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The Parthenon being number one on Pericles' list of projects on the Acropolis, it can be assumed that the second most important construction on the site was the Propylaea. The word means "before the gate," or 'vestibule' to a building. This was the vestibule to the Acropolis, the main, and more accessible, west end.

Built between 437 and 432 B.C.E., and designed by the architect Mnesicles, the complex is of white marble. This building is one of a very few which mixed the Orders of Greek Architecture. The frontal columns are Doric, and in this view the capitals are missing, so we must look to the base of the columns for further identification: there is no base, and the Doric was the only Order which was so designed. You can catch a glimpse of Ionic scrolls on a capital of a column to the left, or northern side of the Propylaea. There are flanking rows of Ionic columns, 3 in each row, running west to east. Very often when Orders were mixed it was because greater height had to be achieved to support the roof with a single column; the Ionic being taller than the Doric would have been a reason for mixing. There are many different pieces and parts to the Propylaea, and the Ionic columns did, indeed, support their own roof structure leading into the Acropolis.

The site is a steep one, and for ceremonial purposes, horses and chariots had to be given access to the Acropolis. For that reason there are stairs for humans, but there was also a series of ramps that entered the central section for the chariots. In that center, the column spacing is wider than adjacent spans to allow for those chariots. You can see that the first three columns from the right above are closer together than the 3rd to 4th, which are, actually, the middle two of six. The northwest flanking building, part of the complex, is the Pinakotheke, or Art Gallery (extreme left). It is matched by construction on the right or southwest side, but because of spatial limitations, the buildings do not match in size or exact position.

Grecian skies are really almost this blue. Here you can see more of the Pinakotheke to the left (north). The greater separation between the center columns is more obvious here; there are three columns on each side of the large central gap, six columns in total. Reliable sources indicate the Propylaea was struck by lightning while being used to store gunpowder by the Turks in 1645 C.E., though our discussion above indicated an artillery bombardment.

The fluting of the Doric column; no base. You can also see the drum sections. Drums are cylindrical pieces of a column, placed one atop the other, when the column is not monolithic.

People on foot used the stairs to either side of the main ramp entranceway. This stair leads from the main stair towards the south, between the Temple of Athena Nike and the rest of the southern wing. See below for the upper section of this view. The view is directly from the south, at right angles to the entrance ramp/stair.

Ionic columns of the Temple of Nike, to the right (south) of the main entranceway. There are 4 Ionic columns defining a stoa (porch-like space).

This is the southwest corner of the back of the Propylaea, immediately behind the preceding two views above. What seems fascinating about this image is that the bosses still exist. These are the projections left uncarved so that the blocks of marble could be hoisted into place by means of ropes, tackles, and pulleys. The bosses would then be cut away; they still exist, because the Peloponnesian War prevented completion of the entire project. The unfinished work provides us with a very definite understanding of some of the construction techniques employed by the ancient Greeks.

© Architecture Past Present & Future - Edward D. Levinson, 2009

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