Design and Construction of the Parthenon
The Development of Greek Temple Architecture. The Parthenon was the climax of over four centuries of Greek temple architecture. A temple was the house of a god or goddess, that is its cult statue. The earliest temples [IMAGE 49] survive only in clay models which convey the intimate house-like nature of the building. Actual temples were constructed of wood and mud-brick with thatched roofs. There was a single room, a naos, and a small front porch, a pronaos, supported by wooden columns. As with all Greek art of the
period, decoration was in the severe Geometric style.
Increasing wealth in the 700s B.C. enabled builders to elaborate the simple design by surrounding the naos with a peristyle , a colonnade running entire around the naos and supporting its roof.
Colonnade of the Temple of Hephaestus, Athens
The naos was lengthened, no doubt to make the approach to the statue more awe-inspiring. In the course of two centuries Greek builders came to adopt the convention of making the proportion between the length and width of the naos slightly greater than two to one. The front porch, or pronaos, was placed inside the peristyle and a back room, the opisthodomos, was tucked behind the naos to hold offerings brought to the deity.
Greater wealth also allowed a change to more expensive building materials. Wood was replaced by marble, which was costly to quarry and transport. A stone temple could also support a roof of clay-tiles, which offered superior protection against rain. The stone base of the temple, the crepidoma, consisted of three or four platforms the edges of which formed a series of steps continuously ascending on all sides of the building to the top one, called the stylobate, which formed the floor of the temple.
Greek builders developed intriguing methods of holding the stones
together without mortar. The edges of the blocks were precisely refined.
Holes with staple-like iron clamps, embedded in the blocks by molten lead,
secured a block to its neighbors.
Temple of Hephaestus, Athens
Columns were constructed out of cylindrical stone drums, attached to each other by plugs of cypress wood. The earliest stone columns [IMAGE 13] were cigar-shaped, each with an ungainly bulge in the middle; through time these became [IMAGE 15] narrower and more graceful. At the top of the column was [ its capital, which had two portions: the upper was called the abacus and the lower the echinus. Temple architecture of the Greek mainland was in the Doric style, with a square abacus and rounded echinus.
Between the tops of the columns and the roof was a stretch of wall called the entablature. In Doric wooden temples the upper portion of the entablature featured metopes, wood-carvings of mythological scenes placed between the ends of the beams that sup ported the roof. Both were painted in bright colors. With the changeover to stone , the beam ends, called triglyphs were replaced with stone versions, as were the metopes, and the painting continued--though few traces of color remain.
Greek art was profoundly conservative. The new stone temples of Greece were exquisitely refined copies of earlier wooden ones. Greek artists made the changes they did in order to perfect traditional artistic forms. Innovations, which inevitably occu red as changes were made, may well have been unintentional.
An alternate to the Doric architectural style called the Ionic grew up in the Greek poleis situated in Ionia (modern Turkey), featuring more elaborate column and capital forms and a continuous frieze, sculpted in relief entirely around the upper portion of the entablature.
Organization of the Project.
Following the Athenian democratic practice, a public board supervised the project and public auditors were ready to scrutinize the accounts. The Parthenon was first to be built. Pericles' friend, the master-sculptor Pheidias, was put in overall artist ic control. He carved the imposing statue of Athena, but his contribution to the rest of the building is not known. The temple to house it was created by two builders, Ictinus and Callicrates, but their exact roles are unclear. Craftsmen came from Athe ns and abroad, some presumably slaves. Records of their wages have survived, but do not enable historians to compute the value of their earnings.
To reflect Pericles' Panhellenic claims for Athens, the Parthenon was uniquely designed as a Doric temple with several Ionic features. There were eight Doric columns across each end, instead of the usual six. Counting the corner columns both times, each side of the Parthenon had twice-plus-one the number of columns at each end. The dimensions of the stylobate, 230 x 102 feet, followed the same proportion. Instead of clay, the roof tiles were marble. The porch of the naos had six Doric columns. The na os itself was extremely high, to hold Pheidias' huge statue of Athena. The inside walls were surrounded by a two-story Doric colonnade, creating an interior aisle that ran around the statue. Complementing the Doric naos was the opisthodomos, which had f our Ionic columns rising around its center. There may have been no windows in either the naos or the opisthodomos; if not, light was provided by the high entrance doorways of each when opened and probably also by lamps that burned olive oil.
Marble was the one Parthenon expense known to have been spared. The best Greek marble was Parian, from the island of Paros. Nearer Athens, however, was Mount Pentelikon, the source of a coarser marble called Pentelic, which was used throughout the Part henon.
The Optical Refinements.
As they grew more sophisticated, Greek builders began introducing optical refinements--variations from geometrically true forms that created visual illusions that enhanced the gracefulness of these large structures. Optical refinements reached their ext reme in the Parthenon, where not one "straight" line was exactly straight. To the eye, a vertical column appears to be narrower in the middle than at either the top or the bottom. To counteract this, the each exterior Parthenon column has a very slight bulge in the middle. Also the upper diameter of each is slightly narrower than its base diameter, a practice called entasis. Additionally, these columns slant inward, so that they would meet, were they extended one mile into the sky. The four outside c orner columns slant inward diagonally. The three levels of the crepidoma are slightly domed in the center because to the eye purely horizontal lines would have appeared to dip in the middle.