Parthenon Restoration: Steps Taken to Restore the Ruin

Ancient Greeks only took about nine years to construct the Parthenon. However, it may take more time to restore this gem.

Led by architect Manolis Korres, modern restorers have taken over three decades and almost $90 million in repairing and restoring it. And the work might not be finished until 2020.

Why So Much Money, Time, and Effort on the Parthenon Restoration?

Imagine assembling a 100,000-ton, jigsaw puzzle (three dimensional) with 70,000 individual pieces. This is the task that Manolis Korres and his team a reset out to do. Here are some of the extraordinary measures the team takes to restore the Parthenon.

Undoing the Past Doings

Before restoration started, the crew had to repair almost every piece, block by block. This is because early restorers who did the work between the late 1800s and mid-1900s placed whole blocks and column drums at the wrong place.

To make things worse, they used iron clamps to hold blocks together.  The uncovered clamps used by early restorers not only corroded and expanded but also caused cracking and destroyed the marble.

Tracing All Original Pieces

To restore the Parthenon, the current team decided to salvage all the ancient marble blocks that survived. This hasn’t been easy. Tens of thousands of these original pieces still exist. Some of them are scattered around the Acropolis and others are missing. Each missing piece has to be recreated by the crew.

Cataloguing the Remains

Korres’s team created a computer database. This criterion is used to identify each piece via height, corrosion, stain marks, cracking, slope, width or graffiti. They hope this will help them know the remnants’ original position. Often, some pieces are subtle, and they have to match the fragments by eye.

Deciding Where Each Piece Goes

The Parthenon may appear geometrically straight and constructed from interchangeable parts, but this is not actually the case. Ancient Greeks included curves into architraves, columns floors, and other architectural elements. Because of this, each of the 70,000 pieces was crafted uniquely, and can only fit in one place.

Obtaining New Marble

Because some original pieces are missing (maybe in museums all over the globe or are just lost), the team now relies on the same quarry the ancient Greeks used for their marble. Located just 12 miles away, this quarry, Pentelicon, is still a rich marble source.

Shaping the Missing Pieces

Before a new marble piece fills a gap, the team creates a plaster cast of the missing piece. They are forced to use ancient tools and techniques to maintain the authenticity of the Parthenon.

An antique mason’s device known as pantograph is used to record the cast’s three-dimensional shape. The shape is then transferred to the new marble, piece by piece.

Carving New Marble Pieces

Just like in ancient time, Parthenon’s workplace today is more of a sculptor’s studio and less of a construction site. Master stonemasons do all the carving by hand. The expert skills of the stonemasons are required for fit and accuracy of the pieces. Even a tenth of a millimeter plays a big role in determining if a piece is ideal or not.

The ancient Greeks achieved this precision level by using sophisticated ancient tools. By reviewing tool marks in the old marble, Korres has managed to reconstruct old chisels among other tools he believes were used during those days.

Pairing Two Pieces

Each time when two pieces are being fitted together (a new-fashioned marble piece and an irregularly shaped or broken ancient one), the restorers borrow again from Periclean times.

To make sure the new piece snuggles against the old one precisely, the new marble’s inner surface is coated with red clay. Both parts are gently pushed together and then pulled apart. The points that turn white on the new piece (where the clay gets scrapped off) show spots that require fine tuning on the new slab.

This operation is repeated as many times as needed until the new marble matches the ancient surface precisely.

Relying on Modern Equipment

Korres and his team still rely on a number of modern pieces of equipment. For instance, soaring cranes are used to lift multi-ton capitals and place them on top columns and diamond-tipped saws are used to cut fresh marble in Pentelicon (the quarry).

However, if old tools and techniques were not being used, this project couldn’t have attained the perfection level that ancient Athenians set.

Parthenon Restoration is Almost Done!

Over 30 years ago when this Acropolis Restoration Project started, Manolis Korres and his team could have decided to approximate the original state of the Parthenon and adorn it with decorations and sculptures and then paint it using bright and beautiful colors. Rather, they chose to preserve the majestic ruin – everything that has survived for over 2500 years.

The Parthenon Restoration is a remarkable project that should be appreciated all around the world. Make sure it’s on your bucket list.

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