The new path to the Athenian Acropolis stirs heated debates

SoPHIA interviewed Manolis Korres, NTUA Professor Emeritus, and we are grateful for his reflections.

The path to the Parthenon was re-built in 2020 under the leadership of world-known architect and Acropolis restorer Manolis Korres. The new walkways were constructed in order to enhance the older ones, that had been worn out, and they were designed so as to follow the traces of the ancient path structure, both of the Panathenaic way and of the enclosures of the sanctuaries, while highlighting the archaeological remains (rock-cuttings for pedestal, etc.). In particular, the new path is a reconstruction of a former path dating back to 1978, also taking into account historian Kalisthene’s description of the ancient ascent to the temple of Athena, the patron goddess of ancient Athens. Once in place, the new path stirred heated debates, as some voiced their objections regarding the material used and the thickness of the pavement layer at 8 cm; others said that the intervention was aggressive to the world heritage monument because it was irreversible; the width of the path, starting at 18m, has also been criticized. The public and other bodies may have been excluded from the process, but despite the media uproar, at least regarding the design elements none of the claims above are grounded. 

“People think that we are called to redesign the path, they believe we have an aesthetic choice, but the truth is that there are no such liberties”, President of the Committee for the Restoration of the Acropolis Monuments, Manolis Korres says. In ancient times the ascent to the Acropolis originated from the ancient cemetery of the Kerameikos, diagonally crossing the Athenian forum and then paving the way uphill to the gateway to the Acropolis, the Propylaia. The choice of materials for constructing a path in antiquity rested on two choices only - a horizontally chiseled bedrock or the bedrock cut on a deeper level and filled with gravel and lime. Thus, what has been constructed today is as close as possible to the original conception of the Acropolis ensemble.

The new walkways have a smooth and non-slip surface, which serves the movement of all visitors more effectively. The construction, made of artificial stone allows for a new intervention in the future, should the situation require it. The cement used for the new path is a kind of Roman mortar, while there are still many spots on the Acropolis plateau where one can see the ancient layer of pavement. The cement has been poured over a membrane made of PVC which ensures the reversibility of this layer; actually, six months past its setting, a reversibility test was conducted only to prove that the new pavement can be easily removed from its ancient underground. Korres even tested a surface patch which was directly poured over the Acropolis bedrock without it having been washed or otherwise prepared before, only to find out that the new flooring can be easily separated from its foundation. As far as the dimensions of the new pathway were concerned, and especially its width, one must follow the sophisticated study of the approach of the ancient fortress: starting at a width of 10 meters, the uphill pathway would gradually expand to 12, 16 and 20 meters in antiquity, as the visitors would near the Acropolis gates. The steeper the grounds, the wider the path, in order to allow Athenians to slow down and prepare for their entry into the sacred rock. Such a strategy very much reminds us of toll stations on motor roads, where four lanes may be serviced by twenty or more stations. After crossing the five gates of the Propylaia a plateau square of 18,5 meters side redirects the ascent to the Parthenon on an 18-meter-wide path which 48 meters down closes in to 7 meters, marking the crossroads to the Altar Square to the left. The remaining length of the path will close to a width of 5 meters at the eastern end of the Parthenon.  

In addition, 70 x 70 up to 100 x 100 cm squares are marked on the new pavement to signify the place of missing sculptures and other oblations, customary in the classic Athenian era.

Archaeologists, restorators and other site professionals, like guides, daily express their gratitude for the new path as the world heritage site is now better accessible.  Since the autumn of 2020, the construction of the new walkways on the Acropolis invites people with mobility impairments to join the Acropolis. The study was approved by the authorized councils and services of the Ministry of Culture - Committee for the Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments (ESMA), Central Archeological Council (KAS), and Acropolis Restoration Service (YSMA), Ephorate of Antiquities of the City of Athens (EFAPA), Directory of Restoration of Ancient Monuments (DAAM) etc., which closely supervised its implementation, in accordance with the provisions of the Archaeological Law. 

NTUA team      

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