The Parthenon is one of the most renowned Greek architectural structures in the world, which was built by the ancient Greeks in the mid-fifth century B.C.E., on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece. The name “Parthenon” was derived from the Greek goddess “Athena Parthenos.” According to Greek legend, the Parthenon housed a 12-meter-high statue of Athena Parthenos. The monument was, in fact, built and dedicated as a temple to worship her.1
Significance of the Parthenon
The Parthenon is considered an essential part of Greek history and a symbol of Athens’ democracy, as they built it after the victory over the Persians who had occupied Athens in 480 B.C. The architecture signifies the victory of Athens and showcases its political, economic, and cultural prosperity.
Interestingly, the architecture was dedicated to “Athena,” the goddess of justice and wisdom. And the Parthenon signifies this justice when they won the war over the invading army, and it marks the Greek glory.2
Historians also believe the monument represents the evolution of the Doric order, the most basic of the three classical Greek architectural orders.3
It also has long-term significance in explaining how math is used in the construction of man-made structures. Several reports and experiments have been conducted to demonstrate the mathematical application behind the Parthenon’s architectural features.
Background on Greek Architecture
Before we get into the details of the Parthenon and its perfect proportions, let’s first understand a little about Greek architecture.
Greek architecture is deeply influenced by Greek history, culture, and religious beliefs. In fact, Greek architecture is famous for its tall columns, symmetry, harmony, intricate details, and balance. While the Greeks built different types of buildings, the main architecture that has survived to this day are the large temples dedicated to their gods.
Most Greek architecture, temples, and government buildings alike can be found in one of three types of styles⏤Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. The Greeks used many architectural elements like columns, capitals, friezes, pediments, cellas, and Propylea in their architecture.4
One such Greek architecture that is known for its unique richness and quality of sculpture is the Parthenon. Yet, how many of you know that the architecture has given rise to huge debates on the perfect proportions of the Parthenon?
Many people regarded the historical monument as an illustration of the application of the golden ratio in its design. Many others, however, debated this and said that the golden ratio was not in fact used in his design.
So, What is this Golden Ratio?
The Greek scholar Pythagoras is credited with discovering the golden ratio. The golden ratio, also known as the golden mean, golden section, or divine proportion, is rounded to 1.618. And the number, like pi, repeats indefinitely and is represented by phi, the 21st letter of the Greek alphabet.5
It is said that the Greeks believe the golden ratio to be special as it repeatedly appeared in nature and is appealing to the sight.6
Does the Parthenon Really Adhere to the Golden Ratio?
Back to the debate on whether the golden ratio has in fact been applied to the building of the Parthenon. For centuries, it was believed that the Greek sculptor and mathematician Phidias used the golden ratio to design the Parthenon. However, a recent reconstruction project began to reveal that the claim was not true and that each of the thousands of pieces of the Parthenon was different and did not have a single straight line among them.6
Another aspect of Parthenon’s architecture that would appeal to the Greek sensibilities is the use of harmonic proportions. The Parthenon is 30.8 m wide and 69.51 m long, therefore the ratio is 4:9 and this ratio of 4:9 runs in other parts of the building, including the height of the facade to its weight and the width of the Parthenon front columns.6
It may be true that they constructed the Parthenon using straight or parallel lines in order to make it appear more visually pleasing. But the level of exacting precision to highlight the golden ratio in its design does not seem to be included in the Parthenon. But, there is also much research that provides evidence to show the presence of golden ratios in the design of the Parthenon, such as in its floor plan, the ratio of the columns, the overall facade, the anterior chambers, etc.7
It may be extremely difficult to draw any conclusions about the presence of the golden ratio or the perfect proportions in Parthenon, as there are numerous sources of information that seem to be inconsistent and insufficiently documented to be stated as perfectly accurate.
All said and done, the Parthenon is nothing less than a marvel today, and the designing of the Parthenon should have been equivalent to orchestrating a symphony for it to be in such perfect harmony. Irrespective of the debate, if the Parthenon was in fact built on the golden ratio or not, the result is that it remains a beautiful and indeed esthetically pleasing architecture.
So, what are your thoughts about the Golden Ratio of the Parthenon? Let us know in the comments. If you found this article interesting, and want to explore more such amazing articles, visit the BYJU’S FutureSchool blog.
- Parthenon | Definition, History, Architecture, Columns, Greece, & Facts | Britannica. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Parthenon
- The Parthenon, Athena, and it’s Cultural Significance Free Essay Example. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://studymoose.com/the-parthenon-athena-and-its-cultural-significance-essay
- Parthenon. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://www.reed.edu/humanities/110Tech/Parthenon.html
- Ancient Greece for Kids: Architecture. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://www.ducksters.com/history/ancient_greece/architecture.php
- Golden Ratio. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://www.mathsisfun.com/numbers/golden-ratio.html
- Does the Parthenon really follow the golden ratio? | HowStuffWorks. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://history.howstuffworks.com/history-vs-myth/parthenon-golden-ratio.htm
- The Golden Ratios of the Parthenon – The Golden Ratio: Phi, 1.618. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://www.goldennumber.net/parthenon-golden-ratio-design/