The Parthenon of Athens: An Epic Monument, Or a Mystery in Measurements?
The Parthenon, proudly standing on the Athenian Acropolis, is considered by many historians and archaeologists alike as the undisputed symbol of Athenian democracy and the cradle of Western civilization.
The monument is also considered one of the finest buildings of all time by a large number of architects worldwide, attracts millions of tourists each year, and was designed by the most famous sculptor of antiquity, Phidias, while two of the most influential architects ever, Ictinus and Callicrates, supervised the practical construction work of the temple.
The Mysteries of the Ancient Temple
Contemporary scientists have admitted—despite the Parthenon being the most imitated building in history—that even with modern technology and contemporary architectural techniques, it’s virtually impossible to rebuild the exact same building in all its detail.
The Acropolis in Athens, Greece, featuring the Parthenon. (BigStock image)
But why is the Parthenon so special? What makes it so different from all the others? What kind of details and secrets did the peoples of antiquity know that have been lost to time? Why can’t we construct an identical building to the original Parthenon even though technology, machinery, and architecture have progressed so much since then? There are too many riddles to the construction of the Parthenon, only a few of which can even remotely begin to be unraveled.
To begin with, the Parthenon might have needed decades to be restored in modern times, but the Athenian citizens mysteriously built it inside of a decade, between 447 and 438 BCE.
The temple was built under Pericles’s rule. Marble bust of Pericles, Roman copy after a Greek original from ca. 430 BC. ( Public Domain )
The iconic monument is a peripteral octastyle Doric temple with Ionic architectural features, surrounded by a colonnade of eight columns across and seventeen along the length, counting the corner columns twice.
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The main entrance of the temple faces east while the interior length is 100 Attic feet, thus 30.80 meters (101 feet). And though these numbers might seem random to most, the fact is many historians believe great proportions are expressed in these numbers.
The beautiful ancient Acropolis and Parthenon of Greece. (BigStock image)
Messages in Measurements
An Attic foot is equivalent to 0.30803 meters, or 1/2F (φ), where F (φ) = 1.61803, also known as the Golden Ratio. The Golden Number F, the number 1.618, is often found in nature, in (human) facial features, in the measurements of the human body, in flowers and other plants, in art, in most living organisms on earth, in shells, in beehives, among many other things, but most important, it’s often associated with the structure of the universe and planetary orbit in our solar system.
Furthermore, in aesthetic science the Golden Ratio is considered the most accurate standard for the expression of perfection. So, could all this just be a mere coincidence? Not likely, since inside the Parthenon we find something more impressive—the Fibonacci Sequence, which in mathematics describes the phenomenon of a number being equal to the sum of the previous two: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, etc. Even more strange, the ratio of the successive pairs tends to the so-called Golden Ratio, or Number F (φ).
The Golden Ratio ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )
Additionally, inside the temple can also be found the number for Pi (π), 3.1416, which appears in the mathematical relation 2F2/10, but more impressively, we meet the number e = 2.72, which is the most important mathematical constant and is the base of the natural logarithm.
What makes things more complicated is that the three numbers included in the Parthenon are also included in all of nature and are present in all creation, and nothing can function without them.
As one would expect, the questions deriving from the aforementioned facts are many. Did the creators of the Parthenon know these numbers and their importance? And if so, how did they manage to include them in such detail and accuracy in a building which we can’t replicate today even with all our technology and know-how?
How could the ancient Greeks, or more precisely, Ictinus, Callicrates, and Phidias be aware of the Golden Ratio when Midhat J. Gazalé and so many other scholars assure us that it was not until Euclid came along that the Golden Ratio's mathematical properties were studied?