The Athens Propylea – A Truly Amazing Building

The Propylea was built not long after the death of Christ and yet its magnificence still astounds every visitor who comes. It is the very legendary entrance to the Acropolis. Experts agree that the gate was probably built around the 3rd century A.D. and was actually found by a French archaeologist named Ernest Beule in 1853. It is not really known where the entrance was in ancient Greece, because there have been so many changes to the buildings and the area over time.

What is known is that the ancient Greeks had to make a similar climb as we do today to enter into the Acropolis. When the Romans arrived they built a ramp leading to the central doorway of the Propylea. Then when the Franks ruled other gates were built. When the Ottomans took over the leadership anything that was located outside of the Propylea building was destroyed or used to build defensive bastions. Only recently has the main entrance been restored according to beliefs of where it should have been.

Ascending into the Athens Propylea

As you ascend the stairs to the Acropolis you will see to the left several huge boulders which were the prehistoric wall that supported the plateau of one of the first ramps. To the right you will see a tower, which is the remains of an ancient bastion. Again turning to the left you can get a good look at the ancient base which once held a monument that the Athenians paid homage to. Such homage was paid to the Roman Consul Agrippa, the benefactor of the city in the 1st Century BC. The stone is not beautiful, but during Roman occupation, it was flattery that was of more importance than the aesthetics. This is why this structure does not seem to fit in with the others.

But facing this structure that only reminds us of Roman legions you will see the aesthetically light, and elegant Temple of Athena Nike, translated as Victory. It was Pausanias that called it the temple of wingless victory, referring to the fact that the Athenians had cut off her wings, so that she would always be there to protect them. To the side of the temple you will see the remains of a staircase suspended in the air. This led to a small square temple in which an ancient wooden idol was kept. This part of the temple was destroyed during the Persian wars. This temple was built before the central part of the temple which was designed with imposing Ionic columns.

The True Construction of the Athens Propylea

The temple was made to look as though it was floating and rests lightly on the marble floors. What makes this building extremely puzzling is the marble of the building is cut into equal sized pieces and used throughout the Propylea. There is still a frieze that depicts the smaller temple with battle scenes. Around the smaller walls there were small marble relieve sculptures representing the goddess Athenea and representations of the victories of Athens.

The Propylea is definitely a magnificent example of architecture, even the ancients would call it a beautiful introduction to the Acropolis. Apparently it took 5 years to build and a great deal of money. It was built to be two level-sand has three parts to it, a central area, and two recessed wings. Each facade has six Doric Columns that sit on the western side. On the eastern side you will see that the columns seem to be made out of the natural rock

The side walls for the Propylea are not made completely of white marble. Part of the foundation is made of grey marble and continue  to the fifth step that separate the two levels. Mnesikles the architect made the slope of the hill work advantageously and so made two structures under the same roof.

The central part of the building ascends through two rows of Ionic columns which support the roof and follows through to a great porch that is flanked on either side by two smaller porches, making it pleasantly symmetrical to the eye of anyone who enters the temple.

The beautiful symmetry of the building follows through on each of the adjacent wings which have three Doric columns on either side. To the south lies the temple of Athena Nike and the focus is on that temple but to the North the side is covered by Pinacotheke (or artistic murals). None of these painted works still exist. Either they were painted on wood or on fabric and over time have been destroyed. The only way we have of remembering these artistic treasures is through Pausanias’ descriptions of the scenes of homer and portraits of Alcibiades.

On the eastern side of the outside walls of the Propylea the marble blocks still have their projections or lifting bosses, with which the masons carried the boulders up the Acropolis and set it in place. Usually the quarry workers would plane off the projections after placing them, making the surface smooth. But toward the end of the construction Propylea was broke and some of the technical details in the end of the construction were not finished.

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