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The Parthenon
The Parthenon is a temple dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of the city of
Athens. Although the building is now partially ruined, it still strikes an impressive figure
on the Athenian skyline and was one of the most beautiful and elaborately decorated
temples in Greece when it was first built. The Parthenon stands on the Acropolis, or
citadel, of the city of Athens on the site of the old temple to Athena, often referred to as
the Pre-Parthenon. This early temple was never completed, as it was destroyed in 480
B.C.E. by Persian invaders when it was still only half-finished. The Parthenon that
survives today was begun in 447 B.C.E. by the sculptors Iktinos, Kallikrates and
Pheidias. The structure was officially completed in 438 B.C.E., but sculptors carried on
with perfecting and embellishing until 432 B.C.E. The temple was used primarily as a
religious sanctuary, and once housed a towering statue of the goddess Athena, but it was
also used as a treasury for the Delian League, an association of Greek city-states.
The limestone and marble structure was built according to the Doric order of
architecture; all the proportions of the Parthenon comply to a ratio of 9:4. There are eight
columns in the front and back of the temple and 17 columns along each side. The temple
is perhaps most well-known for the beautiful sculptures and friezes that decorate its outer
and inner walls. On the four outer walls of the temple are depictions of great battles of
Greek mythology: the war of the Lapiths and the Centaurs, the war of the Giants and the
Gods, the war of the Amazons and the Athenians, and the infamous Trojan war. Inside the
temple, the upper walls were once ringed by an elaborate frieze, or decorative border. In
1806, when Greece was under the control of the Ottoman Turks, Lord Elgin, an
ambassador from England, removed parts of the frieze and other sculptures in the temple
to be preserved in England. Today, there is a strong campaign in Greece to restore these
“Elgin Marbles” to their rightful place in the Parthenon.