Propylaea

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Introduction

Reconstruction of the Propylaea by Kronoskaf - Snapshot of the real time rendering of the prototype
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Reconstruction of the Propylaea by Kronoskaf - Snapshot of the real time rendering of the prototype

A Propylon had already been built around 500 BC but it had been destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC.

The construction of the Propylaea (gateways), under the architect Mnesikles, lasted five years, from 437 to 432 BC, and cost some 200 talents. The building was mostly made of Pentelic marble. From its central hall, five doors of various sizes opened on the Akropolis. It was thus the end of the Panathenaic Way and the beginning of Athena's sanctuary.

The building had some refinements similar to those of the Parthenon: inward inclination and entasis of columns, curvature of the architrave... However there were also important differences. For instance, the stylobate had no curvature. Some of its parts also shared the proportions with the Parthenon. For instance, the general ratio used was 3:7, very similar to the ratio of 4:9 used for the Parthenon.

The orthostates of the two wings were made of dark Eleusinian limestone. The ceilings were supported by marble beams (about 6 m long) and the innermost squares of the coffers (Doric and Ionic coffers were both used) were decorated with golden stars on a blue field with a bright green margin. The roofs were covered with Pentelic marble tiles.

The Kallias Decrees issued in 434/433 BC put a stop to the construction of the Propylaea. Thus the buiding was never finished. This is noticeable with the unfinished surfaces of the steps and floor, the unchiselled ancones (lifting bosses) on several blocks (mostly on the northeast and south walls of the central hall and on the east walls of both wings). All metopes and pediments were left empty and there were no akroteria.

Central Hall

The Central Hall measured 25.04 m deep by 18.125 m wide and was oriented east-west. A 1.295 m thick wall pierced by five doors divided the Central Hall into two parts. The central door measured 7.378 m by 4.185 m, the two adjacent doors 5.403 m by 2.926 m and the two doors at the extremities 3.440 m x 1.472 m. The four secondary doors were accessible using a flight of 5 steps, the upper one made of dark Eleusinian limestone while the lowest 4 were made of Pentelic marble. The upper limestone step continued around the walls as an orthostate.

The west section was larger (15.243 m deep) and lower than the east section (7.358 m deep).

Four steps of Pentelic marble connected the monumental access ramp to the facade of the west section. This facade consisted of two sets of three Doric columns on each side of a 4 m wide central passageway cut in the rock. These Doric columns had a lower diameter of 1.558 m and a height of 8.81 m. The passageway led to the main entrance and was flanked by three Ionic columns on each side. These Ionic columns had a diameter of 1.035 m and a height of 10.39 m.

In this west section, a Herm, more precisely Hermes Propylaios made by Alkamenes, stood on the north of the entrance. Similarly, a relief of the Graces, made by Sokrates (not the philosopher but a Boeotian sculptor active around 450 BC), stood on the south of the entrance.

The east section was higher with a separate roof with a dentelated sima. Its facade was made of two sets of three Doric columns on each side of a central passageway. These Doric columns had a lower diameter of 1.558 m and a height of 8.53 m.

In the east section, the bronze statue of Diitrephes, an Athenian general killed in combat in Boeotia during the Peloponnesian War, stood behind the second column from the south. The statue of Aphrodite made by Kalamis and dedicated by Kallias stood behind the second column from the north. The Leaina (an Archaic bronze lioness) stood near the north wall. A votive column carrying a young rooster probably stood along the south wall.

The north and south sides of the Central Hall consisted of 16 m long solid walls terminated in antae.

Nothwest Wing

The Northwest Wing, also known as the Pinakotheke, served as a picture gallery, as a rest room and probably as a banquet room. However, it is unclear when it was first used as a gallery. The pictures were probably easel paintings on wood, plaster or marble.

The building rested on four steps: the three upper steps were of Pentelic marble while the lowest was of dark Eleusinian limestone. The building consisted of a rectangular room, measuring 10.76 m wide by 8.97 m deep, and of a 5.055 m deep portico of three Doric columns in antis. These columns had a diameter of 1.065 m and were 5.85 m high.

The east wall extended approximately 1 m beyond its intersection with its north wall. In the south wall, the door measured 4.540 m high by 2.355 wide. It was unsymmetrically flanked by two windows measuring 2.464 m high by 0.818 m wide, the east window being closer to the door than the west one. These windows were enlivened by details made in dark Eleusinian limestone under each of them.

Inside the room, a 0.13 m high string course ran all around the walls at a height of 2 m.

The Northwest Wing was covered by a four slopes roof.

Southwest Wing

The Southwest Wing had the same height as the Northwest Wing and was facing it symmetrically. It rested on four steps: the three upper steps were of Pentelic marble while the lowest was of dark Eleusinian limestone. The Southwest Wing was an open room measuring 8.97 m wide by 5.23 m deep. It was circumscribed by a colonnade of three Doric columns in antis and two walls. Its southeast corner rested against the Cyclopean Wall. The west end of its south wall was aligned with its westernmost column and was connected to it by an entablature supported midway by a pillar.

The Southwest Wing was covered by a four slopes roof.

Shrine of Athena Hygieia

Drawing representing the bronze statue of Athena Hygieia made by Pyrrhos, an Athenian sculptor of the school of Pheidias. Source: Sophie Maheux
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Drawing representing the bronze statue of Athena Hygieia made by Pyrrhos, an Athenian sculptor of the school of Pheidias. Source: Sophie Maheux

A small shrine dedicated to Athena Hygieia was erected against the southernmost column on the eastern facade soon after 430 BC. It might have been erected to thank Athena for the end of the great plague.

It consisted of a bronze statue of the goddess on a semicircular base with moldings at top and bottom and of an altar. On the base of the statue, an inscription stated "The Athenians to Athena Hygieia. Pyrrhos the Athenian made it." The statue of Athena had its right foot advanced, its left foot with heel raised, and its left hand holding an upright spear. The altar stood 3.6 m east of the base of the statue, on an almost square platform.

Planned Halls

Mnesikles planned to build two halls on the northeast and southeast of the central hall. These plans were abandoned when the Kallias Decrees stopped the construction.

References

Brouskari, Maria; The Monuments of the Acropolis, Athens: Archaeological Receipts Fund, 2001

Camp, John M.; The Archaeology of Athens, Yale University Press, 2001, pp. 82-90

Connolly, Peter and Hazel Dodge; The Ancient City - Life in Classical Athens & Rome, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998

Hill, Ida Thallon; The Ancient City of Athens – Its Topography and Monuments, London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1953

Hurwit, Jeffrey M.; The Acropolis in the Age of Pericles, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004

Martin, Jacques; Les voyages d'Alix - Athènes, Casterman, 2001

Panaiotou, Niki D., Athènes autrefois et aujourd’hui, Vision S.R.L., Roma, 1990

To Do

  • Include an illustration of the Hermes Propylaios
  • Try to find out what the copies of the Graces in the Archaeological Museum of the Acropolis look like
  • Include an illustration of the Aphrodite of Kalamis
  • Try to find out what the Roman copy of the Museum of Saint-Germain-en-Laye look like
  • Include an illustration of the inner arrangement of the Pinakotheke
  • Try to find when the portrait of Alkibiades commemorating his victory at the Nemean games was hung in the Pinakotheke
  • Try to find when the painting depicting Diomedes and Odysseus taking the Palladion from Troy was hung in the Pinakotheke
  • Try to find when the painting depicting Achilles on Skyros, painted by Polygnotos of Samos around 450 BC, was hung in the Pinakotheke
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