The Magnificent Culture of Ancient Greece and Its Legacy

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Athens has had an essential impact on the development of the European civilization. A countless number of activities and institutions valuable nowadays(e. g. The Olympic games, theatre, literature, philosophy, politics, architecture) have their roots in this city during its most powerful times - the Classical period.The first inhabitants of Greece occupied the area around the mainland, on the Balkan peninsula and some islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Later they spread around a greater territory, covering the nearest parts of Africa and Asia as well. The current western civilization is said to has originated from Greek and Roman civilization and are referred to as “classical” cultures.

The ancient Greeks lived in small self - governing city-states called 'polis'. Towns grew around these defensible areas and consisted of three defined elements: the Acropolis, the Agora and the Town. Athens, sitting on the south part of the country, developed around the Acropolis – the place where all the major temples took place. It was built on a hill(480 BC) as Greeks thought high places are sacred and a fortified place of refuge. The main purpose of the space was to glorify the gods. This is where buildings reflecting the highest ideals of beauty were placed to be seen rather than used. The principle of its design is that of isolated objects arranged in open space(to be seen in 3 dimension). The most important task for architects was how to make the temple beautiful. The search for ways to reach this aim made Greeks among the first to have established ideals of beauty and its relation to proportions(reflecting those of the human body). Thus, the classical Greek orders, consisting of a column shat, a base and a capital and entablature, were developed – Doric, Ionic, Corinthian.

The Doric was the earliest – with a square capital- and reflected the power of the man. The Ionic was taller in proportion and reflected a maiden. Corinthian has the same features as the Ionic except that its capital is decorated with Acanthus leaves.

Under the Acropolis was situated the Agora – the most important meeting place, noticeboard and shopping centre. ‘If Athens is the city leading the world into tomorrow, the Agora is the beating heart which powers that city’ – Philip Matyszak. Firstly, it was an open space where Athenians went gathered to discuss politics, business, philosophy or a scandal. It emerged as the heart of Greek intellectual life and discourse. It was usually located on a flat ground for ease of communication and easily accessible from all directions, but also close to the Acropolis. Boundaries are created to contain space for activities. Stoas and other civic buildings are used to loosely define the space and supported their democratic institutions and satisfied their social and recreational needs. These are usually treated with continuous colonnades or porticoes along the side of the court with occasional penetrations by footpaths. The main material used for them was stone(particularly marble) - the most common construction material. The town was a place to retire for the day – where people lived. It was composed of simple courtyard houses separated by streets. It could either be organic or grid-based. Houses were usually constructed of mud bricks, but they would vary according to standing in the society. Those of poor people were very simple compared to the house of the rich, which had more rooms and better finishing and were built of timber.

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The Acropolis and Agora in Athens have some of the best examples of ancient Greek architecture. The Acropolis combined Doric orders and Ionic orders in a perfect composition in four buildings; the Propylaea, the Erechtheion, the temple of Nike and the Parthenon.

The Propylaea is the ‘foregate’ and took only five years to construct. Work began during the Peloponnesian War against Sparta in the 5th century( architect – Mnesikles). The building is thought to has never been finished, however this structure impresses visitors before they see the other wonders of the hill. It is the only entrance to the Acropolis and from there a visitor has a view of all the prominent buildings, placed in a distance so that each of them is appreciated. The outside columns are Doric, echoed from the Parthenon but the interior ones – Ionic. In times of peace, the gates of the Propylaea were usually left wide open. When an enemy threatened, the wooden doors were closed and there was no other access to the Acropolis.

The Erechtheion is a temple situated in the north side of the Acropolis, built during the Golden Age of the city which main purpose was to store an ancient wooden statue of Athena (which according to Pausanias makes the building the most sacred place in the Acropolis) and praise the beautiful and far famed city of Athens. The Erechtheion is the place where Athena and Poseidon competed for the possession of Athens. The entire structure is in the Ionic style. Not only Athena, but also Zeus, Poseidon, Hermes and Hephaestos are represented in this small temple. Over 110 different professionals worked on it and each of them was paid five drachmas a day, which has led to the title of a book about the city by Philip Matyszak: ‘Ancient Athens on five drachmas a day’. What differs the Erechtheion from other temples is the sculptural adornment, consisting of six maidens which support the roof. During the Roman period part of the Erechtheion burned and was recovered in the 7th century. After that rebuilding the Acropolis is said to be fully completed.

The Parthenon is the ‘crown jewel’ of the Acropolis, the most perfect Doric temple(ever built) of Athena and one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, designed by Ictinus and Callicrates in 447 BC. An ivory gold statue of Athena once stood in the sanctuary of the Parthenon. Seventeen massive marble columns are placed along the side, drawing the view towards shadowed friezes below the roof. The best example of entasis is built in the design. The columns are fooling the eye into giving the impression of much taller columns. The building is not the unpleasing white marble seen by later ages, but painted in light grey (exterior columns) and pale ochre(interior). At the eastern end is a scene of Athena being born. On the opposite side again a pictorial form of Athena winning Posiedon.

The Parthenon guards Athenian values and valuables. It is admired for the quality of its architectural designs and sculptural decoration, for its carefully planned proportions and subtle curvature and its rich finishing. These features set the temple apart from other ancient monuments. It summarizes Greek art and culture of the high Classical period – ‘Golden Age’.

In the heart of the world first great democracy, Athena, have been born the basics of understanding and culture. It has given the world knowledge in different spheres, which we lean on even today. The city is a symbol of Greece, but also part of the world history heritage, a city preserving the human common space, which is a cradle of not only Greek civilization, but ours.

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