Parthenon Athens

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apartment, excursions and art historical guide

Peloponnese, Greece

The Parthenon in Athens


The Parthenon in Athens is often regarded as the pinnacle of the Doric temples, but there are some unusual features. To name a few: we count eight columns at the front and rear, which until then was far highly unusual. For the number of columns at the sides of the temple the formula of two times plus one is applied. For the building itself, the ratio 9 : 4 was applied.

To create a spacious naos and a large space behind it, the usual Doric porch was replaced by fairly narrow, shallow porches with six columns.

In the naos the cult image was surrounded by a (likewise Doric) colonnade (peristyle).

A new development was the colonnade behind the cult image. In the backroom were Ionic columns introduced.

Another new feature was the continuous Ionic frieze on the outside of the naos.

The echinus no longer had the form of a bag or a pillow, but had straight (conical) sides.


The Doric order developed in this way from archaic to classical: the short, thick columns were step by step replaced by higher and thinner ones, the sagging profile of the echinus by one with a conical shape with straight sides, and the rectangular metopes became more and more square with the aim to shorten the whole entablature (architrave, triglyphs and metopes and pediment). Use of Ionic columns inside the Parthenon was particularly important because for the first time they were mixing construction orders. Later it would happen more often, for example, in the temple of Zeus at Nemea, where Doric, Ionic and Corinthian were combined in one building.


The Parthenon is also important because the optical refinements:

the columns have a slight cigar shape (entasis)

the corners are shortened

the columns are inclined slightly inwards

the antae are short and curve slightly outwards

from the middle the stylobate bows slightly towards the outside

also the horizontal and vertical lines in the main frame exhibit this curve


By preventing the 'straight' lines the stately shape of the building is even more powerful; it seems taller and more stately as you stand in front of it.

However important in the history of art I don't clarify or explain the sculptured groups in the pediments and the sculpted metopes because it takes too far for this guide. Google for "the Elgin Marbles" if you want to know more. There are many books written on the subject of the Parthenon in Athens; for the development of the Greek temples is the brief summary of the above-mentioned characteristics sufficient.

plan of the Parthenon in Athens, ca 440 BC

detail of the Parthenon in Athens anno 2015

(notice the conic echinus and the square metopes)

photo © willem van leeuwen


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