The Propylaea (Propylées)

The Propylaea (Propylées) (8)

After passing the first entrance to the Acropolis, the Beule gate, you will instantly find the remains of this beautiful building standing as a kind of introduction to your visit to the temples constructed on the premises.

This grand entrance, the only western entrance to the Acropolis, was accessed through a monumental stairway. When it is said that the Propylaea stood as an introduction to what visitors will see, it is not meant figuratively. The warning is real. The drama of the construction, rising up to heaven like a film set wanting to touch the stars, arose in an attempt to impress visitors and to make them aware that they were entering a sacred place.

Although the archaeological remains belong to the construction from the age of Pericles, there was already a similar construction in the same place before this time. This was the gate of a fortification from Mycenaean times. In Ancient Greece, in the age of Peisistratos, there was also an original propylaea. The Persians completely destroyed the previous constructions in 480 BC, and the construction standing today, or its remains, were designed and built by the architect Mnemesicles between 437 and 432 BC, after the Parthenon was completed. Although construction was interrupted by the Peloponnesian War, the result was a benchmark in the period.

Like almost everything in the Acropolis, the archaeological remains offer clues to a picture of what the construction would have been like in its golden age. However, just in case it takes a little imagination, let us offer some help with its architectural features.

The propylaea, in Greek, is a central rectangular building, measuring around 13 by 25 metres, which is divided by a wall into two porticos. Each one has five gates. This central building, designed as a Doric temple, had six columns that rose to nearly nine metres in height and supported a blue ceiling with golden stars.

There were also two wings attached to the central building. The south wing contained a small portico with three Doric columns and was used as a propylaea to the temple of Athena Nike. The north wing was the oldest of all and is known as Pinakothíki or Pinacotheca, as it housed the paintings of the famous Polignoto or Aglaophon, among others.

Although the presence characteristics of the construction of the ruins may not be known, the building was never completed because the Athenians and the priests of some of the temples of the Acropolis believed it to be too expensive to complete the work.

Like many buildings on the site, the history of the Propylaea has been full of troubles that have contributed towards its decline: it was altered when the site was used as the archbishop's residence, it was struck by lightning in 1645 and it was affected by the explosion of gunpowder when it was under Turkish rule.

Since 1909, the building has undergone a continuous process of restoration, passing through different hands and different projects. Nevertheless, the Propylaea are an outstanding introduction to the Acropolis, and will start to give you an idea of the magnificence of the site.

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