The conservation and restoration of the Acropolis is carried out by the Acropolis Restoration Service, under the supervision and scientific direction of the Committee for the Preservation of the Acropolis Monuments, in cooperation with the 1st Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities.
The present aspect of the rock and the monuments of the Acropolis is the result of extensive excavations and restoration works carried out from 1835 onwards, in the context of the cultural renaissance of the Modern Greek State.
Over the centuries, these monuments had changed use and suffered damage caused by earthquakes, conflagration, bombardment and vandalism. Part of their architectural material was reused, intact or broken, in diverse ways, to construct later buildings.
The Acropolis Restoration Service
The Acropolis Restoration Service is committed to the preservation, conservation, restoration and enhancement of the monuments of the Athenian Acropolis, a cornerstone of the world’s cultural heritage. This is a critical effort to ensure the survival and pristine condition of these classical Greek masterpieces for future generations, highlighting their artistic and architectural significance.
Since 1975, the Acropolis Monuments Conservation Committee (YSMA), a multidisciplinary team of experts, has overseen the scientific aspects of this restoration project. Begun as an emergency measure to address serious structural problems and prevent further deterioration, the project has evolved into a comprehensive restoration effort. Careful analysis of the remaining architectural pieces has allowed for the correction of previous restoration inaccuracies and the integration of original materials, resulting in a more authentic restoration of large portions of the monuments.
The thorough documentation of the project, the detailed studies prior to each intervention, and the integration of advanced technological methods throughout the restoration process have brought international recognition to the restoration of the Acropolis over the past 38 years.
Understanding the Conservation Process
The Conservation Section of the YSMA focuses on addressing the visible damage to the Acropolis monuments. This damage is caused by the internal structure of the marble, environmental factors and past human activities. Since 1987, efforts have been made to preserve both the monuments and the sculptures in close coordination with structural restoration projects.
The Science Behind Conservation
Research led by Professor Th. Skoulikidis at the National Technical University of Athens, together with international studies, form the basis of these conservation efforts. The team, consisting of conservators, marble technicians and conservation technicians, uses ever-evolving methods and materials, benefiting from ongoing research and interdisciplinary collaboration.
Materials and techniques used
The primary material of the monuments is Pentelic marble, composed mainly of calcium carbonate, while the foundations are based on limestone. The conservation process involves preserving the surface layers of the marble, including the inner “epidermis” and the outer “coating”. These layers contain various compounds such as calcium oxalate, calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate. Historical inscriptions, graffiti, and remnants of colorful decorations are also meticulously preserved.
Choosing the Right Conservation Materials
Conservation uses inorganic materials that are compatible with the deteriorating marble. Titanium is the preferred choice for necessary reinforcements. Organic materials are avoided due to their limited lifespan, susceptibility to UV and incompatibility with marble.
Ensuring Safe and Efficient Work
Appropriate infrastructure and equipment have been provided to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the conservation work.
In summary, the Conservation Department of the YSMA adopts a methodical and scientific approach to the conservation of the Acropolis monuments. This includes the use of appropriate materials, continuous research and careful planning to ensure that these historic structures are preserved for future generations.
Timeline of the Restoration of the Acropolis since 1830
The restoration and conservation work on the Acropolis monuments, ongoing since 1975, is part of a long tradition starting with the foundation of the new Greek State in 1830. These efforts reflect changing approaches to restoration, national identity, and technological advancements, with significant interventions during various historical periods, revealing the evolving relationship between Greece’s cultural heritage and its national identity.
- Early Restoration Efforts (Post-1830): Following the establishment of the new Greek State in 1830, anastylosis (rebuilding) of Acropolis monuments began, emphasizing their symbolic and national importance.
- Otto’s Rule (1833-1863): Under King Otto, restoration projects emphasized classical appearances, including demilitarization of the Acropolis and removal of non-classical structures.
- Late 19th Century Developments: After Otto’s reign, the focus shifted to conservation, with limited interventions. Notable projects included the Acropolis Museum construction and the demolition of the Frankish Tower.
- Panayiotis Kavvadias’ Era (1885-1909): Marked by extensive archaeological activity and large-scale restorations, including the First Restoration Program of the Parthenon and the Erechtheion.
- Interwar Period (1910-1939): Nikolaos Balanos led major restorations, characterized by the use of heavy metal reinforcements and the inclusion of various ancient fragments.
- Second World War to 1974: Post-war interventions were limited, with significant work done by Anastasios Orlandos on the Propylaia. Damage from earlier restoration techniques became apparent.
- Post-1974 Developments: Recognition of previous restoration damage led to the establishment of an interdisciplinary committee in 1975, beginning a new phase of scientifically-guided interventions.
Comprehensive Review of Conservation Efforts at the Acropolis of Athens (April 26-29, 2022)
The report of the joint World Heritage Center/ICOMOS Advisory Mission to the Acropolis in Athens provides in-depth insights into the current state of conservation and future plans for the site. Key findings include
- Overall Conservation Status: The Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the Acropolis is well maintained and protected by robust laws and regulations. A systematic approach with expert studies is applied to all restoration and conservation efforts.
- Renovation of Pathways: Recent renovations, including pathway widening and elevator replacement, have been positively assessed as not impacting the OUV. These changes improve visitor accessibility and movement, and all interventions are fully reversible.
- Accessibility for Visitors with Disabilities: Efforts are consistent with international disability rights standards, although further improvements are needed for a more inclusive visitor experience. The accessibility improvements at the site are evident in several ways. Walkways have been made safer and more comfortable for visitors of all abilities. There has been a significant focus on providing accessibility for people with physical disabilities. In addition, the movement of monumental marble blocks during restoration work is now managed in a way that ensures no damage to the rock or monuments. A key feature of these improvements is their reversibility, allowing for future changes if necessary. In addition, the durability of the interventions, as well as efficient repairs and maintenance, are achieved with minimal disruption to the functioning of the site.
- History of conservation and restoration: Ongoing since 1833, conservation work has been carried out to high standards, especially since 1975, in accordance with the ICOMOS Venice Charter. Modern archaeological techniques and digital technologies are used.
- Proposed Western Access Project: Ongoing studies aim to restore the access to its early Roman form. This project requires a thorough justification to preserve the authenticity of the site and to consider the impact on tourist flows.
- Proposed Covering of the Acropolis Rock: Plans to cover parts of the Acropolis Rock aim to protect it from the impact of tourism, but would alter the visual presentation of the site, requiring extensive studies and an HIA.
- Recommendations for future interventions: The need for careful design of future interventions is emphasized to ensure aesthetic harmony with the archaeological site. Improved tourism management and visitor flow strategies are suggested.
- Cultural Significance: The Acropolis is recognized for its architectural, historical and cultural significance, reflecting its influence from ancient times to contemporary society.
- Recent Developments: Renovations since 2020 have focused on improving accessibility, particularly for people with disabilities, as part of a broader response to the needs of the site.
- Governance and management: Managed by the Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Acropolis benefits from a comprehensive management system and a research program that sets a benchmark for restoration projects worldwide.
In summary, the Acropolis of Athens is a well-preserved World Heritage site, with ongoing efforts focused on conservation, accessibility and improving the visitor experience. The development of a comprehensive management plan is essential for its holistic preservation and enhancement.