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Preserving a Monument: The Example of the Parthenon by Lena Lambrinou

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The practical and conceptual considerations in attempting to restore the Parthenon. Discussing history, authenticity, conservation, interventions, Venice Charter etc.
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  © W. S. Maney & Son Ltd 2010 DOI 10.1179/175355210X12791900195142 conservation and mgmt of arch. sites, Vol. 12 No. 1, March, 2010, 60–74 Preserving a Monument: The Example of the Parthenon Lena Lambrinou  Acropolis Restoration Service, Athens, Greece The preservation of architectural relics of the past developed as a science mainly in the last century. The more a ruin is preserved, the more informa-tion it may provide about the past. Structural interventions on relics aim to improve their state of preservation for the future, as well as to render their shape more complete, for the overall purpose of safeguarding their historical information. Over the course of past decades interventions have undergone many changes with respect to methodology, materials, and scope. Interven-tion in the name of preservation can be interpreted in various ways and questions concerning the goals and nature of modern interventions have become particularly relevant. The current Parthenon Restoration Project, which differs in basic aspects from its predecessors, follows international guidelines for interventions, but remains distinctive for its extent as well as its methods of execution. This paper discusses the theoretical approach underlying the intervention and practical aspects of its methodology. keywords Athens, Parthenon, authenticity, building conservation Introduction The Parthenon’s ingenious design and meticulous construction in the middle of fifth century bc  produced a temple dedicated to Athena, patron goddess of Athens, possessing a complex use and symbolism that have long been subjects of scholarly and public interest (Figure 1). This unique building withstood fluctuating historical tides, but eventually suffered a disastrous fire in late antiquity, Roman repairs, and conversion to a church and mosque before its final destruction in the late seventeenth century by a Venetian bombardment. A new era in the Parthenon’s existence began in the early decades of the nineteenth century when a strong interest developed in preserving the monument as a publicly exhibited ruin, a unique martyr of Greek heritage, and a cherished national symbol for the newly founded Greek state (Rangavis, 1837: 91). Intensive interventions subsequently undertaken on the Parthenon were extensive and consequently led to the development of structural problems in the authentic material of the building. The renewed interventions of  61 THE EXAMPLE OF THE PARTHENON recent decades have aimed to prolong the life of the monument through updated, less destructive methods and approaches. The present-day aesthetic of Greco-Roman archaeological ruins is rooted within the romantic perceptions of the European intelligentsia in the centuries after the Renaissance. Sparked from philosophical beliefs in heritage and ancestral identity, the notion of insuring the perdurability of an ancient structure’s srcinal materials eventually led to the rise of an entire science on the preservation of architectural relics. Today, the central concern in interventions generally on ancient constructions and particularly in anastylosis (the re-erection of ruins; the Athens Charter, 1931: art. 6) is how to deal with the discontinuity evident in their life-history and changing physical condition. This paper attempts to provide perspective on imposed modern interventions on the Parthenon, in light of their realization, and considers the princi-ples and terminology behind the choices taken for the preservation of this significant relic (Figure 2). Buildings like the Parthenon have survived discontinuation of use, afterward suffering multiple destructions and periods of abandonment at certain points in their past. Ultimately, in their imperfect, ruined state they preserve a remote, tangible piece of history. But an ancient structure’s past is like a series of separate snapshots, of which today we see only the last image of the building in its final ruined state. Then to preserve a ruin in a state reflective of only one specific phase in its history amounts figure 1 View of the Parthenon from the Propylaia. Photograph: L. Lambrinou, 2008, ESMA Archive  62 LENA LAMBRINOU to something between stage-craft and scholarly conservatism. In interventions, there-fore, the question arises, which phase of an ancient building’s history are we going to endorse and consolidate? Further complicating efforts to preserve an important historic ruin is the occasional inclination to refer back to some earlier phase when it existed in a more complete form. Yet this earlier form — perceived through the mists of time — is not necessarily an accurate reflection of an actual phase in the building’s appearance, even though it is often presented in this way. Today, although reliance upon commonly accepted regulations and procedures in anastylosis and other interventions leads to an a priori acceptance of methods or approaches concerning the extent and feasibi lity of an intervention, they nevertheless remain under constant review and negotiation between specialists who adhere to historical clarity and advocates of straightforward comprehension of the building’s form. ‘Authenticity’ and respect for srcinal materials The principles of intervention for ancient monuments, recorded in international agreements such as the Venice Charter (1964), are interpreted with relative flexibility because of their formulation in generalities, an approach considered wise by some. As a result, their application on site is often shaped by particular cultural values and figure 2 View of the Parthenon from the north-east. Photograph: L. Lambrinou, 2007  63 THE EXAMPLE OF THE PARTHENON constricted by practical possibilities. Beyond the relative freedom in the choices grante d to conservator-restorers, more recent conventions, such as the Nara Docu-ment on Authenticity (1994), appear to give general approval to the significance of authenticity , as perceived through collective cultural sentiment, and perhaps to justify the taking of certain measures within specific cultural frameworks. The idea of authenticity, or ‘srcinalness’ (Petzet, 2004: 8), can span a multitude of meanings and, as Lowenthal admits, ‘[...] different criteria have been valued in different epochs’ (1995: 124).‘Authenticity’ traditionally conveys an absolute idea of the primordial material, which represents the most valued quality of a tangible, genuine relic. Authenticity in a ruin encourages the preservation of the ruin’s srcinal fabric to the fullest extent possible. In European culture, the insistence on material authenticity of the remains of the past, according to Tomaszewski (2002: 215), can be traced back to a Christian respect for saints’ remains. When an object or building is both materially authentic and instilled with a cultural symbolism, it sustains its own retention. Therefore, in the effort to save historically and culturally significant constructions by means of conserving and exhibiting their remains, a convincing effort to preserve the authenti-city of their materials is required. Retention of the authentic material is a principle meant to insure that a ruin, such as the Parthenon, will continue into the future to be a reliable historical source by allowing the reading of its history through the traces left upon it by time.  Authenticity of the Ruin’s form The incomplete form of the Parthenon and other ancient monuments becomes accepted, despite any deficiency in their comprehensibility and lack of any practical use, through their promotion as exhibits. The philosophy behind this policy stems from the idea that a ruin in its final state is also understood as a work of art to be curated as something valuable unto itself (Bouras, 1996: 29). Ultimately, this perception separates it from the basic value according to which it was srcinally constructed; that is, as an architectural design with a fully completed structure and a practical function. The attempt, then, to preserve the authenticity of the form of a monument is related less to its srcinal design than to the form imposed on the build-ing through history (UNESCO, 1977: 9). What is authentic about old buildings, as Lowenthal notes, can be construed as ‘the whole sequence of changes endured over time’ (Lowenthal, 1995: 129).The historically imposed form of a monument (Figure 4) is affected irreversibly by any sort of reconstructive intervention that involves anastylosis and restoration — a fact that gives rise to scepticism concerning interventions (Orlandos, 1922: 97; Dima-kopoulos, 1994: 198). The filling in and resetting of sections of a building cannot help but subvert evidence for the process of its destruction and, consequently, distorts the archaeological record. Yet the reversal of ‘unfortunate’ historical developments, such as the 1687 explosion that destroyed the Parthenon (Figure 3), has always been con-sidered a primary goal of interventions (Balanos, 1940: 10), one that places the value of the historical evidence of the monument at a somewhat lower priority. This desire is understandable since architectural relics become more immediately comprehensible when they are more structurally complete. Filling in their form makes them function
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