The Parthenon is the monument that more than any other epitomises the glory of Ancient Greece. It is dedicated to Athena Parthenos, the goddess embodying the power and prestige of the city. One of the largest Doric temples ever completed in Greece, it was designed by Iktinos and Kallicrates to be the pre-eminent monument of the Acropolis and was completed in time for the Great Panathenaic Festival of 438 BC.
The Parthenon’s fluted Doric columns achieve perfect form. The eight columns at either end and 17 on each side were ingeniously curved to create an optical illusion: the foundations (like all the ‘horizontal’ surfaces of the temple) are slightly concave and the columns are slightly convex, making both appear straight. Supervised by Pheidias, the sculptors worked on the architectural detail of the Parthenon, including the pediments, frieze and metopes, which were brightly coloured and gilded.
The temple’s pediments (the triangular elements topping the east and west facades) were filled with elaborately carved three-dimensional sculptures. The west side depicted Athena and Poseidon in their contest for the city’s patronage, the east Athena’s birth from Zeus’ head. See their remnants and the rest of the Acropolis’ sculptures and artefacts in the Acropolis Museum.
The Parthenon’s metopes, designed by Pheidias, are square carved panels set between channelled triglyphs. The metopes on the eastern side depicted the Olympian gods fighting the giants, and on the western side they showed Theseus leading the Athenian youths into battle against the Amazons. The southern metopes illustrated the contest of the Lapiths and centaurs at a marriage feast, while the northern ones depicted the sacking of Troy. The internal cella was topped by the Ionic frieze, a continuous sculptured band depicting the Panathenaic Procession.