Directed by the Athenian statesman Pericles, the Parthenon was built by the architects Ictinus and Callicrates under the supervision of the sculptor Phidias.
It was built between 447 and 438 BC although decoration of the building continued until 432 BC.
The Parthen is dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron. In Greek mythology, Athena is the goddess of wisdom.
The Parthenon’s main function was to house a 12-meter-high (40-foot-high) chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue of Athena Parthenos sculpted by Pheidias. [Photo: The reproduction Athena Parthenos statue]
The biggest expense in building the Parthenon was transporting the 13,000 large stones 16 kilometers (10 miles) from Mt. Pentelicus. The mountain is well known for its smooth and flawless marble stone quarried there.
The Parthenon itself replaced an older temple of Athena, which historians call the Pre-Parthenon or Older Parthenon, that was destroyed in the Persian invasion of 480 BC.
It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece and is generally considered to be the culmination of the development of the Doric order, the simplest of the three Classical Greek architectural orders.
Its decorative sculptures are considered some of the high points of Greek art.
The Parthenon is regarded as an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece, Athenian democracy and western civilization, and one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments.
The building was officially called the Temple of Athena the Virgin; “Parthenon” comes from the Greek word parthenos, “virgin.”
It stands on a platform or stylobate of three steps. Measured at the stylobate, the dimensions of the base of the Parthenon are 69.5 by 30.9 meters (228 by 101 feet).
The cella was 29.8 meters long by 19.2 meters wide (97.8 × 63.0 feet), with internal colonnades in two tiers, structurally necessary to support the roof. The cella housed the statue of Athena Parthenos.
On the exterior, the Doric columns measure 1.9 meters (6.2 feet) in diameter and are 10.4 meters (34 feet) high. The corner columns are slightly larger in diameter. The Parthenon had 46 outer columns and 23 inner columns in total, each column containing 20 flutes (a flute is the concave shaft carved into the column form).
The Parthenon was elaborately decorated with marble sculptures both internally and externally. These survive only in part, but there are good descriptions of most of those parts that have been lost.
The most characteristic feature in the architecture and decoration of the temple is the Ionic frieze running around the exterior walls of the cella, which is the inside structure of the Parthenon.
[Picture below: Phidias Showing the Frieze of the Parthenon to his Friends, 1868 painting by Lawrence Alma-Tadema]
The Parthenon was converted into a Christian church in the final decade of the sixth century AD to become the Church of the Parthenos Maria (Virgin Mary), or the Church of the Theotokos (Mother of God).
The Parthenon became the fourth most important Christian pilgrimage destination in the Eastern Roman Empire after Constantinople, Ephesos, and Thessalonica.
In 1456 Athens fell to the Ottomans, and the Parthenon was converted again, into a mosque.
During the bombardment of the Acropolis in 1687 by Venetians fighting the Turks, a powder magazine located in the temple blew up, destroying the center of the building, in the greatest catastrophe to befall it in its long history.
In 1801-1803 much of the remaining sculpture was sold by the Turks (who controlled Greece at the time) to the Englishman Lord Elgin, who roughly removed the sculptures and sold them to the British Museum.
When independent Greece gained control of Athens in 1832, the minaret was removed from the Parthenon and all the medieval and modern buildings on the Acropolis removed.
In 1975, the Greek government began a concerted effort to restore the Parthenon and other Acropolis structures. After some delay, a Committee for the Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments was established in 1983.
The dispute centres around the Parthenon Marbles removed by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, from 1801 to 1803, which are in the British Museum. The Greek government has campaigned since 1983 for the British Museum to return the sculptures to Greece.
A few sculptures from the Parthenon are also in the Louvre in Paris, in Copenhagen, and elsewhere, but more than half are in the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
Although the pure white marble of surviving Ancient Greek temples appeals to the modern aesthetic, the Parthenon, like all ancient buildings, was at least partly painted, though scholars dispute the extent and the color scheme.
Today, the Parthenon is one of the most recognizable icons and popular tourist attractions in the world.
About 7.2 million people visit the Parthenon each year.