54 Days at Sea — The Parthenon, Erechtheion, and other stuff

Athens as seen from the Acropolis

If you look east southeast from the Acropolis you will see a crowded Athens neighborhood. But look closely, at the clearing below. The columns there are the remnants of the Temple of Zeus, and at the edge of that clearing closest to the Acropolis is the Hadrian’s Arch:

Athens neighborhood with Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Zeus

Construction of the Temple of Zeus began some time in the 6th century B.C., but the project was abandoned around 510 B.C. It would not be completed until some 600 years later, by Roman Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 131. Today, out of the original 104 Corinthian columns, only 15 remain standing. The collapsed column you see below was blown over in a violent storm in A.D. 1852.

Temple of Zeus

Now, as promised on Monday, we move on to the massive Parthenon atop the Acropolis of Athens. The patron Olympian god of Athens was Athena, and Pericles dedicated this structure to her. Incredibly, it took only nine years to complete the basic structure, from 447 B.C. to 438 B.C., although decorative elements added until 432 B.C.

Parthenon — Dedicated to the goddess Athena

One of the more fascinating tidbits on the architecture involved is the extensive use of optical tricks employed by the Greeks to make the Parthenon appear squared that all elements are perfectly parallel or perpendicular to each other. Don’t fall for it. This was achieved through optical illusions on a massive scale. There is not a single element that employs a straight line, as the Greeks sought to overcome the dynamics of perspective and the biases of the eye. Even the four corners of the Parthenon slope downward from the center of the structure in a gentle curve, and contrary to what you behold, the columns lean ever-so-subtly inward. If you were to extend those columns skyward, they would eventually converge about one mile/1,600 feet up.

The curved flooring of the Parthenon

Make sure you check out some of the more subtle architectural details and decorations, such as this horse head from the chariot of Selene, the goddess of the moon:

Parthenon horse head from the chariot of Selene (the moon)

I’ll present more images of this and other Acropolis structures this week and next, but let us move on for now to another temple to Athena, as well as Poseidon. The Erechteion lies north of the Parthenon, and it gets its name from the Greek hero king Erechthonius.

The Erechtheion

In one corner of the the Erechtheion you can see six columns disguised as statues. This is the Porch of the Caryatids (maidens).

The Erechtheion and the Porch of the Caryatids


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