Monuments under new light

Imposing, often sensational, as in the case of the Acropolis, the project to provide special lighting on the Greek capital’s most prominent archeological sites – including the Parthenon – is now in motion. The initiative belongs to internationally acclaimed film director Michael Cacoyannis, who, three years ago, invited leading light specialist Pierre Bideau to work on various Athenian sites. The project was finally unveiled at an ceremony earlier this week; it featured the most well-known sites of the Greek capital bathed in rich lights. The result not only offers an optimistic image of the city, it also confirms the new relationship between Athens and its monuments. Irrespective of how one might feel about the project’s outcome on an aesthetic level, calling in the French expert symbolically reflects new standards in the management of Greece’s cultural heritage. In this view, the unveiling ceremony, which took place at the Dionysos restaurant this week, was not solely about aesthetic or touristic values. Take the Thiseion temple, for instance, a monument kept in the dark for decades. As for the Parthenon, all the efforts made up to now had proved disappointing. Today the image of the Acropolis is impressive, to say the least: Alongside the monument, the lighting brings out the site’s natural folds – quite a dramatic effect. The Acropolis (Parthenon, Erechtheion, Propylaia), the Thiseion and the Philopappou monuments have now been lit up, but there are other monuments which, although included in the original plan, are not part of the operating project yet. In the case of Lycabettus Hill, the lighting will depend on how reliable the Municipality of Athens will prove to be, given that it undertook to carry out the project until the opening of the Olympic Games. As for the Herod Atticus Theater, the ancient venue will not be part of the exciting project given that the Athens Festival is currently under way. The Temple of Zeus and the Arch of Hadrian will have to wait until after the Athens Games, while according to Fanni Palli-Petralia, alternate minister of culture, talks are already under way for the lighting of Cape Sounion’s Temple of Poseidon. Plans for lighting up the Parliament have also been delayed. «Our work is far from finished,» said a visibly satisfied Cacoyannis at the recent ceremony. Deputy Culture Minister Petros Tatoulis spoke about «neutral lighting which does not wear the monuments,» while he also praised the sponsors (the study was paid for by the Friends of Athens association; another major contributor was Swiss bank UBS). Summarizing his work, Pierre Bideau spoke about the development of cohesive lighting unearthing the monuments’ special architectural features through the use of low-powered lights; he also noted his efforts to transmit the feeling that these monuments were and are still alive. The project was carried out with the full support of the Ministry of Culture, the approval of the Central Archaeological Council and the scientific contribution of the First Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. The exact budget of the project remains unknown. What is known, however, is that the Ministry of Culture contributed 855,000 euros.