Saturday 13 October 2018

Greek Series: The Marble Masons of Despotiko

Scaffolding Galore
Twilit Scaffolding & Cranework Adorning the Parthenon
Recognise this Grand Design? Yes, it's the Parthenon in Athens. Just so you know, it still looks like a Building Site that's hit a few Snags along the way; maybe a couple of issues with the Council, who knows, but it's still ages off what Kevin McCloud might call Watertight, perhaps never!

To see what it might look like when the Occupants have Moved In you must travel to Nashville in America, and behold the full-scale polychromic replica replete with a 42-foot tall statue of Athena (whose face is reputed to be modelled on a youthful Elvis Presley, according to the amusing docent who was my guide) - but I digress ...

Marble Masons Handiwork
Acropolis Restoration Work: A Giant 3D Puzzle!
In spite of the Curious Neighbours (a.k.a. Tourists) climbing all over it on a daily basis and the Second Fix perhaps still some ways off, there are still some fellows Gainfully Employed on site: the Marble Masons. Notwithstanding the never-ending nature of this project, these skilled craftsmen are rather sought after for other sites besides Athens' Acropolis. So where do they end up moonlighting?

Yes, on Despotiko! You may be forgiven for thinking that Ol' Holiday in Greece of mine was a dim memory by now, but no! there's plenty more juice to be squeezed from that lemon! Here's another peek into the World of Archæology as seen by this Correspondent, before I forget any more of the Salient Details. Let me introduce you to some of these fabled Marble Masons in their natural habitat:

Despotiko Marble Restoration Work
Just add Heat & Noise!
Give these men some scaffolding, a small and noisy diesel generator to run some angle grinders, some hand tools and ropes and pulleys and they will turn your Restoration Dreams into Reality ... albeit rather slowly.

The Despotiko Sanctuary to Apollo Before & After
What came before (well, an artist's impression)
Here is a Handy How-To Guide for those at home: First find an Olde Parian Marble Puzzle Piece that you can identify from amongst the pile of many hundreds, then mark out some useful reference points on its surface with your little laser gadget:

Laser measurements on marble pillar piece to aid in restoration
Not just a lump of rock: Restoration awaits!
Make a perfect fit for this surface in a new piece of marble (freshly quarried not from Paros any more but neighbouring Naxos) with some Trusty Geometry, hand tools and plenty of Skill, like this:

Glittering white Naxian marble ready-shaped for mounting old marble remnants
Gleaming new marble pieces ready for marrying up with the old
Use some Magic to join them together, or failing that, some titanium pins and cement and then shape using said angle grinder as required:

New-meets-old marble column base ready for shaping
A new-meets-old column base ready for shaping

Marble mason at work shaping a column piece with an angle grinder
A Mason at one with his grinder

Shaped and smoothed column base marked up for installation
Nearly ready for moving into place
Using the Time-Honoured Methods handed down by the likes of the Egyptian Pyramid-Builders, wrap your selected piece in ropes, manœuver it off your workbench and then roll it over timber logs to your desired destination. Apply these same low-tech techniques to winching your piece into place.
Nota bene: Allow a couple of hours for this stage - Rome/Athens/Egypt &c., weren't built in a day!

Hand winching marble column base into position on Despotiko's dig site
High-vis. optional

Newly restored 2-tonne marble architrave ready to be installed on Despotiko
 Architrave ready to be winched atop two columns

Marble architrave in position atop columns on Despotiko
Architrave in situ and capped with more original bits
(Not my pic! Photo Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture & Sports

If necessary, drill some holes for some titanium pins for later:

New Naxian marble column bases on Despoiko
Ready for the next column piece
Apply a liberal amount of grinding to effect the finish you desire, and do coat all persons in the vicinity with a fine, glittery coat of Marble Dust in the process:

New-meets-old marble columns ready for finishing smooth at Despotiko's Apollo Sanctuary
In the rough, at this point

Take plenty of time to stand back and admire your handiwork:

The 2018 Season on Despotiko drawing to a close
The old & the new

The close of the 2018 Season on Despotiko showing new marble works
All tidy after the 2018 Season

Continue until you have run out of Puzzle Pieces/Patience/Funding. If you have any leftovers, you could always utilise them in the manner of the invading Franks in the 13th Century, viz. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Frankish castle on Paros built with Classical & Archaic-Era Marbles
Fun with leftovers on Paros, circa 1260 CE


  1. Wow, I had no ideas this is how the Greeks are restoring their ancient sites. I last visited the Parthenon way back in the early 1980's (time for a return trip I think) and I do not recall any sort of reconstruction work in progress. We were free to wander about willy-nilly, with not a scaffold around. Things have certainly changed and I'm glad there is young blood to "fix" the darn thing.

    1. Hello CD,

      I dare say your photographs of that happy visit look rather a bit more romantic than mine, where it's very hard not to see the scaffold adornment! It's a rather divisive subject this idea that archæological sites need fixin' up, with arguments for & against the approaches taken by the relevant Greek Ministry. Personally, I like to see the work being done and the skills being retained. The question is always how far do you go?

      The work done at Knossos on Crete (which I've not had the pleasure of visiting) is regularly decried as Disneyfied so will probably never be done again, but it is rather odd that our modern eyes prefer to see skeletal remains of past civilisations and shy away from the Technicolour glory of our forebears. The exception being Pompeii, of course!

      Do put Athens on your holiday list, if not just for The Acropolis Museum which is utterly fabulous!

  2. WOW...............ALL IN A DAYS WORK!!!
    I have NEVER BEEN TO GREECE and I HOPE I DO GET THERE........feel I'M A BIT TOO LATE TO SUN BATH and walk the ruins..........keep up with THE DONKEYS ETC!!!!BUT I WOULD LOVE TO GO!!!!!

    1. I hear you, Contessa, about the sunbathing these days, and to tell the truth, I looked like a pile of very hot laundry most of the time, in my attempt to keep the ferocious sun off bits of exposed skin. After many years of pretending otherwise, I have accepted that merely being married to a Mediterranean does not miraculously make my complexion follow suit!!

      In the meantime, Armchair Travel can take you almost anywhere! I hope I have obliged ... xx

  3. I, too, have never been to Greece and I think it unlikely now that I will ever get there. There are too many things to do and too few years in which to do them. The arguments for and against such restoration will doubtless always rage on for all sorts of reasons. I'm not sure whether, in general, I could come down on either side. I think I'd decide on a case by case basis.

    1. Too true, Graham, there comes a time when we say that it's most unlikely that some things will happen. But so great that we can live vicariously in this Modern Age!

  4. Looks like slow work, and hot too!

  5. I've never been to Greece. It's now on my list of destinations!


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