Learning from ancient artisans

Ioannidou was one of the first to be recruited by the newly formed Acropolis Restoration Service, now in its 30th year. She remembers: «Every member of the committee was a professor at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) and put forward their graduates for recruitment. I was one of those. Initially we were hesitant because it involved working with a very specific subject. We have experienced very difficult times. For years the funding was inadequate. But the work was always carried out to high standards as regards quality. Everything is first studied and researched. We have produced many machine patents. This service has a close relationship with research and innovation. «I feel exceptionally privileged in my life to have been involved in this work. The money is not much and considerable effort is required, but the most important thing in life is to do something you love. I think this is what (novelist Stratis) Myrivillis wrote in his book ‘Life in the Tomb’: ‘Man will be redeemed if he turns toil into a work of joy. Most of us are happy to be doing this.’ What conclusions has Toganidis drawn from his 20-year-long experience at the Acropolis work site? «The main thing is that you are forever impressed. To many of the building options you cannot provide an answer. If you were told, ‘Make it,’ it would be extremely difficult to give orders to the technician on how to construct it. In order to keep to the time frame we are obliged to use machines. How they finished in such a short time is a question that remains unanswered.» Marble craftsmen Giorgos Desypris and Aristeidis Klaudios have been working 19 and 16 years respectively on the Acropolis work site. Their last work was the creation of two Ionic capitals for the Propylaea. «Two years are required to make a capital,» they explained. «Just researching, making the shapes and marking all the components takes a month. This is a school for us here. We are learning from the ancient artisans. In many of the pieces you can still see the traces of the tool that was used by the ancient artisan.» «We are dealing with the best years of Classical Greece,» said Vidos, who is from Tinos, as is most of the marble worked on at the Acropolis. «You are continuously comparing your art with that great time. If you have not obtained that quality then you feel you should try harder. So with each day you improve as you are comparing yourself with something of a very high standard.» «It is our obligation and right to preserve what our ancestors produced,» said marble artisan Giorgos Kagiorgis, who worked on other archaeological sites before the Acropolis. «The ancient technicians teach us and commit us. We struggle to reach their standards and we can’t outdo them. The spirit of those times is missing today.» One of the complaints of the marble craftsmen is the use of machines on the marble. One said: «We are told that time is running out and we must use machines. They give us an automatic drill that operates with a thousand jolts a second and is devastating for the nervous system and fingers. Working by hand is much cleaner and easier on the marble.» Legalizing the workers’ status is another serious issue. «Unless you’re really good you can’t stand the work here,» said Katy Babanika, responsible for conservation at the Propylaea. «If the workers that have been here for the last four to five years are not legalized, who will we get? We need the best here. Marble is a very hard material to work with. You have to love it to be able to work with it.»