Home > Uncategorized > Just a bit more on Post-Classical Athens

Just a bit more on Post-Classical Athens

I blogged a bit last month about the Post-Classical Acropolis (in the context, first, of the controversy surrounding Constantine Costa-Gavras film for the new Acropolis Museum and then about A. Kaldellis new book on the Post-Classical Parthenon).  That writing and reading (and the suggestion of Kaldellis) led me to A. Loukaki's Living Ruins, Value Conflicts.  It's a very thoughtful exploration of the complex interplay of issues surrounding the preservation, restoration, and reconstruction (anastylosis) and the various values associated with these processes in a Greek context.  In particular, Loukaki explores not just the intellectual roots of heritage management decisions, but the political and, to a lesser extent, economic processes as well.  Her chapter on the Central Archaeological Council (CAC) of Greece is worth reading as a stand alone chapter.  And his final chapter, a case study of the Athenian Acropolis, is fascinating.

I've read many, many, books on the Athenian Acropolis and environs over the past 10 years (and not nearly as many as I could have read).  As an Associate Member and, later, junior faculty at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, I've visited the "sacred rock" many times as well listening to both student and professional explanations of the architecture, rituals, and efforts to preserve and reconstruct the buildings there. Despite this background (and I am not claiming by any means to be an expert, just an interested observer), I learned more about the Acropolis from Loukaki's short chapter than from almost any other recent work. 

As per usual, I won't attempt a formal or comprehensive review (although I will be very interested in seeing how this book is received).  Instead, I'll highlight three area where I particular appreciated his discussion of the Acropolis:

1) She does a nice job in putting the Plaka in context.  Any visitor to Athens — even for professional reasons — is inevitably drawn at some point the Plaka.  Clinging to the northern slopes of the Acropolis, this picturesque neighborhood is the center of the Athenian tourist industry.  I suppose that I've always been aware of the various policies that sought alternately to preserve the Plaka as a picture of Old Athens or reclaim it for the study of the ancient ruins that lay beneath the tourist tavernas and souvenir shops.  Loukaki does a good job laying out the various shifts in policy and places the gentrification of the Plaka over the past 15 years in an administrative context.

2) The center of Athens is under constant construction.  Syntagma, Makryanni, Monasteraki Square, Psiri, the vicinity of the Kerameikos, and Gazi are particular hives of recent activity.  The chaotic nature of downtown Athens, however, has potential to make even a careful observer of the urban form doubt any real plan or comprehensive vision to the bustle (other than the standard sprucing up of Athens most commonly associated with 2004 Olympics).  Loukaki outlines the plan behind these renovations (p. 280-282) both on a practical level and on an aesthetic and ideological level.  The goal is to produce a "open museum that unites the most important archaeological sites of the historical centre of the city."  I suspect that my failure to perceive such a plan is tied to my practice of make surgical strikes into the city center to look at specific monuments or museums rather than engaging the area as a unified whole.  In fact, my mental map of the area is so flawed that I regularly resort to maps or Google Earth when I need to describe the physical relationship between, say, the Roman Agora and the Kerameikos or the Library of Hadrian and the Ilissos basilica.  So, Loukaki's explanation and critique of the plan to unify the ancient sites in the city center runs counter to my experiences in Athens, but at the same time provides me with new mental map, complete with new boundaries and paths, to superimpose on what has become familiar space.

3) pikionis_acropolisPavementThe landscape of the Acropolis. While my time at the American School taught me about R. Griswold's plans to landscape the Agora in the 1950s, I was not particularly familiar with the details and shamefully knew nothing of D. Pikionis work to landscape the Acropolis, Philopappos, and Pnix areas.  The work of the latter, frankly, blew my mind.  Loukakis' discussion of Pikionis pavements (p. 270-274) which drew upon ancient, Byzantine, and Modern(ist) influences floored me.  How could I have walked these sites for so long and not noticed the pavement?  In fact, I had to pilfer the interwebs just to find photographs (and these do not do the pavement justice).  


More importantly, than just the pavements Loukaki's articulates Pikionis effort to unify the sites around the Acropolis in a way that accentuated their modern, ancient, and natural settings.  He sought to lead the visitor to the sites in a way that played on the visual dominance of the Acropolis by presenting it from a variety of perspectives.  This worked to accentuate the fragmented nature of archaeology (and reality evoking cubist notions of perspective (p. 274)) while at the same time unifying the archaeological and natural to reinforce the sanctity of the Acropolis.  Loukakis describes Pikionis efforts "yet his landscape seems eternal, as if it were there from time immemorial.  Still he manages to remain coherent in a modern, not post-modern way, because of his approach to historical time: he respects its flow and continuity, and enhances them wisely, not arbitrarily."

I've blogged in the past about the modern character of the Acropolis, and now I wonder how much of that perspective on the monumental core of the city of Athens derived in part from my naive engagement with Pikionis' landscape.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. September 16, 2009 at 8:17 am

    Just a short note to say that Argyro is a “she” not “he”. 😉

  2. September 16, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Yikes! Transnational gender slippage.

  3. September 16, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Don’t worry about not having known about Pikionis. He’s a bit of a national hero (among Greek artists, architects, writers) but the rest of the world discovered him through Kenneth Frampton a leading American architectural historian (teaches at Columbia). In the 1980s, Frampton wrote a MOST influential essay on “Critical Regionalism” (a term that was in fact invented by a couple of Greeks). The essay was added onto the 2nd edition of his standard Modern Architecture textbook. In short he used Pikionis as a prime example of this new influential (and global) paradigm. Pikionis then became extremely popular at the Architectural Association in London that published the first English language book on him. The AA at this time was the haven of experimentation, where people like Rem Koolhaas and others grew out of.

  4. September 16, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Most weekends last year, when I was in Athens, I would go to a neighborhood and simply walk, follow its organic contours. I have a bad knee so I have to pay a lot of attention to surfaces. So I have now developed a great kinesthetic knowledge of the oldest areas of the city — Omonio-Keramikos-Acropolis-Nekrotafion-Stadium, and almost no formal information on column capitals. But the underlying — logic — begins to emerge. I can also tell you where there is a Roman courtyard with arches behind the walls of what appears to be the property of a neighborhood schizophrenic.

  5. May 14, 2010 at 8:15 am

    So here’s the deal. I have a camera with a memory stick and deleted some pictures. After I deleted the pictures, I uploaded the pictures that I left on the camera into the computer. Can I recover the deleted pictures on the computer, or would I have to have my camera plugged in and find the deleted pictures on that? By the way after I put the pictures on the computer I filled up the memory stick with other pictures. Can you even recover deleted pictures with memory sticks? I know you can with SD cards but what about memory sticks? Thanks!

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