The name Parthenon originated from one of Athena’s many epithets – Athena Parthenos, means Virgin. Parthenon means, ‘House of Parthenon’ or ‘House of Virgin Goddess’, which was the name given in the 5th century BC to the chamber inside the temple which housed the cult statue. From the 4th century BC the whole building came to be known as The Parthenon.
It is believed that, the massive and majestic temple on the Acropolis of Athens, known as the Parthenon, was built between 447 and 432 BC in the Age of Pericles, and was dedicated to the City’s patron deity Athena. Built in the 15 year period between 447-432 BC, this ancient Greek temple was constructed as a replacement for an earlier temple, which was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC. In 454 BC, the Parthenon was used as a treasury for housing the Delian League treasures. Delian League was a political alliance of Greek city-states that had formed together to repel the threat of Persian invasion. For the next thousand years, the ‘Parthenon’ served as the great temple of the Greek reign.
Built on the highest part of the acropolis, the temple was designed by the architects Iktinos and Kallikratis, and the project was overseen by the sculptor Pheidias. Pentelic marble from the nearby Mount Pentelicus was used for the building, and never before had so much marble (22,000 tons) was used in a Greek temple.
The Parthenon had 46 outer columns and 23 inner columns. The outer columns of the temple were Doric with eight seen from the front and the back and 17 seen from the sides. The inner Cella (inner area) was fronted by six columns at the back and front. It was entered through large wooden doors embellished with decorations in bronze, ivory, and gold. The Cella comprised of two separated rooms. While the smaller room contained four Ionic columns to support the roof section and was used as the city’s treasury, the larger room housed the cult statue and was surrounded by a Doric colonnade on three sides. Cedar wood beams and marble tiles were used for the construction of the roof, which was decorated with akroteria (of palms or figures) at the corners and central apexes. The roof corners were also adorned with lion-headed spouts to drain away water.
The Parthenon is the perfect example of the Doric Order Temple structure and its architecture is considered as the role model even during the period of antiquity. The huge pediments of the temple, measuring 28.55 m in length with a maximum height of 3.45 m at their centres, were filled with around 50 figures sculpted in the round, an unprecedented quantity of sculpture. The East Pediment boasts an inscription depicting the birth of Athena, while the West Pediment displays proudly the inscription narrating the tale of Athena’s battle with Poseidon for seizing the land of Attica.
The most important sculpture of the Parthenon, however, was not outside, but inside, the statue of Athena by Pheidias. This was a gigantic statue over 12 m high and made of carved ivory for the body and gold for decoration, all wrapped around a wooden core. The gold parts could be easily removed, if needed in times of financial emergency or enemy attack.. It is said that, an unbelievable quantity of 1140 kilos of gold was used for the ornamentation of the statue. The pedestal of the statue measured 4.09 by 8.04 metres. The original statue was unfortunately lost, probably transported to Constantinople in the 5th century, but smaller Roman copies survive, and they show Athena standing majestically, fully armed, wearing an aegis with the head of Medusa prominent, holding Nike (ancient Greek goddess, personified victory) in her right hand and with a shield in her left hand depicting scenes from the Battles of the Amazons and the Giants. A large coiled snake resided behind the shield. Her helmet is adorned with a Sphinx and two griffins. In front of the statue was a large shallow basin of water, which added the humidity, necessary for the preservation of the ivory, and also acted as a reflector of light coming through the doorway.
After another thousand years of survival, the occupying Turks converted the building into a mosque in 1458 CE and also added a minaret in the southwest corner. In 1687 CE the Venetian army under General Francesco Morosini besieged the acropolis. During those days, the Turks used the Parthenon as a powder magazine. As luck would have it, on the 26th of September a direct hit from a Venetian shell ignited the magazine and as a result of a massive explosion, the Parthenon was ripped apart. All the interior walls except the east side were blown out, columns on the north and south sides were collapsed with half of the metopes. Apart from the explosion, Morosini further damaged the central figures of the west pediment in an unsuccessful attempt to plunder them and smashed to pieces the horses from the west pediment when his effort of lifting tackle collapsed miserably. From the rubble, the Turks cleared a portion to build a smaller mosque, but unfortunately, there was no attempt to restore the fallen ruins or protect them from the casual artifact robbers or souvenir mongers. Frequently, in the 18th century CE, foreign tourists also helped themselves to collect a souvenir from the celebrated ruin.
In the year 1801, The British ambassador at Constantinople, Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, paid the indifferent Turkish authorities for the right to take away a large collection of the sculptures, inscriptions, and architectural pieces from the Acropolis. In 1816 CE the British Government bought the collection, and the said architectural pieces are now displayed in the British Museum in London, as the Elgin Marbles or the Parthenon Marbles. However, the Greek government has been campaigning since 1983 to regain the possession of the sculptures.