Nova: Secrets of the Parthenon (2008) Review
(More customer reviews)The Parthenon, considered by many the ultimate monument of antiquity, has coexisted in recent years with the glaring presence of modern construction, as a Parthenon reconstruction project which began in the mid-1970s continues its slow and somewhat controversial pace. This Nova episode addressing the secrets of the Parthenon's construction paints a rather rosy picture, referring to the one hundred million dollars that has already been spent but saying nothing about the debate over remaining finances at this point. The program does make clear why the restoration has been such a long and drawn out process, however -- it has been very much a learning process, revealing much new information on the original construction.
The Parthenon was completed in 432 B.C., a mere eight years after construction began. It is, of course, a shadow of its former self. Much of it lies in ruin, and the incredible statues that once graced its interior have been looted (mostly by Europeans of the 18th and 19th century). Still, even in ruins this monument to the glory of ancient Athens still sits majestically stop the summit of the Acropolis. One can hardly imagine a world without it, which is precisely why a decades-long effort to restore it was launched. After some 2500 years, what remains of the Parthenon was in danger of collapsing. As a traditionalist, I find it slightly troubling to see new pieces of marble being combined with the original stonework, but there is no other way to save it - and new material is only being used to replace pieces that can no longer be found among the ruins. And, of course, it's not a full restoration, as it is only preserving the Parthenon as we know it today.
The "secrets" detailed in this documentary are basically all architectural in nature. For example, no matter how perfectly symmetric the monument may look, there are subtle curves even on the foundations and cornices, the columns taper up oh so slightly, no two stones are exactly alike, and there are almost no right angles in evidence anywhere. Much is made of the incredible precision of the marble stones. One prominent idea discussed is that the design was modeled on the supposed ideal proportions of the human body, along with the notion that the ancient Greeks understood and incorporated the existence of optical illusions into the design. Answers to some of the most mysterious architectural secrets of the Parthenon are only now being found, as those on the restoration project have been compelled to learn as much as they can figure out about the original design, and physical evidence from other ancient Greek sites help explain how the builders achieved such precision among builders using Doric, Common, as well as Ionic design techniques.
It's taking decades for modern technological man to restore only a portion of a monument that the ancient Greeks completely built in just eight years. Clearly, we still have much to discover and learn from "the secrets of the Parthenon."
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Erected by the ancient Greeks as a temple to Athena, the Parthenon has served as a church, a fortress, an ammunition dump, and the model for countless banks, courthouses, and museums across the world. It has been shot at, exploded, set on fire, rocked by earthquakes, looted for its magnificent sculptures, and subjected to restorations that have been termed catastrophic. Surprisingly, despite much abuse and renown as an icon of Western civilization, the question of how the Parthenon was built has been largely ignored until recently. Thanks to the Greek government s $10 billion restoration program, scholars are finally probing the enigmas of its planning and construction. With unprecedented access, NOVA presents the inside story of the official restoration, which reaches far beyond the challenges and controversies of conserving one of the world s best-known buildings. The researchers are confronting some truly monumental riddles: How did the ancient Athenians build their great temple with incredible precision in a mere eight years? How did they manage to incorporate subtle, eye-pleasing distortions into the Parthenon s layout, such that there are few straight lines or right angles to be seen? And, most baffling of all, how did they accomplish all of this without an overall building plan or blueprint, which would be indispensable to a modern architect?