(propylaia means before the gates)
The monumental gateway to the Acropolis, the Propylaia, was built under the general direction of the Athenian leader Pericles, but Phidias was given the responsibility for planning the rebuilding of the Acropolis as a whole at the conclusion of the Persian Wars. According to Plutarch, the Propylaia was designed by the architect Mnesicles, but we know nothing more about him. Construction began in 437 BC and was terminated in 432 BC, when the building was still unfinished.
The Propylaia was constructed of white Pentelic marble and grey Eleusinian marble or limestone, which was used only for accents. Structural iron was also used. The structure consists of a central building with two adjoining wings on the west (outer) side, one to the north and one to the south.
The core is the central building, which presents a standard six-columned Doric facade, both on the west to those entering the Acropolis and on the east to those departing. The columns echo the proportions (not the size) of the columns of the Parthenon.
The central building contains the gate wall, about two-thirds of the way through it. There are five gates in the wall, one for the central passageway, which was not paved and lay along the natural level of the ground, and two on either side at the level of the building's eastern porch, five steps up from the level of the western porch. The central passageway was the culmination of the Sacred Way, which led to the Acropolis from Eleusis.
The gate wall and the eastern (inner) portion of the building sit at a level five steps above the western portion and the root of the central building rose on the same line. The ceiling in the eastern part of the central building was famous in antiquity, having been called by Pausanias (about 600 years after the building was finished) "...down to the present day unrivaled." It consisted of marble blocks carved in the shape of ceiling coffers and painted blue with gold stars.
The Erechtheion is an ancient temple on the north side of the Acropolis which was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon. The temple was built between 421 BC and 406 BC. Its architect may have been Mnesicles, and it derived its name from a shrine dedicated to the legendary Greek hero Erichthonius. The sculptor and mason of the structure was Phidias, who was employed by Pericles to build both the Erechtheion and the Parthenon.
The main structure consists of up to four compartments, the largest being the east cella, with an Ionic portico on its east end. The entire temple is on a slope, so the west and north sides are about 3m lower than the south and east sides. It was built entirely of marble from Mount Pentelikon, with friezes of black limestone from Eleusis which bore sculptures executed in relief in white marble. It had elaborately carved doorways and windows and its columns were ornately decorated; they were painted, glided and highlighted with gilt bronze and multi-coloured inset glass beads.
On the north side, there is another large porch with six Ionic columns, and on the south, the famous "Porch of the Maidens", with six draped female figures (Caryatids) as supporting columns. The porch was built to conceal the giant 15ft beam needed to support the southwest corner over the metropolis, after the building was drastically reduced in size and budget, following the onset of the Peloponnesian war.
The Erechtheion underwent extensive repairs and reformation for the first time during the 1st century BC, after its catastrophic burning by the Roman general, Sulla. The building was altered decisively during the early Byzantine period, when it was transformed into a church. With this alteration many architectural features of the ancient construction were lost, so that our knowledge of the interior arrangement of the building is limited. It became a palace under Frankish rule and the residence of the Turkish commander's harem in the Ottoman period.
In 1801, one of the Caryatids and the north column of the east porch together with the overlying section of the entablature were removed by Lord Elgin in order to decorate his Scottish mansion and were later sold to the British Museum (along with the pedimental and frieze sculpture taken from the Parthenon).
Athenian legend had it that at night the remaining five Caryatids could be heard wailing for their lost sister. Elgin attempted to remove a second Caryatid, but when technical difficulties arose, he tried to have it sawn to pieces. The statue was smashed, and its fragments were left behind. It was later reconstructed haphazardly with cement and iron rods. During the Greek War of Independence, the building was bombarded by the Ottomans and severely damaged; the ceiling of the north porch was blown up and a large section of the lateral walls of the cella was dismantled.
THE TEMPLE OF ATHENA NIKE
The Temple of Athena Nike is a temple, built between 427 BC and 424 BC and is the earliest fully Ionic temple on the Acropolis. It has a prominent position on a steep bastion at the south west corner of the Acropolis to the right of the entrance, the Propylaia. In contrast to the Acropolis proper, a walled sanctuary entered through the Propylaia, the Nike Sanctuary was open, entered from the Propylaia's southwest wing and from a narrow stair on the north. The sheer walls of its bastion were protected on the north, west and south by the Nike Parapet, name for its frieze of Nikai celebrating victory and sacrificing to their patroness, Athena Nike.
Nike means victory in Greek, and Athena was worshipped in this form, as goddess of victory in war and wisdom. The citizens worshipped the goddess in hope of a prosperous outcome in the long Peloponnesian War fought on land and sea against the Spartans and their allies.
A statue of Nike stood in the cella, or otherwise referred to as a naos. Nike was originally the 'winged victory' goddess. The Athena Nike statue's absence of wings led Athenians in later centuries to call it Nike Apteros (wingless victory) and the story arose that the statue was deprived of wings so that it could never leave the city.
The friezes of the building's entablature were decorated on all sides with relief sculpture in the idealized classical style of the 5th century BC. The north frieze depicted a battle between Greeks entailing cavalry. The south frieze showed the decisive victory over the Persians at the battle of Plataea. The east frieze showed an assembly of the gods Athena, Zeus and Poseidon, rendering Athenian religious beliefs and reverence for the gods bound up in the social and political climate of 5th century Athens. Some time after the temple was completed, around 410 BC, a parapet was added around it to prevent people from falling from the steep bastion. The outside of the parapet was adorned by exquisitely carved relief sculptures showing Nike in a variety of activities, the best known Olympian.
Finishing this week's blog, I would like to raise your awareness as of the importance of the return of the stolen Parthenon Marbles to its country of origin. Greeks, as well as people from other countries, have repeatedly requested their return. As a testimony, I will present you with two incredible videos.
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