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The Parthenon

Probably the most famous monument of Greek antiquity, the ruin of the Parthenon has been enthroned on the Acropolis near Athens for 2,500 years. The Parthenon is a temple which the Greeks built after their victory over Persia in the 5th century BC and in gratitude dedicated it to the goddess Athena. Parthenon means “Virgins’ Chamber”. The term probably derives from a small room in the temple in which four selected young girls served the goddess Athena.
The temple was built of marble and was completed in 15 years. It was about 70 metres long and about 31 metres wide. A building surrounded by columns was built on the three-step foundation. The columns formed the ring hall and the narthex (vestibule). In the building there were two rooms: the virgins’ chamber and the cella, the sanctuary of the temple. Above the columns of the building a frieze showed the meeting of the gods and a procession on the festival of Athena, the so-called Panathenaea. On the outside of the temple there was a frieze with scenes from the Persian Wars and processions. Both friezes were coloured. Most probably the colours blue and red were used. The gables of the temple showed scenes like Athena’s birth or her fight with Poseidon for Attica.
In the middle of the cella stood the cult statue of the goddess Athena. The statue, about 11.5 metres high, was made of gold and ivory. In the left hand the statue held a shield, in the right hand a figure of Nike, the goddess of victory. The Athena statue was dressed by the girls with a richly decorated robe and a golden goatskin (Greek: Aigis). Legend has it that the “Aigis” served the gods to create thunderstorms, but also stood for protection. Therefore, even today the saying “to stand under someone’s aegis (protection)” is derived from that.
In the 5th century A.D. the temple was transformed into a church. To do this, the inner columns and some walls of the cella were removed. The statue of Athena and other sculptures disappeared. Their whereabouts remained unclear for a long time. The Parthenon served as a mosque under Ottoman rule from 1456 and in the 17th century it was used as a powder magazine. During a war against Venice, the ammunition stored there exploded and severely damaged the building. At the beginning of the 19th century parts of the statue and some other sculptures were rediscovered. Since then they have been exhibited in the National Museums in London, Paris and Copenhagen.
There are numerous replicas of the Parthenon worldwide. In Nashville, Tennessee (USA), a replica made of gypsum, wood and bricks has been in existence since 1897. In 1920 it was renovated with concrete and painted. In 1990 a copy of the statue of Athena was added. The Walhalla in Bavaria is also modelled on the Parthenon. The building was built in 1842 and the façade was designed in the style of Classicism. In 2016/2017, a Parthenon made of books was created as part of the art exhibition “documenta 14” in Kassel, Germany.


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