The Athenian Acropolis Restoration Project—the Impact of Nature and Human Activity

Submitted by JessicaW on September 16, 2010

As students and faculty scurry in and out of classrooms on the first floor of Fairfield’s Bannow Science Center, they may be too busy to notice newly installed photographic panels that have made their way from Greece to our community here at Fairfield University. To put a spotlight on these treasures, archaeologist Dr. Katherine A. Schwab, Associate Professor of Visual and Performing Arts, led a tour through the Mac Atrium on the afternoon of September 13, 2010, pointing out selected photographs and telling the story of the Acropolis Restoration Project that began in Greece in 1975. Students, faculty, and staff joined Dr. Schwab for this tour sponsored by Sigma Xi, the Science Honor Society.

Dr. Schwab has been following this project for years, traveling to Athens, Greece on numerous occasions for her research on the Parthenon metopes, and learning first hand from the architects and archaeologists about their progress on the restoration project. The photographs that have been installed in the first floor of Bannow Science Center and the ground floor of Canisius Hall tell the story in more detail of the progress in restoring such famous buildings as the Propylaea and the Parthenon.

The process of restoration required contributions from hundreds of scientists, archaeologists, architects, and others from around the world. Together they have attempted to overcome obstacles of nature such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and roosting pigeons, and damage caused by human impact such as bullets, cannonballs, anti-pagan destruction, the carbonization of the marble used in earlier restorations, and the serious air pollution problem in Athens. For example, up until 1975, tourists and citizens were able to walk in and out of the buildings freely until scientists finally realized the impact the public traffic was having on these structures. To remedy the situation, carefully guided and planned routes were put in place.

Despite setbacks, the Acropolis Restoration Project committees have worked diligently to find the best ways to restore these buildings. Whenever possible, marble fragments of the buildings have been incorporated in their original location within the buildings. None of the buildings will be completely reconstructed to resemble their original appearance, instead the goal is to give each building greater structural stability to endure for the next several hundred years.

One of the most amazing yet bizarre facts about this subject is that the ancient Greeks originally built the Parthenon in 15 years, between 447 B.C. and 432 B.C. Even in today’s society with our modern and ‘advanced’ technology, scientists and crews have still not restored the structures to their original state after 35 years. Were ancient Greeks more diligent and proficient than we are; what was their secret? While work on the Erechtheion, Propylaia, and Temple of Athena Nike has resulted in the complete restoration of these structures, work will continue on the Parthenon for the next several years.

Want to learn more? Along with the information that has been provided to us by the collections on display in our academic buildings, there are more photos, catalogs, and casts waiting to be explored at the Bellarmine Museum of Art, slated to open October 25, 2010. Learn more about the Bellarmine Museum of Art here.

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