BMCR 1995.06.07

Entrance to the Athenian Acropolis

, The entrance to the Athenian Acropolis before Mnesicles. Monographs / Archaeological Institute of America ; new series, no. 1. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Pub. Co, 1995. xvi, 146 pages : illustrations ; 29 cm.. ISBN 9780840393913

Although the entrance to the Athenian akropolis has received much attention, this study is based on a re-excavation of the area in 1975 (see H. Eiteljorg, II, “New finds concerning the entrance to the Acropolis”, Athens Annals of Archaeology 8 (1976) 94-95), further measurements in 1987, and a photogrammetric survey of the Mycenaean wall in 1989. Even though W.B. Dinsmoor, Jr. ( The Propylaia to the Athenian Akropolis, vol. 1: The Predecessors [Princeton, 1980]) was able to take account of Eiteljorg’s 1975 excavations, the later surveys have raised questions about his conclusions. Eiteljorg recommends that his work should be used alongside Dinsmoor (p. 2 n. 6). Both studies move away from the view that there was a single period of construction for the pre-Mnesicleian entrance; Eiteljorg differs from Dinsmoor by questioning the assumption that there was necessarily a forecourt and standard propylon. The main new piece of evidence, which requires the new reconstructions, is the consideration of the condition of the Mycenaean wall adjoining the entrance (p. 56).

The reader is helped in the interpretation of the entrance remains by Eiteljorg’s use of Computer-Assisted Drafting and Design Programs alongside Photogrammetry. The technical aspects are covered in a short section. This included used of AutoCAD and Illustrator. Measurements were derived from the author’s own work as well as those from plans prepared by J.A. Bundgaard and W.B. Dinsmoor, Jr. The photogrammetry method used the Rollei MR2 program and Desktop Phtogrammetry’s PhotoCAD. It should be noted that the data files used in this work are available from the Center for the Study of Architecture (p. 7). The result of this technology is a series of plans, three dimensional views and reconstructions of the different phases of the entrance. These include reconstructions proposed by Dinsmoor, Jr. Given the limited nature of the remains of the earlier entrance, the use of CAD has greatly enhanced the study.

It would be wrong to assume that this is merely the application of new technology to an area that is well described. Throughout the volume E. takes the reader through the surviving remains, virtually stone by stone, crack by crack; each minute observation seem to have been taken into account when it came to the reconstructions.

The study starts with a discussion of the western approach to the akropolis, and in particular the erection of a ramp during the sixth century which remained in use until the construction of the Propylaia. E. does not consider Vanderpool’s suggestion that the ramp was linked to the first Great Panathenaia as compelling (p. 9). He notes that the orientation is not exactly on the same axis as the later Propylaia. This ramp seems to have removed part of an earlier Mycenaean terrace wall. The assumption is that the entrance at this time consisted of the Mycenaean gate or a successor.

The “In situ remains of the Pre-Mnesiclean entrance” are then presented (pp. 14-47). The extant remains are found in six areas (A-F). The comments can be easily followed by the fold-out fig. 1. The significant areas are the Lower Courtyard (Areas A and C) and the Upper Courtyard (Area B), clustered around the south-east wing of the later Propylaia. The Upper Courtyard was reached via three marble steps at the top of the ramp, and, it is suggested, entered an area bounded on three sides by the Mycenaean walls (which are only certain on one side); the gate would be at the end of this court. The Lower Courtyard was in effect an open space at the top, and to the south of, the ramp; it adjoined the Mycenaean wall (standing some 44 feet high) and the sanctuary of Athena Nike. As such it provided direct access into the latter, and was probably at the same elevation (p. 17). Along the line of the Mycenaean wall were five steps leading down into the courtyard, some of which may have been designed for standing rather than sitting (pp. 19-20). E. suggests that they may been for those visiting the sanctuaries or for watching the Panathenaic procession. In the lower courtyard, and adjoining the marble steps into the upper courtyard was the base of a tripod. The cuttings on which the base was placed indicate that it was an integral part of the initial design.

E. demonstrates from cuttings in the rock that the line of revetment slabs found against the Mycenaean wall in the lower courtyard originally continued in the upper courtyard. However he then suggests that there were two phases of construction essentially in the upper courtyard. The first included the removal of the revetted wall, the cutting back of the Mycenaean wall, the introduction of benches along the side of the Mycenaean wall and the inclusion of an anta at the top of the three marble steps. The second phase included the removal of one of the lines of benches, and the insertion of a parastas wall between the Mycenaean wall and the anta on the top step. As there is no apparent architectural evidence for a propylon building (p. 47), E. suggests that the entrance of the akropolis consisted of two open courtyards, separated by three steps, at the top of the ramp; the upper courtyard gave access to what was in effect the Mycenaean gateway in the walls.

E. then turns to the “Evidence from Literary Sources” (pp. 49-52) to see if his theory fits the evidence. He considers that a propylon is literally “that which is before the gate” (p. 49). He suggests that the body of men who gathered in the propylon to hear Peisistratos (Ar. Ath. Pol. 15) are likely to have met in a courtyard (the same space presumably as the later upper and lower courtyards) rather than a building. Herodotus’ (5.77) account of the quadriga made from the Chalcidian ransom is placed by E. on the former Mycenaean terrace on the left of the ramp as the propylon was entered. The key piece of evidence for E. is Herodotus’ (8.52) account of the Persian attack on the akropolis, which he assumes is after the construction of the upper and lower courtyards. He suggests that the wooden barricades set alight by the Persians were probably located in the region of the three marble steps. However, he points out that if there had been a propylon above the steps the Persians could have mount an assault on the gates, as the building would have afforded some measure of protection. E. concludes: “careful analysis of Herodotus’ story seems to suggest that there were gates but no outer porch and that the wooden barricade must have faced (or nearly so) the Areopagus” (p. 52). He also draws attention to Weller, Dinsmoor, Jr., and Bundgaard who all considered a propylon building to be a source of potential weakness in the defence of the acropolis.

A key feature of the new reconstruction is E.’s observations on the Mycenaean wall. He notes that the “the surviving portion of the Mycenaean wall was constructed according to different standards than the remainder of the wall” (pp. 53-54). In particular he draws attention to blocks which have moved out of true. He explains this in terms of this section of the wall being rebuilt by masons where were inexperienced in this type of construction. He finds the most economical explanation lying in Herodotus’ (9.13) comment that the Persians, in 480, “utterly overthrew and demolished whatever wall or house or temple was left standing”. E. thus suggests that the Persians demolished the gate and the wall immediately surrounding it. It was this wall that was rebuilt in the reconstruction of the upper courtyard; but the quality was such that the revetment wall and the anta adjoining it were pushed out of true, and further repairs had to be made.

After providing the six phases of the construction identified by Dinsmoor, Jr. (p. 57), E. presents his own three phase construction which followed the construction of the ramp during the sixth century.

1. The post-Marathon entrance. Unlike Dinsmoor, Jr., he considers the upper and lower courtyards with the linking steps to be a unified work. He draws attention to a stele socket which would have stood on the top step and which had to be removed following the insertion of the later parastas wall. This would indicate that the wall on the top step was a later idea, and implies that the steps were not acting as a stylobate for some kind of forecourt building. He proposes that the three marble steps were 13 m. wide—perhaps with a break for a ramp in the middle—and would have met the northern line of the ramp.

2. The first post-Persian entrance. If E. is right and it was the Mycenaean gate that was destroyed by the Persians, it would seem that there was a limited amount of demolition within the upper courtyard.

3. The final pre-Mnesiclean entrance. This phase was caused by the movement of the rebuilt Mycenaean wall. The parastas wall on the upper step acted as a form of buttress. As such this third phase may have included asymmetrical elements. This phase also included the use of plaster to cover over joints and damaged blocks.

The chronology for these phases is slight. The main terminus post quem is provided by reused material. In particular the lower courtyard, and the earliest phase of the upper courtyard, used metopes from the precursor of the Older Parthenon to face the Mycenaean wall; E. considers their use as a form of “beautification”. The material would be available after the start of the construction of the Older Parthenon. E. rejects the terminus ante quem of the Persian destruction and does not feel compelled by evidence of burning, some of which may date from the Middle Ages (p. 80). Moreover some of the large marble blocks in the upper courtyard may also have been intended for the Older Parthenon (p. 81). He wisely notes that the only certain terminus ante quem for the project is the construction of the later Propylaia, although possibly the construction of the Parthenon might indicate the initiation of the remodelling of the akropolis. E.’s plan to have what he estimates as a year-long project which coincides with the demolition of precursor of the Older Parthenon has much in its favour; certainly it is more economical with workmen time, who it is argued would be involved with the construction of the Older Parthenon, than the several phases of Dinsmoor, Jr., which would have to be placed in the 480s. Thus the second phase would reflect a repair of the defences of the akropolis, and the third phase essential repairs (possibly at the same time as activity in the Nike precinct) (p. 84). The way that E. considers how these projects were integrated into other activity on the akropolis adds weight to his argument. In passing we should note that E. does not consider that Building B was located in the vicinity of the Pinakotheke (p. 58).

The series of plans, three-dimensional drawings, reconstructions and photographs enhance this book. The only other drawing this reviewer would have liked to have seen is a view of the propylon from the bottom of the ramp. The fold out plan of the different areas of the propylon helps the reader, as does the large print. For E. the simplification of the earlier entrance to the akropolis makes “the Propylaea an even more significant achievement and Mnesicles a more bold and creative architect” (p. 86). His study is a good reminder that architectural reconstructions should be based on the extant evidence, rather than what the excavator would like to have been there.