The Parthenon

Fig. 33 – The Parthenon in Greece. 

Erected between 447 and 438 B.C., the Parthenon in Greece was designed by Iktinos, when Greek architecture was at the height of its sophistication.  Due to the presence of optical illusions, the Parthenon has what are known as “optical refinements” built into its structure.  It must be stressed that these illusions are physiological and psychological in nature.  They are not geometrical effects. 

To the unaided eye, columns tend to look narrower in the middle than at the top or bottom.  Each of the columns in the Parthenon was built with a slight bulge in the middle, to make them appear “straight”.  Columns tend to “contract” near the top, and hence the base of each column was built a little thicker.  Columns further away from the centre appear thicker.  To counteract this effect, the columns in the centre were built a little thicker.  Furthermore, the spacing between the columns appear smaller towards the centre.  Therefore, they were spaced wider apart accordingly. 

Horizontal lines appear to “dip” in the middle, and hence the centre portion of the floor was slightly raised.  Furthermore, the columns were slanted inwards so that they would meet if they were extended one mile into the sky.  This to counteract the effects of hatched-line illusions (Fig. 64).  The triangular outline of the roof makes the top part of each column appear to slant outwards.   

Fig. 34 – Schematic diagram of how the Parthenon would appear
before (left portion) and after (right portion) optical refinements.

The left portion of Fig. 34 shows how the Parthenon would appear before the optical refinements.  The optical illusions shown are grossly exaggerated for effect.  After the corrections were made to the columns and floor, the Parthenon now appears “correct”, as shown in the right portion of Fig. 34.  It is interesting to note that none of the “straight lines” seen in the Parthenon are geometrically straight.  Such concepts of making architecture appear to look “correct” are known as “counter-perspective”.