Elgin Marbles — The Parthenon Sculptures – Rick Steves’ Journey Weblog

As Europe begins opening as much as vacationers once more, it’s extra thrilling than ever to consider the cultural treasures that await. For me, one of many nice joys of journey is having in-person encounters with nice artwork — which I’ve collected in a ebook referred to as Europe’s High 100 Masterpieces. Right here’s one in every of my favorites:   

For two,000 years, the Parthenon temple in Athens remained virtually completely intact. However in 1687, with Athens beneath siege, the Parthenon was used to retailer an enormous cache of gunpowder. (See the place that is going?) Pow! A large explosion despatched large chunks of the Parthenon in all places. Then in 1801, the British ambassador, Lord Elgin, carted probably the most treasured surviving bits of carved stone off to London, the place they wow guests to this present day — the “Elgin Marbles.” 

London’s British Museum exhibits off the statues and reduction panels that after adorned the highest of the Parthenon’s now-bare exterior. The reliefs, carved in about 430 BC, are a part of the 500-foot-long frieze that after ringed the temple. They present 56 snapshots from historic Athens’ most festive event: a grand parade up the Acropolis hill to rejoice town’s birthday. 

The parade begins with males on horseback, struggling to rein of their spirited steeds. Subsequent come musicians enjoying flutes, whereas girls dance. Distinguished residents journey in chariots, children scamper alongside, and clergymen lead ceremonial oxen for sacrifice. On the coronary heart of the procession is a bunch of teenage ladies. Wearing elegant pleated robes, they shuffle alongside carrying presents for the gods, like incense burners and jugs of wine. 

The ladies had been entrusted with the parade’s most vital reward: a folded-up gown. Because the parade culminated contained in the Parthenon, the ladies symbolically offered the gown to the temple’s 40-foot-tall gold-and-ivory statue of Athena.  

The realism is unimaginable: the lads’s well-defined muscular tissues, the horses’ bulging veins. The ladies’ intricately pleated robes make them look as steady as fluted columns, however they step out naturally — the human type rising from the stone. These panels had been initially painted in daring colours. Amid the bustle of particulars, the frieze has one unifying factor — all of the heads are on the identical stage, headed the identical path, making a single ribbon of humanity across the Parthenon. 

The Parthenon’s important entrance was adorned with a grandiose scene depicting the second when town of Athens was born. These statues nestled contained in the triangular-shaped pediment over the door. It exhibits the Greek gods lounging round at an Olympian banquet. All of the sudden, there’s a stir of exercise. The gods flip towards a miraculous occasion: Zeus has simply had his head break up open to disclose Athena, the image of town. (Sadly, that key scene is lacking — it’s the empty area on the peak of the triangle.)  

These pediment statues are lifelike and three-dimensional, reclining in fully pure and relaxed poses. The ladies’s robes cling and rumple naturally, revealing their good anatomy beneath.  

A last set of reduction panels (the so-called metopes) depict a Greek legend that sums up your complete Parthenon. They present the primeval Greek folks brawling with brutish centaurs. It’s a free-for-all of hair-pulling, throat-grabbing, kicks to the shin, and knees to the groin. Lastly, the people get the higher hand — symbolizing how the civilized Athenians triumphed over their barbarian neighbors. 

In actual life, the Greeks rallied from a brutal battle, and capped their restoration by constructing the Parthenon. The treasured Elgin Marbles characterize the cream of the crop of that best of Greek temples. They usually seize that second in human historical past when civilization triumphed over barbarism, rational thought over animal urges, and order over chaos. 

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