New pieces of the jigsaw?


There are faint details emerging of new finds on the Acropolis in Athens. Not just any finds, but new pieces of the Parthenon. First news reports indicate that five new metopes (the sculptured panels that intersperse with the triple-lined blocks (triglyphs) in the Parthenon’s architrave) have been discovered buried in the south wall of the Acropolis.


While I imagine it will take some time for these valuable new pieces from one of the world’s most famous buildings to be thoroughly studied and put on public display, this is incredible news. How many millions of visitors to the Acropolis (including myself!) have walked past their hidden resting place over the centuries since they were put there probably as emergency building material to help secure the wall?

The Parthenon dominates the modern skyline of Athens as it did the ancient city. But perhaps we don’t always appreciate quite how special the Parthenon is. My favourite fact about the Parthneon is its lack of straight lines. It looks straight to us, but this is only because the buildings’ faintly curving lines actually work to correct an optical distortion, without which, the building would look very odd. This kind of anticipation of the optical impact of this magnificent structure, coupled with the technical ability to compensate for it and construct a massive temple in marble with such incredibly small gradations of curvature over its great length and height, 2,500 years ago, is quite simply breathtaking.

We must also not forget what the Parthenon was. To be sure, it was a testament to the Athenians’ belief in the gods, and in particular their patron deity Athena. But it was also a glaring statement about their power and wealth at the height of their empire. After all, it was paid for in part out of funds drawn from Athens’ empire. Moreover, there is debate about how much this structure was ever intended as a religious rather than as a political monument.

No altar has been found associated with the Parthenon – as there should be for every Greek temple. Without an altar – which is where the majority of religious ritual, particularly sacrifice took place – the temple’s main function must have been to house the gold and ivory statue of the goddess created by Pheidias, to keep safe many of the treasures belonging to the Athenians (we have inventory lists of what was inside) but most of all to impress, just as it continues to do today.

With the discovery of the new metopes, alongside the continued programme of restoration that is rebuilding this magnificent temple block by block, it is sure to do that better than ever for some time to come.


Reprinted from Neos Kosmos