Architectural History for studious beginners: Academy of Athens and Erechtheion
The series of articles titled ‘Architectural History for studious beginners’ is addressed to those who are interested in architectural monuments but are not architects.
The Academy of Athens (1859-1885) is the work of Theophil Hansen, the Danish classicist architect who decorated Athens with some of its most imposing public buildings.
It is the crown of the revival of the architecture of classical antiquity and the greatest architectural jewel of the Greek capital.
For many reasons:
- No other building copies so much and so faithfully the monuments of classical antiquity. In particular, it copies the Erechtheion.
- The curvature recently discovered in the ancient temples was applied here for the first time.
- For the first time, the polychromy that had recently been discovered in the ancient temples was applied here on such a large scale. Since the ancient colours were lost, it was initially believed that the ancient temples were white. But the study of the traces of colours revealed that things were not like that.
- The method of ‘dry’ construction of the ancient temples was applied here for the first time. Namely, the connection of the stones not with mortar, but with metallic joints.
- It is the only building in Athens with marble statues in the central pediment. And moreover, the birth of Athena is depicted, as in the Parthenon.
The Erechtheion, which was the source of inspiration for the Academy of Athens. The main entrance, with six Ionic columns. On the right, the north porch, copied in detail at the Academy
The north porch of the Erechtheion, the main source of inspiration for the Academy of Athens, mainly at the entrance and the coffered ceiling
The main body of the Academy of Athens, externally, copies the main façade of the Erechtheion (six Ionic columns). Behind that, the inspiration was mainly the north porch of the Erechtheion
In order to meet modern needs, wings were added to the central body, which has the form of an ancient temple
Apollo and Athena, patrons of letters and arts, surround the leading cultural institution of Greece
Socrates and Plato surround the stairs that lead us to the Academy. The new Academy would be a revival of the ancient Academy of Plato
The birth of Athena is represented in the pediment of the Academy, as in the Parthenon. It is the only pediment of neoclassical Athens with marble statues
The ceiling is made of coffered slabs, namely, slabs with coffers. The coffers are decorative recesses, but they also have a practical significance: they reduce the thickness of the slab and thus the ceiling becomes lighter
The Academy of Athens is the apotheosis of the application of the polychromy of ancient temples in a modern building. Since the ancient colours were lost, it was initially believed that the ancient temples were white. But the study of the traces of colours revealed that things were not like that
The entrance replicates the entrance of the north porch of the Erechtheion
The north porch of the Erechtheion, with the entrance that inspired Hansen at the Academy of Athens
To see another example of an Athenian building inspired by the ancient temples (University of Athens and temple of Ilissus), click here
The Vienna Parliament, also a work of Theophil Hansen, at first sight, reminds of the Academy of Athens. But see here why the similarities are only superficial
About the author
Hello! I am Denis, an architect based in Athens, Greece. I teach history of art and architecture in higher education. That’s one passion of mine. The other one is hiking, in and out of town. If you follow me, I’ll share my discoveries with you.
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