Prior to the fifth century B.C., Doric temple construction was mainly of wood. But the builders
of the Parthenon wanted a temple that would be far more impressive and far more durable than other
Greek temples of their time. Two factors, the city's great wealth and its large population of skilled
workers and slaves, enabled the Athenians to build the Parthenon entirely of stone.
How did the use of marble influence the structure of the columns?
The 20,000 tons of marble used in the construction of the Parthenon came from quarries on Mount Pentelicon,
about ten miles from Athens. The Athenians were skilled in the use of the simple machines required to
move massive amounts of marble: pulleys, levers, and inclined planes. Quarrymen and stonemasons used
iron and wooden tools to hammer and wedge out blocks of marble. Each piece was cut according to the
The heavy marble blocks were carefully brought down from the mountain quarries on sleds, using roads
that can still be seen today. Blocks were then transported to Athens in ox-drawn carts. Larger pieces
were carried on carts with wheels as large as 12 feet in diameter and pulled by as many as 30 teams of
oxen. The trip to the Acropolis could take up to two days. The marble was then carried up the slopes of
the Acropolis on wagons pulled by mules.
Blocks used for columns were cut into round drums. On the sides of the drums, the stone cutters
left protruding chunks of stone intact to be used as handles so that the drums could be lifted into
place. The drums were divided into four sections, each with a different finishing polish. The center
of each drum was hollowed out to allow the insertion of a wooden peg. Laborers used pulleys to lift
the drums into place. No mortar was used in the construction of the columns or elsewhere in the temple.
With the drums in place, twenty deep, fluted channels were cut on each column to enhance its vertical lines.
Credits: Parthenon © SuperStock; Marble images © L. Brennan.
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