TUESDAY 14.09.2004

Off to Acropolis!

Acropolis -which you are going to visit today- is a magical word, known all over the world. Although not included in the list of the seven wonders of the ancient world (along with some other buildings of lesser importance), Acropolis still fascinates the people not only as an excellent example of refined architecture, but also as a symbol of Athens, the city-state where democracy was born. Parthenon, the temple dedicated to Pallas Athena, which is the main building on the hill of Acropolis (a word that in Greek means the far side of the city, as this was the place the local leaders preferred to build their own, well-protected homes). As John Julius Norwich comments in his "Great Architecture of The World", "The Parthenon... enjoys the reputation of being the most perfect Doric temple ever built. Even in antiquity, its architectural refinements were legendary, especially the subtle correspondence between the curvature of the stylobate, the batter, or taper, of the naos walls and the entasis of the columns." The temple featured numerous architectural innovations and sat on a base 70 meters long and 26 meters wide. Constructed in the 'Doric' style it had 17 columns along its length and eight columns along its width, each of which was over 10 meters high and 2 meters in diameter. The corner columns were slightly larger in diameter, with their spacing reduced to make it possible for the frieze to conform to the rule that it must terminate with a triglyph. The steps were 508 mm high, too high to use, so intermediate steps were provided at the centre of each of the short sides.

Right-angled buildings tend to create an optical illusion that can make them look top heavy. To compensate for this effect, the Parthenon's columns utilise an architectural effect called entasis, and get gradually thinner from the middle up. The Parthenon was made of marble, brought from Penteli mountain near Athens. Professor Manolis Korres who has spent almost his whole life "resurrecting" the Parthenon has depicted in a series of fine sketches (two of them you can see in these pages) how the super-heavy blocks of marble were transported in Athens, carved and then put in place on the fine building. The magnificent figures carved into the frieze, the space between the top of the columns and the rooftop are some of the finest ever example of ancient sculpture. Lord Elgin, a British diplomat, removed many of these from the ruins, in 1801. Shipped back to Britain, they are now housed in the British Museum, whose ownership of them has been disputed by the Greek state ever since. When work began on the Parthenon in 447 BC, the Athenian Empire was at the height of its power. Work on the temple continued until 432; the Parthenon symbolizes the power and influence of the Athenian politician, Perikles, who championed its construction. Architects were Iktinos and Kallikrates, while of special importance was the role of the famous sculptor, Phidias. Because the Parthenon was built with Delian League/Athenian Empire funds, the building may be read as an expression of the confidence of the Athenians in their own imperialism. But the piety of this undertaking should not be underestimated; the Persians had sacked the temples on the Athenian acropolis in 480 BC, and rebuilding them fulfilled the Athenians' "debt of gratitude to heaven for the defeat of the Mede." In the late 6th century AC the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church, and from about 1204, under the Frankish Dukes of Athens, it served as a Latin church, until it was converted by the Turkish conquerors into a mosque, in 1458. Restoration efforts began just after the establishment of an independent Greece and works are still getting on, even to our days