Ancient Architecture

It's a classic image - the large temple on top of a hill in Athens. It's the Parthenon, a symbol of ancient culture, representing religious dedication, an appreciation for architecture harmonious with nature, and an impressive understanding of mathematics and optical illusions. This ancient Greek temple is one of many structures that have greatly influenced the course of architecture, and one of few that remain at least somewhat intact.

Architecture Terms

The Parthenon provides examples of many basic architectural features that have become part of many buildings since, including many government buildings in Washington D.C. The most noticeable feature is the presence of many columns. A column is used to support the weight of a structure. They are thought to mimic tree trunks, however are made up of many drums, stacked one on top of the other, with a long rod inside to hold them together. The columns of the Parthenon are of the Doric order, meaning they are wider at the bottom than the top, are plain or fluted, have no base, and have a smooth capital. Though other features classify a building as of the Doric order, the columns are the most obvious distinction. The Doric order originated in western Greece and the mainland.

The other two orders that were used in ancient Greece are Ionic and Corinthian. The columns of the Ionic order are more slender than Doric. The fluted columns sit on large bases and have capitals with two large volutes, which look like scrolls. The Ionic order was developed in eastern Greece. The Porch of Poseidon and the Temple to Athena Nike, both on the Acropolis, display the Ionic order. The Corinthian order has slender fluted colums topped by ornate capitals, decorated with acanthus leaves and small volutes. A sculptor in Corinth developed this order in the 5th century BC.

The columns of the Parthenon support the entablature, which is divided into the architrave, frieze, and the cornice (bottom, middle, top). The frieze, as seen on the Parthenon and the United States EPA building, consists of triglyphs (three-section blocks) and metopes, which were often ornamented, between the triglyphs. Above the entablature you find the pediment, the triangular shaped area that usually housed sculpture. The pediment of the Parthenon contained sculpture that depicted the birth of Athena on the east side and the contest between Athena and Poseidon on the west.

The Parthenon

The Parthenon is one of Greece's treasured symbols. Constructed on top of the Acropolis, literally the upper part of town, the Parthenon can be seen from most any location
in Athens. It was constructed between 447 and 438 BC to honor Athena, goddess of wisdom. The famous sculptor Phidias created the decorative features such as the frieze and the pedimentary sculpture. He also made the famous giant gold and ivory statue of Athena that was inside the Parthenon. Interesting to note is that the building appears to have perfectly straight lines, but actually is "bowed" in certain places to adapt to the characteristics of the human eye.

After several hundred years, the Parthenon, like many temples in the ancient world, was used as a Christian church, then later as an Islamic mosque. When the Turks occupied Greece in the 1600's AD, they stored ammunition in the Parthenon, which led to much of its current distruction. It was hit by a Venetian cannonball to destroy the ammunition. The British deemed it necessary to remove the sculpted frieze and the sculpture from the pediments in 1799 to preserve them. This serves as a current source of disagreement between the two countries. Visitors who want to see all parts of the Parthenon must visit London as well as Athens.

Take an online tour here. OR visit Nashville and see a full-scale replica.

How Athens Was Named

Legend tells that the citizens of Athens held a contest between Athena and Poseidon to determine after which deity they would name their city. The competion was: Which god/goddess would give the best gift to the people? Poseidon offered a spring, but unfortunately it salt water flowed from it. Athena gave them the olive tree, a gift which provided food, oil for cooking, eating, lighting, and much more. Obviously the people chose Athena and the city bears her name to this day.

To learn more about ancient Greece and her architecture, visit www.


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