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The Parthenon

An ancient Greek temple, dedicated to the goddess of wisdom, rises above Athens.

The Parthenon
Photo caption
Despite being located in an earthquake-prone region, the Parthenon has held up quite well.

Since 1972, Unesco’s World Heritage Committee has noted 890 sites around the globe “considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.”

 

Athena may have sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus, but building a Greek temple in her honor was a slightly more complicated undertaking. Construction of the Parthenon began in Athens around 447 b.c. and employed every optical trick in the book—from tapered Doric columns to a convex floor—to create an unparalleled vision of balance and beauty. Sculptor Phidias contributed the pièce de résistance: a 40-foot-tall statue of Athena in ivory and gold.

This treasure failed to survive the Athenian Empire’s decline and the temple’s eventual conversion to a church, then a mosque, then a storage space for munitions. But many of the original marble sculptures can be viewed in Athens’s new Acropolis Museum. Visitors from the United States may find the Parthenon itself familiar, given that it served as the inspiration for everything from the Lincoln Memorial to New York’s Federal Hall. Not a surprising connection, considering the temple’s close association with another Greek classic: democracy.

Photography by Rene Mattes/Hemis/Corbis

This article was first published in December 2010. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.