Introduction

One controversial issue in the current debate in archaeology and restorative architecture is the degree and the extent of restoration applicable to historic buildings and monuments and the related question of methods of presentation. Academic scholars tend to emphasize the necessity of preserving monuments as close to the original state they were discovered for the benefit of academic study and archaeological research. The opposite view for a more “social” role of restored monuments has been expressed by many circles. These argue that in order for the general public to be attracted and educated, the archaeological remains must be presented in a way that is meaningful and comprehensible to the non-specialist. Simon Jenkins, present chairman of the National Trust in England, was commenting in The Times of London for the case of the restoration of the Acropolis. “…How fascinating if just one of the Periclean monuments could break free from archaeology’s intellectual monopoly and have its glory restored to it: a majestic, garish celebration of the pagan gods. Our antagonism to such reconstruction is perverse. Lulled by an affection for the picturesque, we appear afraid to come face to face with the realism of the past.”

 

The central monument of the classical Acropolis, the Parthenon, had been venerated as a monumental religious building for centuries (despite the radically different religions successively practiced in it). But until the 18th century this veneration was only shared by the small provincial local community. It was only in the 18th and 19th centuries with the reorientation of Western thought that the Parthenon was recognized as probably the supreme architectural model of a superior historical epoch against which all later achievements could be measured and compared.4  Ever since, the Parthenon was to have a lasting impact on architecture worldwide.

 

Le Corbusier commented that “There is nothing like it in the architecture of all the world and all time. It is the moment of utmost acuity when a man (Phidias) moved by the noblest thoughts, crystallized them in a plastique of light and shadow. The contour modulation of the Parthenon is infallible, implacable. Its rigor surpasses our habits and the normal possibilities of man.”

 

But the ruined carcass that so impressed Le Corbusier in 1911, was something quite different from the glorious temple built by the affluent and cultured Athenians 24 centuries earlier. A long and complex history had left many scars on the building as well as on its settings.

 

Today many elements of the Parthenon are widely scattered in museums worldwide with a significant part located in the British Museum in London. In 2009 the New Acropolis Museum was inaugurated in Athens, designed by B. Tschumi and M. Photiadis specifically to house the remaining archaeological elements from the whole Acropolis complex.

 

For the past 25 years there has been an ongoing debate on whether the surviving architectural and sculptural elements of the Parthenon should be reunited and exhibited as a whole, as was the original composition of the temple.6  Many lines of argument have been employed on either side, but this paper will only focus on the expressed requirement of the particular exhibits to be understood in the context of their total composition.

 

For this purpose this project will employ 3D projection technology in order to propose a new methodology for the presentation of individual museum exhibits that originally formed parts of a larger architectural composition. Whereas the Acropolis Museum has employed plaster casts to fill the places of the missing sculpture, the British Museum displays its sculptures individually, in rough (but reverse) analogy to their original location on the temple.Apart from a small explanatory stand at the gallery entrance, no attempt has been made to provide a context to the sculptural figures. The rationale of the exhibition is that of a sculptural collection rather than one of architectural elements of a single building.

 

It will be hereby attempted to explore the possibilities offered by a 3D projection of the missing context, so that the BM’s Parthenon Gallery’s original exhibits may be related to the other surviving pieces of architecture and sculpture from the same monument, and also to the original design of the whole temple building. In short whereas the Acropolis Museum used a hardware solution, here a software solution will be attempted to present the Parthenon in its entirety.  It will be argued that software projection technology may provide infinitely more possibilities in exploring different theories about how the Parthenon originally looked like, and also to follow its organic evolution through various phases of its history. And all this without causing any permanent intervention or irreversible damage to the relics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Research Area

The study examines two exhibition spaces in two separate museums that host the same subject. These are the Parthenon (Duveen) Gallery at the British Museum in London and the Parthenon Gallery at the Acropolis Museum in Athens. Both museums possess and exhibit significant architectural parts of the temple of the Parthenon, originally built on the Acropolis Hill in 5th century B.C. in Athens. Both museums have assigned an individual gallery in a prominent location in each museum to the Parthenon, reflecting the importance both museums attribute to this subject.

 

However the methods of display of the mostly marble architectural fragments in each museum are very different. One of the fundamental differences is that at the British Museum the exhibits are arrayed along the exterior walls of the hall with the visitors moving in the centre of the gallery, whereas at the Acropolis Museum the exhibits are located in the centre with visitors moving around them. The present study will attempt to examine and compare how the two museums present their respective material and how visitors respond to each museum’s spatial layout.

 

For this purpose the method of tracing visitors’ routes was applied in the two exhibition spaces. Points where visitors stopped were monitored and time spent in motion and in stasis measured. Some interesting conclusions were drawn from these measurements regarding the visitors’ behavior in each space. Furthermore visibility polygons were drawn for each exhibition space. A visibility polygon or isovist for a particular point in space is defined as the area visible from that point revealing the extent of human visual experience from that point.7 Consequently the relevant isovists models were constructed for each space. These depict the changing visual awareness of a moving visitor in the particular space and may provide important clues for the overall museum visit experience.

 

Audio guides are often available to museum visitors and they provide the curators’ view on how the exhibits should be seen and understood. The present study will examine the British Museum audio guide for the Parthenon Gallery and will try to describe how its employment determines the exhibition experience. The proposed route in the gallery, the stopping points and the time spent at each stopping point when using the audio guide were monitored and contrasted against the relevant behavior of non-audio-guided visitors. The paths followed by independent visitors were found to be quite different from the one prescribed in the audio guide. Also the times spent in front of particular exhibits were at variance from those required by the guide.

 

An isovist model of the route of the audio guide was constructed and compared with the isovist model of a linear route around the gallery. Another element was introduced in these models that of time spent at each stop point. It was represented with the thickness of the material for each isovist.

 

It was found that the route proposed by the audio guide is much more complicated. It takes the visitor from the one side of the gallery to the other, back and forth repeatedly, without following the layout of the exhibition. It is worth noting that the total time required when using the audio guide in the gallery is 75 minutes while the average time of monitored individual visitors was approximately 7 minutes. The logic behind the complicated audio guide route may be to prevent visitors from queuing in front of exhibits.

 

At the time of writing the Acropolis Museum in Athens has not issued an audio guide for its Parthenon Gallery. Individual (un-guided) visitors there were also monitored. Their paths here were also mostly linear around the perimeter of the gallery. (The exhibits here are in the centre). It should be noted that most visitors stayed on a peripheral path between the “colonnade” and the exterior glazing. High up between the steel columns the metopes are on display, whereas the continuous frieze is located at eye-level on the interior wall. Few visitors paths ventured inside the colonnade to closely examine the frieze.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Parthenon Marbles – A Controversial Story

The temple of the Parthenon was built in the 5th century B.C. on the Acropolis Rock, and was dedicated to the goddess Athena Parthenos, the virgin patron goddess of Athens. The Acropolis was originally the inner fortress of Athens, but also hosted the most important sacred and ceremonial activities of the city. After the victorious conclusion of the Persian Wars (490-479 B.C.) when the city-states of Hellas repulsed the invading armies of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, the Athenian Democracy under the leadership of Pericles, decided to rebuild the whole Acropolis complex which had been destroyed by the invading troops. The Parthenon was built between the years 447 and 438 by the architects Ictinos and Callicrates, with strong personal involvement by Pericles himself. The 69.5 x 30.9 m rectangular building was made of local white marble in the Doric Order with single-rowed colonnades all around and double-rowed porticoes supporting triangular pediments at either end. The architectural details and the construction accuracy were of the highest standard, indicating employment of first rate technicians from all over the Greek world.    Long before the temple’s completion the sculptor Phidias undertook to further embellish the building with extensive decorations of the frieze, the metopes and the pediments, with scenes drawn from the Greek mythology and local foundation myths, in high relief all brightly painted.

Athens retained an acknowledged role as the cultural centre of the Hellenic world long after the Roman conquest. In 395 A.D. the invading Gothic armies of Alaric, reached Athens, but spared the Acropolis without causing any damage to its temples. In the year 529, long after the Christianizing of the Roman Empire, the philosophical schools of Athens were ordered closed and the traditions of classical Athens were finally extinguished.9 Parthenon was converted to a church, dedicated to “Our Lady of Athens”. Much of the sculptural decorations were deliberately defaced or destroyed at that time, (especially the east pediment) presumably for depicting clearly pagan scenes, whereas others were inexplicably spared and adopted into the church imagery.

In 1204 the Fourth Crusade occupied Greece, and the Parthenon was converted to the Roman Catholic church of Notre Dame.

In 1458 the Ottoman Turks captured Athens and the Parthenon was again converted to a mosque, with a minaret added on top.

In the 17th century the first European travelers began arriving from the West, with a keen interest in classical antiquities. Until that time the Parthenon was almost complete, and an artist accompanying a French ambassador to Constantinople in 1674 was able to make extensive sketches of the Parthenon frieze and the metopes. These sketches by Jacques Carrey were to prove invaluable for depicting much material that is now lost forever.

The 17th century was marked by a series of wars between the Turks and the Venetians. In this context the Turks had fortified the ancient fort of the Acropolis, turning the strongest building-the Parthenon- into their gunpowder magazine. The Venetian general Francesco Morosini was besieging the Acropolis and on 26th September 1687 a cannonball struck the Parthenon and the whole building exploded. The huge gap now visible in the middle of both long colonnades was created that day. Several columns were shattered and much sculpture completely destroyed. When the Turkish garrison surrendered, Morosini attempted to remove the surviving west pediment to take back to Venice as a trophy of his conquest. However as they were lowering the huge piece of marble the cables broke and it shattered on the ground. Morosini was only able to take back one head of Apollo (which is now in the Louvre) before handing Athens back to the Turks.  The Turks used the debris to build a second smaller mosque inside the Parthenon, this time at an angle to the main building so as to align with the direction of Mecca. The heaps of fallen pieces of marble provided ready building materials to repair the fortress walls and were also suitable for burning into lime. The explosion also revealed that the ancient builders had used lead to connect the marble drums of the columns. This material could be extracted to make musket balls leading to further destructions of the monument.

The dispersed fragments soon attracted the interest of western European travelers, willing to pay for original Phidias pieces. There was considerable dispersion mostly of small Parthenon fragments in the 18th century. Several have been recently identified in Palermo, Padua, Paris, Karlsruhe, while some have been literally unearthed in English country houses’ gardens.

The end of the 18th century witnessed a booming antiquity market in Athens. The French ambassador in Constantinople, had set up his own agent in Athens, with instructions to draw, make casts and especially to remove all the Parthenon sculpture for shipment to France. The French Revolution cancelled the ambassador’s plans. France was soon at war with Turkey and it was Britain’s turn to set up an agent in Athens.

The new British ambassador to Constantinople, Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, has his name linked to the Parthenon much more than to his diplomatic career.  His term at the Ottoman capital coincided with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt (1798-1802), and therefore with the breaking of the traditionally cordial Franco-Turkish relations. As a principal allied representative, Elgin was to enjoy great privileges and influence at the Sublime Porte of the Sultan Selim III. Of a Scottish noble family, Elgin even before starting for the Levant was set to make his embassy a tool for the advancing of knowledge of Greek Architecture in Britain. He privately employed the landscape painter G.B. Lusieri from Sicily to put in charge of a team in Athens.

Arriving at Athens in August 1800, the group set to work. Elgin’s influence secured one and then a second official letter (firman) from Constantinople overruling the objections of local officials and their demands for bribes and giving his team unlimited access into the Acropolis fortress. While initially only taking casts and measurements, the group gradually proceeded to collecting marble pieces and inscriptions lying about, then digging for more and finally the decisive move was made on 31st July 1801 when the first metope (the one at the SE corner and one of the best surviving-) was sawn off from the standing building by a ship’s carpenter and lowered to the ground. Elgin’s secretary wrote triumphantly to his master that they had beaten the French to it and that upon reaching home safely” … must prove of inestimable service in improving the National Taste”.

Hectic activity on the Hill followed. Turkish soldiers’ houses with incorporated ancient marbles were bought just to be pulled down. When one soldier was unwilling to sell, a firman from the capital obliged him to. The excavations soon discovered the huge figures from the west pediment, which had survived from the explosion of 1687 and the subsequent attempts by Morosini at removing them. Then saws were specially ordered from Constantinople so that the reliefs of the frieze, which had been carved directly on the huge structural blocks of marble, could be sawn off.  Since the group did not possess real engineering knowledge, they were unable to remove some fine pieces like the metope at the SW corner. Two other easily accessible pedimental figures were left in place because they had the wrong information that they were later Roman additions, while in fact they are originals.

Elgin left Constantinople in early 1803, but he was arrested by the French on the way home and was detained until 1806. When released to return to England he faced bankruptcy.

The last shipment of his marbles collection arrived in England in May 1812. With his Parthenon collection reunited, he put them on display in a London house and they immediately created a sensation among artists, architects and the fashionable society who were unanimous in their praise:. “The finest things that ever came to this country”, “The finest works of art I have ever seen”, “infinitely superior to the Apollo Belvedere”.

With his financial situation worsening however Elgin had to resort to selling his collection to the government.  An Act of Parliament was passed transferring the ownership of the Parthenon collection to the nation and in August 1816 the marbles were moved to the British Museum.

Reactions to Elgin and the Question of Return

Elgin’s removal of the marble pieces from the Parthenon met strong disapproval from the start, especially by other classically-educated western Europeans, mostly fellow Britons. Lord Byron, who would later die fighting in the Greek War of Independence, repeatedly attacked Elgin in his poems as:

“…

But who, of all the plunderers of yon fane

On high-where Pallas linger’d, loth to flee

The latest relic of her ancient reign;

The last, the worst, dull spoiler, who was he?

Blush Caledonia! such thy son could be!

To rive what Goth, and Turk, and Time hath spared:

Cold as the crags upon his native coast,

His mind as barren and his heart as hard,

Is he whose head conceiv’d, whose hand prepar’d,

Aught to displace Athena’s poor remains:

Her sons too weak the sacred shrine to guard,

Yet felt some portion of their mother’s pains,

And never knew, till then, the weight of Despot’s chains.

…”

An unknown English traveler inscribed shortly after Elgin, on the gaping holes of the missing metopes:

“Quod non fecerunt Goti, hoc fecerunt Scoti”

(lat. “What the Goths did not do, the Scots did”)

 

Another British traveler F.S.N. Douglas, in his writings commented  …” I wonder at the boldness of the hand that could venture to remove what Phidias had placed under the inspection of Pericles.”

When removing from the Erechteion porch the single Caryatid statue/column that is today at the British Museum, Elgin’s workmen replaced it with a crude brick pillar so that the roof would not collapse. Some unnamed western visitor wrote on one of the five surviving Caryatids “Opus Phidiae” (the work of Phidias), while on the brick pillar the same hand wrote “Opus Elgin”.

It has been suggested that the local Greek society at Athens at Elgin’s time did not significantly react to the removals. The little objections reported had more to do with the loss of long familiar architectural items than with any articulate expression of resistance.   It should be remembered however that this kind of objection is only likely to emerge among educated groups of the society, and these are to be found in major towns or cities. Athens at the time was a provincial town with a population of 10,000, little or no commerce and no wider significance.

Contemporary Greek expressions of objection to Elgin’s actions are rarely recorded, but an interesting instance is recorded by John Cam Hobhouse (later Lord Broughton- a companion of Byron) in the city of Ioannina, provincial capital of Epirus, in what is now North-Western Greece, which was at the time a flourishing commercial and administrative urban centre of 40-50,000 people and which played a prominent role in the organization of the Greek Revolution of 1821. “…Yet I cannot forbear mentioning a singular speech of a learned Greek of Ioannina who said to me {You English are carrying off the works of the Greeks, our forefathers   -preserve them well-we Greeks will come and redemand them}”.

In 1983 a Socialist government in Greece formally launched a campaign for the return of Elgin’s collection to Athens, the reunification of the Parthenon sculpture and its display as a whole. The minister of Culture at the time Melina Merkouri made it clear that they were not claiming back all exported Greek art, but only the missing parts of an existing architectural monument.

The Museum Environment and the Marbles

Although the term “Mouseion” (Museum-house of the Muses) first emerges in Hellenistic Alexandria, the first modern collections of objects of art appeared in Renaissance Italy. These were mostly princely or regal collections, and “mixed up not only sculpture and painting but also objects of natural science, specimens of rocks, corals, freaks.”  It was only in the 18th century that a tendency to separate the types of items first emerged. Classification became gradually the dominant criterion for arranging collections, and museum space reflecting the contemporary role of classification in observing things, comparing them and naming them accordingly.

The British Museum of 1753 was a characteristically English institution which had no regal or princely origin (same as the British Library and the Royal Academy) and was public from the start.   Parliament was responsible for its running and the purchase of artifacts. The current spirit of Enlightenment produced an enthusiasm for equality of opportunity of learning. The purpose of the museum was to exhibit objects for the education and entertainment of the visitor.

Lord Elgin’s collection of the Parthenon antiquities was acquired by the British Museum on 8 August of 1816. Over the course of the next two centuries, these exhibits have been a central theme of the BM, and have adopted the label of the ‘Elgin Marbles’.

Museums consciously or otherwise, adopt an agenda in the way they present their material. The logic of classification in the layout of the presentation has a great effect on the resulting visit experience. The overall lighting of the space, direct artificial lighting on individual marble figures, the framing and the interrelation between them are important factors of the exhibition. In some cases, as at the British Museum, the presentation remains as neutral as possible, while at others, the architecture of the space has a significant effect on the perception of the exhibits. In the case of the NAM, Tschumi’s iconic architecture competes with the exhibits for the visitors’ attention.

The Duveen Gallery is an I-shape room with the entrance at the middle of the long side. The frieze is arrayed in the main exhibition area, attached to the wall at a height of 1.45m-2.05 m from the floor. The pedimental statues are free-standing at either end of the gallery, while the fifteen pieces from the metopes, are also attached to the walls, around the pediments. The background walls are covered with stone blocks, of approximately the same size as the pieces of the frieze. There are also four new columns in Doric order, two at each end, and a skylight along the central space.

 

It could be said that at the British Museum the pieces were arrayed with the criteria of the time, as being artifacts, masterpieces, to be admired, studied, drawn and copied by artists. For this purpose they are displayed at eye’s level, according to the prevailing standards of art gallery layout, with the visitors standing at the inside and the exhibits arrayed all around them. This is the reverse of the original monument layout. The non-specialist visitor may need continuous reference to plans and charts to relate the exhibits to their original positioning on the monument. This may result in a constant and tiresome exercise of imaginative reconstruction.  It can therefore be argued that the context of the marbles has been ignored, as there is little information provided about the original placement of the pieces. The exhibits are presented as individual objects of art, with little relation to the Parthenon as a building.

 

 

The Presentation at the New Acropolis Museum

The New Acropolis Museum was specifically designed for the particular location adjacent to the original monument. The architects’ choice was to have the top floor (the Parthenon Gallery) rotated from the underlying building, so as to be perfectly aligned with the Parthenon monument up on the hill. Here the significance of the museum derives from its proximity and alignment to the classical ruin. “It is a building that, quite literally, could not have been constructed anywhere else in the world.” The museum’s design incorporates contemporary exhibition ideas.

 

At the top floor, in the Parthenon Gallery, the visitor is presented with both the sculptures and through extensive all-round glazing with views of the Acropolis. The layout of the marbles of the frieze is according to their original position at the Parthenon, with the missing pieces replaced by easily distinguishable casts. Some information in writing is provided for all pieces and the present location of the original.

 

Although there is a logic of ‘reconstructing’ the analogies and layout of the Parthenon, the perception of the marbles is still very different from the ancient Athenian one. The marbles were seen from the ground at a distance and with a lot of perspective when they were on the Parthenon, as they stood as a decoration at the upper part of the temple. Moreover, they were painted with bright colors, which also gave a very different character to the marbles from the one we see today. In the NAM despite the attempt to recreate a ‘replica Parthenon layout’, there is still a lot of compromise to the artistic perception of the exhibits. The height of the replica arrangement is much lower from the original, presumably to facilitate the examination from the visiting public. The pediments here are also detached and placed at eye level, down close to the visitor.