The complex of temples atop the rugged rock we call the Acropolis of Athens in Greece are not a mere collection of ruins, nor are they a mere tourist destination.
Acropolis (akro + polis) literally means edge or point of the city, and throughout the centuries in has embodied a much more significant position not in relation to a city, but in relation to an entire civilization. A heavy burden to say the least; but a burden that the discolored marbles carry with effortless grace.
The Acropolis was always a sacred place for ancient Athenians going back to Mycenaean times. They worshiped their gods in temples there, conducted their festivals, and they fortified themselves on it whenever the enemies managed to reach the city of Athens. The temples of the Acropolis of Athens were destroyed or burned several times in ancient times, and the monuments as we see them today were the result of a terrific public project the Athenians undertook during "The Golden Age of Perikles" circa 450 BC. The whole project was supervised by the famous sculptor and Perikles' personal friend, Phedias.
It was designed as a monument to everything that the Athenian thought pattern represented and which placed man in its center of interest. In the monuments of the Acropolis the ideals which forged western thought and culture are embodied in artistic expression and formal stylization of the highest degree. The Parthenon itself managed to push the aesthetic conventions of its time to their logical conclusion: a building that touched the ideal in every formal detail.
The aesthetics of the architectural elements of the Parthenon are breathtaking even in a ruinous state and strive for balance and perfection all at the same time. The Doric columns are imposing and full of life in the way that they bow in the middle as if they are overburdened by the weight of the roof. They all appear perfectly aligned and yet closer observation reveals a controlled anarchy that compensates for the optical effects of light and the nature of the human eye to be fooled by its refraction. The proportions of the structure are well calculated and executed in a way that the temple never looks overly compensated in the measurements of one dimension or another. The fact that there are no straight lines on the building is another well calculated mirage that the ancient architects (Iktinos and Kallikrates) have executed to perfection. There have been countless books that have analyzed the Parthenon over the centuries, and scholars are still studying the structure and trying to decipher its secrets.
Standing in front of the Parthenon -- stripped of all its glorious ornaments -- I tried to imagine it in all its splendor. I tried to see it as if I were an ancient Athenian, and once immersed in the illusion, I could not help but swell with pride that my culture was able to achieve such degree of aesthetic perfection. As an ancient Athenian I saw the splendor of my cultural achievements in Philosophy, Politics, Science, History, Economy, and Logic all embodied in the splendor of Art. I knew that my legacy would last for eons, and that people would come from afar just to glimpse at all of humanity's achievements built into stone.
It is not easy to sustain such illusion with all the tourists mingling busily around the rocks, waiting patiently for their place in the photo with the Parthenon. But their very presence from all corners of the earth is silent witness to the temple's stoic contemplation of these eons that passed and left their wrinkles on its stones.
The Parthenon emanates a silent dignity as it stands on the rugged rock; naked of its ornaments, and deprived of a religion to represent. It is but a shell of a structure, and a shell of significance that grew with time to represent all the things that survived to our day. It stands in its ruins as a sign for the things that made IT possible,and for all that we have inherited and made us richer... Philosophy, Democracy, Science, Economy, History, Logic, ... and Art. Art not for the king, or god, or deity; but Art for humanity, with man in its center.
The Parthenon would not be as beautiful if it were intact today. Man and weather have scared it for centuries, and their mark has taken its toll on its ancient body. But they have also enriched it with the sweet aesthetics that only time can bestow on an object. And it is this "Time" that I find most interesting to witness on the stones. The marks of the ancient mason's chisel--still visible on stone, the shifting of the earth on the mis-alligned column segments, the violent defacing of the statues, all speak a story more compelling that the individual parts themselves.
But I had to move on. I was in the way of the temple's memorable photo with some unknown tourists who have been patiently waiting for their time with the ancient stones.
The new acropolis museum is a jem of a facility and it houses thousands of artifacts unearthed at the Acropolis. It is a modern and imposing building that incorporates into the strucutre the ongoing excavations at it's foundations.