The ancient Greeks believed they were watched over by gods who lived on Mount Olympus and were able to influence their lives. The king of the gods was Zeus and one of his daughters was Athena, the goddess of wisdom. The city of Athens is named after Athena and the Parthenon was built more than 400 years before Christ was born, to house a huge statue of her for the Athenians to worship.
The Parthenon is situated on the Acropolis (which means ‘’high city’’), a hill in Athens in Greece. It was built between 447 and 432 BC under the rule of Pericles. It was constructed from approximately 13,400 stones which were transported from Mount Pantelakos which was about 16 kilometres away from Athens.
The statue of Athena
The statue of Athena was made by the sculptor Pheidias from ivory and gold. It would have been about 12 metres high; Athena would have been dressed in an Attic peplos (loose dress) and breastplate, and would have been holding Nike (goddess of victory) in her right hand. In her left hand her shield sheltered a snake, and she would have been wearing a helmet with a sphinx at the apex. The floor would have been a pool of water or oil to reflect the statue which would have been surrounded by columns and pediments with marble statues.
How the Parthenon looked to the Athenians
The style of the Parthenon is a typical model of classical architecture. Its Doric (channeled) columns give an impression of perfect straight lines (which they are not) and the corner columns were adapted so that they appeared a little thinner and further apart. The Athenians would have viewed the temple from the outside. They would have been able to see a frieze on the outside wall which pictured racing chariots, bearded elders, horses, warriors, musical instruments and water carriers; they were part of a procession that took place annually as part of a religious festival. During the festival Athenian girls wove a peplos for Athena and animal sacrifices were made.
What happened to the Parthenon
During the fifth century the statue of Athena was stolen and taken to Constantinople where it was later destroyed during the crusades in AD 1204. The Parthenon was used as a Christian church in the fifth century, and then as a mosque in the 15th century. The building was well-preserved during this period, but in 1687 it was used to store gunpowder and was badly damaged when a Venetian mortar hit it and exploded during a Venetian attack on the Ottomans. It was further damaged in 1801 when the Earl of Elgin, the British Ambassador at Constantinople, was ordered to remove artifacts to make casts and drawings of them.