“The photographs [..] of the monuments show them as they are, as true to reality as possible.”
Socratis Mavrommatis (Greek, born 1949)
In 1975, after nearly two centuries of well-intended restorations undertaken by Greeks and foreigners alike, a committee was established to supervise the comprehensive conservation and restoration of all the buildings on the Athenian Acropolis. Since then, a team of Greek archaeologists, architects, engineers, and other experts have documented, dismantled, consolidated, restored, and re-erected the High Classical monuments.
Guided by the Committee for the Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments, the restoration project is one of the largest and most innovative of its kind. Its interventions are based on the principle of reversibility of preservation and reconstruction, as well as on a respect for the history of the structures throughout all phases of their survival—not just their antiquity.
This heroic undertaking was meticulously documented by Socratis Mavrommatis, head of the photographic department of the Acropolis Restoration Service. His stunning images show the buildings before, during, and after the interventions. Taken together, they bear testimony not only to the scale and impact of the project on the Periclean monuments but also to the photographer’s keen eye and elegant objectivity as a documentary artist.
Socratis Mavrommatis (Greek, born 1949)
All photographs are archival pigment prints on paper
Images: Acropolis Restoration Service
Temple of Athena Nike. The main, east façade before the intervention, n.d.
The Temple of Athena Nike has been fully dismantled at least three times, including when the Turks took it apart in order to incorporate the blocks in fortifications of the Acropolis. This photograph shows the condition of the little structure before the last interventions started.
Parthenon. Beginning of the restoration works. Dismantling of the northeast sima, 1986.
In this photograph Mavrommatis captures the removal of one of the first blocks from the Parthenon, a process directed by Manolis Korres, the architect and coordinator of the Parthenon restoration work. The gestures of the two human figures, the two sculptured horseheads, and the lion spout all mimic the projecting quality of the architecture itself.
Temple of Athena Nike, post-intervention, n.d.
In the process of study preceding the reconstruction proper, many additional fragments were identified as belonging to the Temple of Athena Nike’s raking cornice that sat atop the east pediment. Incorporating those into the reconstructed building required the insertion of new materials, in this case to replace the missing pediment blocks.
The Acropolis. General view from Lykavittos, n.d.
This dramatic image features the Acropolis positioned in the urban fabric of Athens like a ship in the Saronic Gulf behind it, with the island of Aegina visible on the left. The Parthenon’s crane and the Acropolis’ hoisting machine were designed so they could be lowered when not in use.
Parthenon. The setting of the southeast corner cornice block, n.d.
Some of the columns on the Parthenon’s south side (on the left) had moved out of alignment as a result of the 1687 explosion. The recent interventions corrected that displacement using a procedure designed in such a way that the columns did not need dismantling. In this view, the restored corner cornice block is repositioned on the temple’s southeast corner.
Acropolis, General View from the Propylaia, n.d.
This panoramic view, taken from the scaffolding of the Propylaia’s restoration, gives a sense of the Parthenon and Erechtheum post-reconstructions. In between the two buildings is the scaffolding tower erected to make photographs.
Propylaia. The east porch before its dismantling, c. 1990.
Work on the restoration of the Propylaia started in 1990. The interventions corrected several errors made during the earlier restorations of this complex building. This photograph shows the Propylaia from inside the Acropolis, its central doorway framing a view all the way to Salamis, site of the famous naval victory against the Persians in 480 BCE.
Parthenon. Partial view of the west frieze in its original place, looking north, n.d.
Lord Elgin did not remove all the sculptures of the Parthenon. Part of the West Frieze remained in place until 1992–1993, when they were removed from the temple. They are now on view in the new Acropolis Museum.