The Parthenon is a Greek landmark which is almost universally recognizable, thanks to its fame. It represents the pinnacle of Greek culture, and a highlight of the culture of the Mediterranean Ancient World. Located in Athens in the Acropolis complex on a high hill, the Parthenon towers over the city, and this landmark is an extremely popular tourist spot. At night, the Parthenon and Acropolis are illuminated in a light show which can be seen from many locations in the city.
This rectangular structure was built in the fifth century BCE by Callicrates and Ictinus, and it was designed to replace an older temple which had been located on the same site. The Parthenon or “Temple of the Virgin” was dedicated to the goddess Athena, and it included a towering sculpture of the goddess, along with numerous relief sculptures and friezes depicting a variety of scenes.
Architecture instructors who cover the Ancient World often use the Parthenon as an example of Doric-style architecture. The columns which surround the Parthenon are Doric in style, as are the decorative metopes mounted on top of the columns to create an ornamental border. This structure is also highly visually interesting, with its white marble construction, large size, and varied carvings.
Given the amount of looting and damage which has occurred in this region of the world, it is remarkable that the Parthenon remained largely intact for most of its existence. It was briefly used as both a Christian church and a Muslim mosque, but contemporary discussions of the structure from these periods seem to suggest that it was still in very good condition.
Unfortunately, in the 1600s, the Ottomans used the Parthenon as a munitions dump, which would not have been a major issue, except that the building was struck by a shell, causing an explosion and subsequent damage. The Parthenon was further damaged in the 1800s, when many of the sculptures were removed by Lord Elgin, who received permission from the Ottomans. The Elgin Marbles, as these sculptures have come to be called, continue to be a topic of controversy, with the Greeks demanding that they be returned, and the British retaining them as one of the star attractions at the British Museum.
The Parthenon continues to face threats from the high level of smog and air pollution in Athens. Many of the remaining columns and sculptures have been damaged, and restoration efforts are continually underway to save this prized cultural icon. The Greek government remains very proprietary about the Parthenon, preferring to use its own experts in the restoration.