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Posts tagged ‘World Heritage Site’

#5: Acropolis, Athens

It’s been a while since I worked on my UNESCO World Heritage Site series so let’s get back to it with an easily recognizable site – The Acropolis in Athens.

Parthenon Acropolis Athens

View of the Acropolis (Photo: Wikipedia)

Entering Athens, you are walled in by buildings and can easily lose your orientation but before long you turn a corner and there on an imposing plateau is the Acropolis.  The complex of temples including the Parthenon atop the rocky hill was originally filled with great art, commanding architecture and human activity in Classical Greece.  I could write long posts about each of the site’s elements but I’ll try to give an overview here.

Acropolis reconstruction

Reconstruction of the Acropolis (Photo: Roy George)

While there had been religious buildings and fortification on the rock for centuries already, the greatest construction effort was completed under the rule of Pericles during the height of the Greek empire (460-430 BC).  Visitors would have entered the site through a grand gateway known as the Propylaea. Once inside, along the right toward the Parthenon would have been the Brauroneion, a temple dedicated to Artemis protector of pregnant women and childbirth, and the Chalcotheke which is believed to be the Parthenon treasury.  Left from the entrance was a complex religious building called the Erechtheion which honored Athena as Protectress of Athens, Poseidon as rival for Athens and several ancient heroes.  Today the building is most recognizable for a porch of columns  shaped like maidens known as Caryatids.  The small Temple of Nike could be found to the right of the Propylaea before entering the site and is largely restored today.  A Greek and a Roman amphitheater were carved into the South side of the Acropolis rock.

Temple of Nike at the gates of the Acropolis

The Parthenon was dedicated to Athena, the Patron Goddess of Athens, and was believed to house a 40 foot tall ivory and gold statue of her.  The outer structure of Doric columns is 228.0 x 101.4 feet in size and has several “optical refinements” such as bulging columns and a bowed base so that the structure’s geometry looks perfect to viewers.  The triangular pediment facing the Propylaea depicted Athena winning over the city of Athens with her gift of an olive tree while the opposite pediment described her birth from Zeus’ head.  Square panels, or metopes, depicting mythical battles adorned the exterior of the Parthenon.  The interior cella was decorated with a continuous carved frieze of riders, priests, and pilgrims completing the annual Panathenaic procession from the cemetery through the market and on to the Acropolis.

East face of the Parthenon

The Parthenon has been attacked, repurposed and robbed several times.  The video below from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture does a good job chronicling the destruction.

You’ll also note that the video above spends a significant amount of time highlighting the removal of art collectively known as the Elgin marbles.  There is strong movement in Greece to return these sculptures from the British Museum to Athens.  The recently opened Acropolis Museum in Athens displays copies of all the Parthenon sculptures for context but I assume would prefer to have the originals.  If you can’t see them in either museum, there is a great virtual exhibit available online that lets you tour the Parthenon frieze.

elgin marbles

Virtual Parthenon Frieze project sponsored by the EU

While virtual recreations and artistic reconstructions are helpful, I still find it difficult to imagine the Acropolis during the Golden Age of Athens.  As fantastic as I picture it, the Acropolis was probably more colorful, more cluttered with statues and more imposing.

Libya’s Threatened Archaeological Sites

Sabratha (Photo: Wikipedia)

I have been following the upheaval in Libya and came across a press release from UNESCO pleading for the protections of Libya’s archaeological sites.  As the statement reads: “Experience shows that there is a serious danger of destruction during times of social upheaval. It has taught us to look out for looting by unscrupulous individuals, that often damages the integrity of artifacts and of archaeological sites. Careless dealers who buy these objects and fragments are in fact inciting more looting. It is therefore crucial that the international antiquities market be particularly wary of objects from Libya in the present circumstances,” Irina Bokova [Director-General of UNESCO] cautioned.

Leptis Magna (Photo: wanderingchiara)

I am reminded of the looting in Iraq following the 2003 US intervention but also of citizens protecting the Egyptian Museum in Cairo last February amid the riots.  Libya has 5 designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites spanning Prehistoric, Phoenician, Greek and Roman periods.  I have even seen tours advertised (well, not anymore) to Libya to view these magnificent works of art.  My thoughts are certainly with the Libyan people who I hope have peace and stability soon, but it would be a tragedy if violence and lawlessness destroys their cultural heritage.


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