The Parthenon is a demonstration of several values dear to the Greeks. The pediments and sculptural
metopes and friezes illustrate myths that reinforced Athenian identity. The structure is designed to look
absolutely regular and in proportion, but in fact, there are many subtle corrections made to compensate
for the distortions of vision. These refinements are evidence of the Greek desire for perfection; earlier
works aimed for mathematical perfection, but by the mid-5th century BCE Greek builders sought optical
Reconstruction of the Parthenon,by Iktinos
and Kallikrates, 447-432 BCE
Plan of the Parthenon; an example of a
peripteral plan temple.
As sculpture gradually became more refined and realistic in the sixth century, architecture developed the
characteristic proportions we call the classical, or Greek, orders. There are three main Greek orders: Doric,
Ionic, and Corinthian.
The Doric order is named after the Dorians, who lived on the mainland of Greece. It is the earliest, the
simplest, and the strongest looking of the three orders. It is most easily recognized by the simple round or
cushionlike capital that tops the columns. The columns do not have bases; rather they stand directly on
the stylobate (the uppermost platform supporting the temple). They swell slightly noticeably toward the
middle, which gives them a sense of lifting up a heavy weight. This swelling is called entasis; it is present in
Ionic and Corinthian columns as well, but it is most obvious in the Doric column. In the Doric order, the
frieze of the entablature is divided into triglyphs (stones cut to look like three vertical bars) and metopes,
which are decorated with relief sculpture. Another common sculptural element on Greek temples is the
acroterion, an ornamental element set at the peak or edges of the pediment.
The Ionic order, which originated in Ionia (an ancient region in present-day Turkey), is more slender in its
proportions, and the capitals look like scrolls called volutes. Ionic columns have bases, and the entablature
is an unbroken band, often decorated with a continuous frieze of sculpture.
The Corinthian order is the latest and most graceful of the three orders. Two rows of large acanthus leaves
make up the Corinthian capital; above the leaves are small volutes, which you may not notice unless you
look carefully. (If the volutes are very large and there are acanthus leaves below, the order is called the
Composite order, which is more common in Roman architecture.) The Corinthian column is tall and slender;
like the Ionic order, the columns have bases, and there is a continuous frieze on the entablature.
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