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Acropolis

Circuit Walls

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Acropolis Circuit Walls DrumsAlthough people had been living on the Acropolis since the Neolithic period (ca. 4000–3200 B.C.), it was not until the Bronze Age (ca. 3200–1100 B.C.) that the rock became a fortified citadel with a palace. The first defensive wall atop the Acropolis was built in the thirteenth century b.c. by the Mycenaeans, a civilization that thrived in Greece between about 1600 and 1100 B.C. Long after the Mycenaeans were gone, their wall survived—and some sections still do—until it was severely damaged by the Persians in 480 B.C., after which a new 2,500-foot circuit wall was built as part of the fifth-century B.C. building program. In some places, pieces of monuments destroyed earlier in the century were used.

 

Acropolis Circuit Walls SensorFor more than three decades the circuit walls have been exhaustively documented, constantly maintained, and actively monitored using traditional methods, such as inspecting cracks and removing roots and plants, in combination with the latest and most accurate technology available. A complete photogrammetric survey and 3-D scan of the walls has been completed, optical fibers have been installed to measure strain, and a highly precise nickel-iron alloy underground wire has been placed between the Parthenon and the south wall to measure micromovements.

 

As part of the conservation of the walls, the limestone and schist of the Acropolis itself was also consolidated. Between 1979 and 1993, unstable rocks were anchored to the main mass of the Acropolis in 22 places with stainless steel rods, and gaps and fissures in the rock were sealed with injections of cement.

Propylaia

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Acropolis Propylaia CeilingEver since the mid-sixth century B.C., a monumental gateway has stood on the west side of the Acropolis at the entrance to Athena’s sanctuary. The original gate was replaced by one that was subsequently destroyed by the Persians and then repaired. The impressive structure seen today—actually three buildings on two different levels—was built between 437 and 432 B.C. by the architect Mnesikles. Many sections of the gate restored by Nikolaos Balanos in the early twentieth century have been dismantled, repaired, and replaced, with much of the recent work focused on the Propylaia’s once brightly painted marble coffered ceilings. Now completed, this project required arresting the deterioration of the marble resulting from the iron reinforcements used by Balanos. In addition, 24,00 architectural members needed to be properly identified—including ones that hadn’t been used in earlier restorations, fragments wrongly placed, and pieces that required their own restoration—in order to determine what needed to be fashioned anew. As with the other buildings of the Acropolis, the Propylaia was repeatedly used for purposes different from those originally intended—it has been a church, a residence for Frankish dukes, and a garrison and munitions store under the Turks. The most recent effort has succeeded in restoring the fifth-century B.C. experience of entering the Acropolis through an impressively roofed structure, as Mnesikles intended.

 

Acropolis Propylaia Entranceway

Erechtheion

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Acropolis Erechtheion Caryatid Porch

 

In many ways, the story of the Erechtheion is the story of Athens. “The Erechtheion was a means to encompass, within its footprint, relics of early Athenian myth and religion,” says classical art historian Jeffrey Hurwit. It was there that the memory of the dispute between Athena and Poseidon over the patronage of the city was preserved in what the Athenians regarded as the impression of the god’s trident, visible through a hole left in the floor of the north porch. That foundational legend was also preserved in the tales of a sea he caused to well up during the contest, long believed to be under the building, and in the olive tree that Athena caused to sprout on this spot and that marked her victory. And in this location was kept the olivewood statue of Athena Polias (Athena of the City), the Athenians’ most sacred relic, an object so ancient that not even they knew where it had come from.

 

Acropolis Erectheion Caryatid VintageSince its construction on the Acropolis’ north side between 421 and 406 B.C., when it replaced an earlier temple to Athena, the Erechtheion—named after Erechtheus, king of Athens and foster son of Athena—has had a complicated history of use, reuse, destruction, and renovation that mirrors the history of the city. In the fifth century B.C., the unique, asymmetrical structure—its highly unusual shape largely determined by the irregular terrain—served not only as a temple to both Athena and Poseidon, but also as home to the cults of the god Hephaistos, Erechtheus, and the hero Boutes, Erechtheus’ brother. The building underwent its first major repairs after it was burned during the Roman general Sulla’s siege of Athens in the first century B.C. Since then the Erechtheion has been a church (in the early Byzantine period), a palace for the bishop (during the Frankish period), and a dwelling for the harem of the Turkish garrison commander (in the Ottoman period). Between 1801 and 1812, sculptures, including one of the six caryatids that held up the south porch, were removed to England by Lord Elgin, and during the Greek War of Independence, the ceiling of the north porch was blown up.

 

The Erechtheion was the first building that Nikolaos Balanos addressed during his Acropolis restoration project, and thus the first place where he employed the techniques that were to prove so disastrous—the use of corrosive iron to reinforce fragile architectural members, the cutting and removal of ancient stones, and the haphazard placement of random fragments to fill in and restore missing sections of the ancient buildings. As a result of Balanos’ interventions and the building’s repeated recasting, much about its ancient appearance is lost. But between 1979 and 1987, 23 blocks of the north wall that had been incorrectly used to restore the south wall were replaced in their original positions, and new blocks were made for the south wall. This raised the height of the north wall by four courses, bringing it closer to its original height. Because scholars haven’t yet discovered a way to protect the surface of the marble that makes up the Acropolis’ major monuments, the remaining caryatids that supported the south porch were removed in 1978 and all were replaced with copies. The originals now sit in the Acropolis Museum, where they were recently cleaned using pulse laser ablation, the same technique that was used on the coffered ceiling of the caryatid porch and on the west frieze of the Parthenon. This technique, explains Demetrios Anglos of the Foundation for Research and Technology at the Institute of Electronic Structure and Laser in Crete, who oversaw the efforts, involves directing the laser for a short time in a highly focused way and concentrating it on a small volume of material so the dirt is removed in a nondestructive manner. “We do this to clean the marble,” Anglos explains, “and to reach a place that is acceptable from both a materials and aesthetic point of view.”

Temple of Athena Nike

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Acropolis Athena Nike Wall

 

The small marble temple on the rock’s southwest corner dedicated to Athena Nike (Victorious Athena), built between 427 and 424 B.C., was the first building on the Acropolis to be restored. In the seventeenth century, the temple was demolished and its stones used to strengthen the Turkish fortification wall. From 1836 to 1845, it was re-erected in the first of three attempts at anastylosis. Between 1935 and 1940, as part of Nikolaos Balanos’ restoration work, the temple was again dismantled and put back together, and finally, between 2000 and 2010, the most recent restoration was completed. This last required demolition and replacement of the concrete slab installed by Balanos, upon which the temple sat, with a stainless steel grid, as well as the complete dismantling, restoration, and resetting of all its architectural members. During this process, pieces of column drums and capitals, parts of the coffered ceiling, and blocks of the frieze, cornices, and the pediment were all put back where they had originally been. “We had the opportunity to correct mistakes in the positions of stones from the walls and columns. Balanos had put the best-looking ones in the front, even though some of them had originally been on the back,” says architect Vassiliki Eleftheriou. In addition, some fragments that had never been used in previous restorations were identified and set on the building.

 

Acropolis Athena Nike ReliefThe restored temple seen today is not the only monument in this location. As part of the current project, scholars have also conserved an earlier limestone temple to Athena, probably dating to the sixth century B.C., that was discovered in 1936 and that lies beneath the later temple. This earlier structure, along with the base of the cult statue of the goddess also found in 1936, and a tower dating to the Mycenaean period, have been restored and are visible in the basement of the classical structure. Work is currently under way to make this ancient sanctuary accessible to the public.

Arrephorion

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Acropolis Arrephorion Relief

 

Against the Acropolis’ north fortification wall sits a small, square building that Wilhelm Dörpfeld identified in the 1920s as the Arrephorion. (Dörpfeld was the German archaeologist and architect who pioneered the techniques of stratigraphic archaeology and was Heinrich Schliemann’s successor at Troy.) The Arrephorion was the home of the Arrephoroi, two aristocratic girls between the ages of 7 and 11, who were chosen each year to serve in the cult of the goddess Athena. During the festival of the Arrephoria, celebrated at night in mid-summer, the girls enacted a secret ritual in which they carried chests above their heads—the contents were and still remain a mystery—and descended the Acropolis, likely by means of a stairway concealed inside the north wall.

 

Acropolis Arrephorion FoundationsWhile it is known that the Arrephorion, constructed in the fifth century B.C., once had a square hall and four-column colonnade, as well as a rectangular courtyard, all that survive are limestone foundation blocks and fragments of marble. Because the limestone is fragile and the marble cannot be used to restore any extant structure, it was decided that, in contrast to the plans for any other monument on the Acropolis, the Arrephorion would be reburied to protect it. The structure was backfilled in 2006 with soil that could easily be removed if necessary, but is also intended to remain in place for at least 120 years with minimal changes resulting from moisture, seismic activity, or pressure applied to it by contact with the circuit walls.

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