Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Acropolis of Athens

World Heritage Sites



The Parthenon
There have been times in the history of mankind, when either the gods smiled upon us or the planets were in perfect alignment, but somehow we got it right.  Such a time was in the city-state of Athens during the 5th century BCE.  After the victory against the Persians, the Athenians established a new democracy.  Thought and philosophy flourished.  Most remarkably, the surplus funds in the treasury were used to erect the most magnificent buildings the world has ever known.  That there were talented men capable of such artistic vision and construction is what makes me believe the immortals were truly at work.

Read any book on the history of art and the writer sings praises to Pericles and his friend and sculptor, Pheidias, who designed and directed the building of the Parthenon.  It has been called the most beautiful building in the world, the finest temple in antiquity and the ultimate achievement of the Doric Order.  It has been copied through the Roman era and into modern times over and over again.  Greek Revival is a popular architectural style even today.   No wonder it was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in  1987, just shortly after we were there.  The Athenian Acropolis is the supreme expression of the adaptation of architecture to a natural site . . .This grand composition of perfectly balanced massive structures creates a monumental landscape . . .

Since our hotel wasn't far away, we were able to spend several days here.  We saw the Acropolis and all its ruins from every angle and in every light.  Magic?  Oh, heck yeah.
Temple of Hephaestos

Because we had flown to Europe on People Express (How I miss those cheapie flights!), we had to fly from Athens to London.  We didn't mind at all.  In fact, we were overjoyed.  It meant we had a chance to see the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum.  It would complete our study of the Parthenon and give us a chance to  visualize how remarkable this temple to Athena must have been with its continuous frieze of reliefs.
These beautiful marble sculptures were removed from the Parthenon by Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, when he was serving as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799-1803.  He obtained permission from the authorities, but it has been a bone of contention ever since.  Greece (no longer under Turkish rule) wants their art back!  And who can blame them.  After all, Elgin removed nearly half of the surviving sculptures.  He did, however, give them to the British Museum where they have been properly stored, taken care of and admired by millions of people ever since.  I have mixed feelings about their return.  Although I would dearly love to see the Parthenon "whole" again, the pollution of Athens and the resulting acid rain would accelerate their deterioration.  Obviously, this would never be allowed.  The marbles will be placed into a museum.  So why not leave them where they are?

Great art belongs to the world.


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