Take a moment to notice the deliberate alignment of the Propylaea with the Parthenon – possibly the first ever instance of two separate buildings being complementarily designed.
When the spectacular buildings that crown the Acropolis were originally built, it was decided that the rocky outcroup needed a gateway that would do justice to the splendour inside. And while the years have rather taken their toll on the finish of the Propylaea, the sheer immensity of it as you mount the plateau is truly awe-inspiring.
Athens’ Golden Era
Like all the other buildings on the Acropolis today, the Propylaea was built during the Golden Age of Athens, when the city was the cultural and intellectual centre of the Western world. The great Athenian statesman Pericles embarked upon an ambitious building project which would make his city the envy of all who laid eyes upon it. He charged the great architect Mnesicles with designing and building the gateway to his new citadel.
Pillars of Respect
Visiting the Propylaea today, you will first climb a broad staircase cut directly into the rock. This leads up to the dramatic entrance hall, whose portico is supported by three enormous columns on each side of you. Moving further inside, careful observers may notice a change in style – while the first columns you encounter on the outside are Doric, those which support the internal structure of the gateway are Ionic in style. It is thought that this was a diplomatic decision made during the politically thorny Peloponnesian War. Mainland Greeks tended to prefer the Doric style, while “Eastern” Greeks from the islands and the coast of modern Turkey favoured Ionic columns. In order to show respect to both groups, Pericles commanded that the gateway be designed in this intriguing blend of styles.
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