HISTORIC PRESERVATION Parthenon Restoration   1 comment

HISTORIC PRESERVATION Parthenon Restoration

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It took less than ten years to build the Parthenon but restoration is taking 37 years and counting.

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The Parthenon was built of marble in 447 BC and acted as a treasury building for the Aegean League of City States.  The word Parthenon means “virgin”  but originally it was just called “The Temple” or the “100 foot house”.   A statue of the goddess Athena  occupied  the center of the Temple and was carved by the same famous sculptor who designed the Parthenon itself,   Pheidias.

Every architect studies the Parthenon as an example of the perfection of proportion.  But it is the nuances of every inch of the design that creates this proportion.  All of the columns lean slightly to an imaginary point in the sky, end columns are spaced closer to each other,  column shafts bulge slightly at the middle almost to emphasize the load, and the faces of the Parthenon fit into “the golden rectangle”.

Thus, despite rows of seemingly identical columns, no two parts are interchangeable anywhere in the structure.  Restoration crews  must keep track of the  70,000 separate original pieces that have fractured a hundred times over because each piece only fits correctly in one place.  A bad restoration in 1898 by Greek architect, Nikolas Balanos used untreated iron clamps to secure the failing structure which then expanded as they rusted;  fragmenting the marble.  Even the original architects of the Parthenon, Iktinos and Kallikrates, knew to coat the original iron pins and clamps with lead.  Today restoration architects are using titanium pins.

The temple was attacked by the Venetians when under Ottaman rule and they triggered the ammunitions hidden inside causing major destruction.  Bits and pieces of the Parthenon have recently been discovered in the fortress walls of the acropolis that were erected in the 1800’s.  These bits are being identified, removed and mapped into the existing structure by a computer identification program (like a technological jig-saw puzzle program).

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Permanently missing pieces are painstakingly reproduced in marble and reinserted as can be seen from the whiter Marble above.
 
 
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Restoration crews chipping off poor repairs.
 
 
 
 
 
Earlier restorations put pieces in the wrong location.  These pieces are removed, stored and placed correctly when the time comes.
 
 
 

The triangular pediment frieze contained sculptures that fit neatly within. Behind is the massive counterweight for the crane which folds in half and tucks away when not in use.

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Restoration of the Parthenon has been difficult because the earlier restoration mistakenly placed some of the fragments into the wrong locations.  Removal and relocation was not that simple since the remaining structure has weakened and not able to survive the surgery without the invention and approval of some new bonding agents.  New methods for carving the flutes into the replacement column pieces and other carvings has helped to quicken the current pace.  The computer has been a great aid in matching pieces but still the human eye is often the final judge.   The Acropolis has a series of tents for carving the marble and a full time crew of restoration technicians who raise and lower the pieces.

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 The 18th c. fortress borrowed broken fragments from the Parthenon to build the massive 65’ tall walls. Restoration architects floated tethered weather balloons and cameras to record the surface of the wall to find the Parthenon fragments.
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Earthquakes are a reoccurring problem for
the Parthenon.  The original architects knew
to place lead sheets between the drums that
compose the columns to absorb some of the shock.
 
 
 

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I sketched my first in-person view of the Parthenon.  The top of the famous temple was peeking above the walls of the acropolis  (as viewed across the stone 5000 seat theatre of Atticus).

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One response to “HISTORIC PRESERVATION Parthenon Restoration

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  1. Great work, thank you.

    Francisco J. Guerra-y-Rullán

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