by Meghna MehtaDec 10, 2019
Situated on the top of a limestone ridge that cuts through the Attica plateau, the Acropolis of Athens is often viewed as the birthplace of democracy. It is also considered to be one of the finest examples of Greek architecture. One of the most notable structures in the Acropolis, without a doubt, is the Parthenon. Constructed in fifth century BC, it became a symbol for the modern nation state of Greece following its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1832. Most of the Roman and post-Roman era structures on the acropolis were removed, in order to facilitate archaeological exploration of the site. A formal restoration project of the site began in 1975, to look into not only the historic damage but also the environmental damages sustained by the structures. Since the beginning of the project, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike have been completed. One can still see the scaffolding surrounding the Parthenon, the largest and most impressive of the restoration effort. It is important to note that parts of the Parthenon Sculptures are currently housed at the British Museum, London.
In 2020, as part of the continued efforts of the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports - supported by Onassis Foundation - to upgrade all facilities on the Acropolis saw a sophisticated and picturesque light display. Designed by Emmy award-winning lighting designer, Eleftheria Deko, the old spotlights have been replaced with cutting-edge, high colour fidelity LED lighting fixtures that can be controlled independently at every level, offering significant flexibility. This system allows for a more versatile display that can be customised to draw attention to specific aspects of the structure's architecture, be it arches, columns, metopes, or pediments. This is the first in a series of works directed towards making the historical site more accessible while preserving it.
The Parthenon is often regarded as the centrepiece of the Acropolis. It has been built according to the Doric order of architecture. Generally considered to be a temple, it is possible that it served a larger purpose while still being a monument dedicated to the goddess Athena. While the Parthenon is the most recognisable structure on the hill, the acropolis itself is made up of several structures all of which are revered in discussions of antiquity, as both objects of art and architecture. This lighting project draws our attention to both these aspects as well.
While nine landmarks have been completely re-lit, another five monuments have been illuminated for the first time. The new lighting layout actually picks out the monuments of the citadel from its fortification walls, and illuminates the spaces between them for the first time. The landmark lit-up include the Acropolis rock itself, the fortification walls, the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion, the Ancient Theater of Dionysus, the Stoa of Eumenes, and the Shrine of Dionysus Eleuthereus. The five monuments being lit for the first time are - the Monument of Thrasyllos, the choragic columns, the Asklepieion, the Cave Sanctuaries of Apollo and Aglauros / Klepsydra, and the Shrine of Aphrodite.
The Erechtheion - dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon - features the Ionic order of architecture and is probably better known for its carefully sculpted columns, or caryatids. These sculpted female figures also serve as a supportive architectural element, and are significantly enhanced by the new lighting. Details which are often lost or obscured due to the sheer magnitude and scale of the structures are visible in intimate detail with carefully positioned lighting.
There is a very defined approach to each monument, that works on a variety of scales. Emphasising the three-dimensionality of each monument is synchronistically embedded with lighting to emphasise specific sculptural qualities of individual elements. It is possible to view the volumes and geometries of each monument from various viewpoints. The marbles, which have been meticulously restored, are treated as a canvas that reflect every facade, geometric form, and natural material in order to highlight each monument’s decorative reliefs as well as the spatial and altitudinal facets of their architecture. The light intensity is modulated to replicate a tonality close to that of daylight, and the effects of light pollution have also been dramatically reduced by this upgrade.
In a statement, referring to the launch of the lighting redesign of the Acropolis in September 2020, the Minister of Culture and Sports, Lina Mendoni, noted: “In the midst of a pandemic, it is important for Athens to be able to offer its residents and visitors – indeed the whole world – a new and improved image of the Acropolis rock. I am happy that joint action taken by the public and private sectors can, in a short space of time, deliver pioneering and exemplary works for our country that help improve Greece’s public image on the world stage”.
What is truly remarkable is the prominence the structures have maintained since the fifth century into our present time. The Athenian Acropolis is not only a symbol of democracy but also serves as the basis of various architectural canons. Architectural theory often trances ideas back to or refers directly to the details, volumes, façade of the structures of the Acropolis. How we evaluate proportions, rhythm and symmetry, especially our understanding of Euro-centric design, is linked to this plateau. One of the most obvious marks of its prominence is that acropolis is a generic term. However, the importance of the Acropolis of Athens often leads to people referring to it just as The Acropolis.