The works of restoration, carried out since 1975 on the Acropolis monuments, follow a long tradition. The foundation of the new Greek State in 1830 was crucial for the fortunes of the monuments. As the display of its ancient wealth was a basic element in the forming of the national identity of the newly established state, anastelosis of the ancient monuments was immediately promoted. Anastelosis of the monuments of the Acropolis, symbol of the most elevated spiritual creation of ancient Greece, and at the same time, the point of recognition par excellence of the new Greece by Europe, it assumed national importance.
The conservation and restoration of the Acropolis is continuous and has never ceased, even during the most difficult periods of the new Greek state. During more fortunate times, the restoration works on the Acropolis represent the peak of scholarship and technology of the land. Under the prism of the works on the Acropolis, the Greek approach to the question of the anastelosis of ancient monuments is developing, in both practice and in theory. The chief characteristics are a special emphasis on the aesthetic result of the interventions, a tendency to recover the supposed classical appearance of the monuments and an emphasis on their archetypical character.
The period of Otto’s rule (1833-1863)
The period of the reign of Otho is characterized by a fervent enthusiasm and national vision of extending the boundaries of the new Greek kingdom. Against this background, the national character of the Acropolis works intensified, while being associated with the ambitions of the young ruler to gain glory and fame. Leo von Klenze,an experienced homme d’état of the court of Ludwig of Bavaria, the father of Otho, was to plan the programme of interventions on the Acropolis: demilitarization of the rock with its use to be solely archaeological, removal of all the remains of later – post-classical – historical phases from both rock and monuments, restoration of the ancient ground level and anastelosis of the monuments, resetting the members that had fallen to the ground.
This was a programme that reflected the classicistic views on the restoration of ancient monuments that were prevalent in Europe at the time. These perceptions would be applied initially by the Ephorate of Antiquities, represented by Ludwig Ross and then by the Archaeological Society in Athens, represented by Kyriakos Pittakis and Alexander Rizos Rangabé: continuous clearing and removal of the mediaeval and later additions from the rock and the monuments (among them the mediaeval palace was removed from the Propylaia and the little mosque from the interior of the Parthenon), “excavations” of a clearing type on the surface of the rock, the first anastelosis of the monuments, Athena Nike (1835-36, 1844), the Erechtheion (1837-40, 1846-47), the Parthenon (1841-44) and the Propylaia (1850-54).
The works were carried out in an amateur and experimental fashion, depending on the availability of funding and technical means, and according to the scholarly level of the time. To a large extent, however, the restorations show the form and mass of the monuments and the archaeological character of the Acropolis area.
From the end of the period of Otho to the Revolution of 1909
This period comprises two phases: during the first (from 1864 to 1884), which coincides with the first two decades of the rule of Georgios 1st, the pragmatic outlook prevalent in the land is reflected in the works on the Acropolis as well. Ambitious restoration interventions gave way to works on a small scale, particularly conservation of the monuments, carried out by the General Ephorate of Antiquities, under the supervision of Panayiotis Eustratiadis, and by the Archaeological Society in Athens. The only large interventions of those years were the building of the Acropolis Museum (1865-1874) at the southeast corner of the rock and the demolition of the so-called Frankish Tower of the Propylaia in 1875.
The second phase, from 1885 to 1909, coincides with the period when the administration of archaeological matters in the land was in the hands of Panayiotis Kavvadias, General Ephor of Antiquities and, simultaneously, Secretary of the Archaeological Society in Athens. This was a time of widespread redevelopment and reorganization in Greece, a period of relative political stability, economic improvement, with an initial industrialization and social urbanization. The period was particularly favourable, not only for projects of restoration, but generally for the protection of monuments in Greece. At that time the legal and organizational framework, which still exists today, was drawn up. Exploration of most of the archaeological sites by excavation began, museums were established throughout the state, numerous consolidation and restoration interventions were carried out on a great many monuments. The entire extent of the Acropolis was excavated down to bedrock (1885-1890), while restoration was initiated on a large scale: 1898-1902, the First Restoration Program of the Parthenon (that is, restoration of the opisthonaos and the west façade), 1902-1909, the restoration of the Erechtheion.
The First Restoration Program of the Parthenon reflects the new spirit and new demands of the time, in terms of the interventions on monuments. An effort to effect them with high quality and in a scholarly way is seen in the establishment of an interdisciplinary committee to determine the programme and to supervise the works, the drawing up of preliminary proposals for the intervention with graphic documentation, the use of contemporary mechanical worksite equipment, the use of superior materials that do not harm the monuments (imported from abroad), and the involvement of specialized personnel.
The Programme signals also the beginning of work on the Acropolis by the county-engineer, Nikolaos Balanos, who was given the responsibility of carrying out the work, which was considered to a large extent technical. The work is of particular significance for the theoretical considerations that accompanied it in all its phases concerning the limits, techniques and material for accomplishing the work. This would have a decisive influence on Balanos in the development of his approach to anastelosis.
The Erechtheion was the first monument on which Balanos completed his intervention. Here were applied for the first time the techniques that were to characterize his work: the incorporation of heavy metal reinforcements in the architectural members, with the cutting out and removal of much of the mass of the ancient members, the use of various ancient members and fragments that lay scattered on the ground, as ordinary building material in order to fill in and restore sections of the monument.
Between the First and Second World Wars (1910-1939)
This was a period of conflicting views and upheavals on the part of the victors in the war and the expansion of the new Greek state to its present boundaries; but also of subsequent national catastrophes, political instability and tremendous economic difficulties (particularly after 1922). During that time the only restoration interventions undertaken in Greece were those, albeit on a large scale, carried out by Balanos on the Acropolis (1909-1917): restoration of the Propylaia (1921-1933), Second Restoration Programme of the Parthenon (restoration of the pronaos, the east pediment, the west doorway, the north and south colonnades), 1934-1935, stabilizing of the rocks of the north slope of the Acropolis, 1935-1940, second anastelosis of the temple of Athena Nike.
This was a time of Balanos’ predominance and uncontrolled activity on the Greek scene of anastelosis, which, because of exceedingly adverse outside limitations on performance of the works, was characterized by the abandonment of every effort at quality and principle, with the result that the works were carried out with whatever ways, means and materials were available and obtainable (for example, the creation of restorable architectural members by joining fragments of different origins, the use of poor-quality iron or, in the restoration of the Parthenon colonnades, the use of cement and other similar materials for filling in the ancient members). At the same time, this was a period when the work of Balanos was promoted and recognized internationally, with the final establishment of the “image” of the Acropolis, which the approval of mass communication during the post-war years was to propagate world-wide as the ideogrammatic symbol of modern Greece.
From the Second World War to the Restoration of Democracy of 1974
During the post-war period interventions on the Acropolis were limited, the most significant being the restoration, between 1947 and 1957, of the southwest wing of the Propylaia by Anastasios Orlandos, director of the Restoration Service of Ancient and Historical Monuments and the main figure in the Greek world of restoration during those years.
The chief distinguishing feature of that time is that the damage to the monuments as a result of the techniques and means of Balanos’ interventions were recognized. As early as the decade of the 1940’s, during the war, the first signs of rusting of the iron reinforcements that had been incorporated in the monuments was reported. During the years that followed, with the drastic alteration in the change of the Acropolis because of the growth of Athens from a middle-sized city to the capital of the Greek State, the situation worsened dramatically. Added to the problem of rusting out and swelling of the iron reinforcements in members of the monuments were those of surface erosion from atmospheric pollution and acid rain, the insecure structural condition of the monuments because of breakage, the wear of the surface of the rock – itself a monument, bearing traces of its long history – from the feet of visitors who now crowded the Acropolis. All this obliged the Greek state to establish, in 1975, an interdisciplinary committee of top specialists, the “Committee for Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments”, in order to study the problems and to take measures to resolve them. A new phase of the Acropolis interventions begins. For the interventions under the scientific supervision of the Committee for the Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments see the Timeline of interventions.