines that are absolute, but they seek to bestow its organic character, which is subtle. This proves that the Parthenon temple has a structure that is geometric. Its columns have a peristyle taper with a slight arc when it reaches the building’s top part to provide a unique impression. It shows that from the entasis (tension), it appears to be swollen in a manner to represent the burden of the roof’s weight. This subtle feature seeks to alloy the anthropomorphic metaphors to represent the other inanimate object in the temple. The columns, which are peristyle, are more than ten meters high, and they slightly incline to the building’s centre at about 7 cm. The platform that houses the columns has an arc that is gentle and ensures that its corners are 12cm to the ground as compared to the middle (Mommsen 545).
It is evident that the Parthenon’s architects had a lot of knowledge on visual illusion. This is attributed to the fact that they had many years of experience in observing the natural world as well as architectural refinement. The columns were designed to appear at the corners of the temple and have a large diameter as compared to the other columns. In addition, the space around the columns would be smaller than the others by around 25 cm. This was to ensure that the slight adaptation of the columns found in the corner would be set out against the sky’s brightness. In turn, the columns would appear to be thinner than their actual dimensions and a little bit apart from the columns found in the dark areas of the building’s wall. The decrease and increase in space and size respectively would, therefore, compensate for an illusion that would be caused by a bright background (Mommsen 550).
Out of all the other Greek temples ever built, the Parthenon is set apart because of its subtle features as well as its overall effect. This is seen as a departure from the past Doric structures to dynamic architectural expressions. The intricate refinements of the temple prove that the even people of this time would be challenged. The Parthenon represented a lintel and post-temple that had no engineering breakthroughs during its construction. However, it should be noted that it had stylist conventions that have in the modern world become Classical architecture paradigms. Even after it was built, many other buildings were inspired by its architecture. Therefore, the Athenians should be highly regarded for their expertise in coming up with unique architectural designs.
Woodford, S. The Parthenon. Cambridge: Cambridge Press. 1981. Print.
Neils, Jenifer. The Parthenon: From Antiquity to the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Print.
Mommsen, Theodor. The Venetians in Athens and the Destruction of the Parthenon in 1687, American Journal of Archaeology, 45, 4 (1941): 544–556.
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