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The building was originally built in honor of the goddess Athena, the city’s patron. The Temple of Athena the Virgin (Parthenon is the Greek word for virgin) was built following the Persian Wars in thanks of the city’s victory. It was built on the site of an earlier temple which the Persians had destroyed. As rulers and occupiers changed the temple was used for different purposes including as a church, a mosque and a fortress.
In the construction of the Parthenon the architect Entasis used optical illusions to create a light and elevated impression. The base of the columns, the stylobate, curves upward slightly and the columns swell slightly as they rise thus creating a more symmetrical impression as you look up at the edifice. The base of the Parthenon is 30.9 meters by 69.5 meters; the cella (inner chamber) was 29.8 meters by 19.2 meters; there were two colonnades of Doric columns supporting the roof. Originally the Parthenon would have been painted with light blue ceilings and the statues in bright colors. Today we can only see the white marble.
The 5th century sculptor Phidias took charge of the decoration and the center piece was a 12.19 meter high sculpture of Athena. By 438BC the building was complete but the decoration continued a further 5 years. Unfortunately structural changes were made in different eras to accommodate the building’s changing functions. For example the internal columns were removed to turn the temple into a church and when converted into a mosque a minaret was added. The structure suffered at the hands of vandals, natural disasters and tourists who stole pieces of the temple to take home. In 1687 the roof of the Parthenon was destroyed when the Venetians attacked the city and the defending Ottomans turned it into a gun powder storage. A shell exploded causing irreparable damage. Lord Elgin played a major role in the “rape” of the Parthenon when he carried off a hefty portion of the sculptures and architectural pieces. This collection, known as Elgin Marbles is now on display in the British Museum of London. Other sculptures ended up in Paris and Copenhagen. Many of the Parthenon sculptures can be seen in the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
Following the establishment of a Greek State in 1832 the more recent architectural additions were removed and much of the Acropolis and Parthenon restored.