Things to See in Athens – The Parthenon, Acropolis
The contruction of the Parthenon in 447 BC was championed by Perikles who masterminded an extensive building program to express the glory of ancient Athens. The intended purpose of the Parthenon was to house the Statue of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and Patron Goddess of Athens. Unfortunately, no trace of Athena’s statue remains today. There is however a smaller Roman copy that can be seen in the National Achaeological Museum.
The Parthenon is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece. The architectural refinements of the Parthenon were legendary as the building gives the illusion of perfection. Every aspect of the Parthenon was built on a 9:4 ratio, making it completely symmetrical. The architects of the Parthenon appear to be excellent scholars of visual illusion. They designed the columns that appear at the corners of the temple to be about 6 cm larger in diameter than all the other columns and the space around them smaller than the rest of the columns by about 25 cm. The reason for this slight adaptation of the corner columns is due to the fact that they are set against the bright sky, which would make them appear a little thinner and a little further apart than the columns set against the darker background of the building wall. The increase in size and decrease of space thus compensates for the illusion that the bright background would normally cause. A bulge in the middle of each column (referred to as Entasis) is to make them appear straight. Other optical refinements include the slightly higher base in the middle than at the edges and the columns also lean slightly inwards.
Over the years, the building has also served as a Christian church, was converted into a mosque in 1456 when Athens fell to the Ottomans and even an arsenal during the Turkish occupation. During the Venetian siege of the Acropolis in 1687, the Parthenon was bombarded with cannon-fire and the ensuing explosion which demolished much of the structure.
In 1975, the Greek government began a concerted effort to restore the Parthenon and other Acropolis structures, later receiving support from the European Union. A modern enemy of the Parthenon is the corrosion of its marble by acid rain and car pollutants which have already caused irreparable damage to some sculptures and threatens the remaining sculptures and the temple itself. I’m sure the masses of tourists that visit the site everyday contributes to the pollutants. Over the past 30-odd years the Acropolis has been under various stages of restoration as can be seen from the scaffolding in this photo.