Propylaia

View of the West entrance to the Acropolis through the Beule Gate, through which visitors descend from the Acropolis today. Discovered by French archaeologist Beule in 1852, it was built by the Romans in the 2nd century AD from pieces (some bearing clear inscriptions) of the choregic monument of Nikias. The central hall of the Propylaia (“entryway”), through which entry is gained to the Acropolis, is clearly visible through the doorway. The architect Mnesikles purposely designed the Propylaia in relationship to the Parthenon, possibly an architectural first.

View of the Central Hall of the Propylaia. In 1687, Venetian bombardments on the Turk-occupied Acropolis destroyed the West facade (which would have been in the foreground). The Propylaia consists of this central hall and two wings, on the north (left) and south (right). The West facade was composed of a double row of six columns, Doric on the outside and Ionic on the inside.

East portico of the Propylaia. In the 17th century, The Turks’ supply of gunpowder, stored in this portico, was struck by lightning. The ensuing explosion destroyed the architraves and several Ionic columns. Note the six Doric columns and the frieze of triglyphs and metopes under the pediment (no sculpture was ever commissioned). Near this spot (where I stood to snap this photo) stood the 30 foot tall statue of Athena Promachos, another tribute to Athena’s help in the Athenian victory over the Persians. Pausanias (I.28.2) reports that “the spear-tip and helmet-crest” of the statue could be seen from the sea and guided Athenian sailors home.

Above are two photos of the North wing of the Propylaia (to your left as you ascend the grand staircase on your way up through the Propylaia and onto the sacred rock of the Acropolis), with its portico of three Doric columns in antis (between pilasters). The doorway leads to the Pinakothiki, or Art Gallery, described in great detail by Pausanias. Many paintings of familiar scenes from mythology and history were either hanged or painted on the walls. Since the door is off-center, some scholars believe that couches lined the walls, offering a place of rest to those who came to offer sacrifices at the temples on the Acropolis or just to mingle with their countrymen.

East wall of the North wing of the Propylaia, damaged during the Venetian assault on the Acropolis in 1687. The Franks (beginning in 1204) destroyed the Byzantine floor and built a higher one, so the upper level doors are Frankish, while the door below is Byzantine.

Although the facades of the north and south wings are symmetrical (those same three Doric columns in antis), the south wing has no room behind it to correspond to the north’s (This south wing is to your right as your ascend the stairs). Instead, there is a portico that gives direct access to the little Temple of Athena Nike. Inside that southern portico are visible rectangular holes near the top of the structure designed for the original wooden slot-roof (ceiling beams would have fit into each groove); the holes below are intended for the sloping roof of a later Medieval church.

The photo on the left shows the east portico of the Propylaia (the doorway through which you actually enter the Acropolis proper). Note that the lifting bosses – outcroppings of marble used as grips for positioning the huge blocks – are quite prominent. Although meant to be shorn away after they have served their purpose, since the building was never finished, the bosses remain. Curiously, it became quite fashionable after this to leave the lifting bosses intact as part of the finished design of a building – perhaps due to the distinctiveness of this model! On the right, Mr. Tanoulas, architect in charge of the Propylaia Restoration Project, points to the joining of the outside SE corner of the South Wing and the much older Mycenean wall. There is a Medieval addition to the wall in the corner. And boss close-ups!

Mr. Tanoulas points out grievous faults caused by an earlier reconstruction attempt by Balanos which modern conservators must repair before the current work of restoration can occur.   On the left Mr. Tanoulas points to holes drilled in the marble to aid in lifting them. These were foolishly left open to the air, and pooled water damaged the marble. He also used iron clamps, which subsequently rusted, expanding and cracking the marble. In antiquity they knew better – they coated their iron clamps with lead. Balanos also erred by “reconstructing” this Ionic column capital from marble fragments really belonging to four distinct column capitals.

Faced with almost insurmountable difficulties when it comes to putting this giant jigsaw puzzle back together again, it is a joy to find pieces that clearly belong together: on the left is one long beam that has been broken into 5 fragments. On the right is a marble graveyard of the c. 1000 ceiling pieces (mostly) unused by Balanos in his  ill-destined reconstruction attempt.

A series of three photos showing conservators reconstructing a piece of the Propylaia entablature: (1) a crane is used to hoist one piece of marble onto another for refitting; (2) titanium rods have replaced any iron implanted by Balanos and cement has been poured into any remaining holes; (3) a perfect fit!

 

Doric capital from eastern porch (BM)

 

Close-up of dowel hole with chisel marks from Ionic column drum from inside Propylaia (BM)

 

That Ionic column drum (BM)

 

Wall block from the Propylaia (BM)

 

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