Photo credit: Ralph Maurer, Meg Butler
When I went back to view this photograph, I noticed that no one in the scene is looking at the monument. They are looking at their feet, at where they’re walking, at their cameras, at each other, at their guidebooks, but not at the Propylaia. I often notice this behavior when I visit historical sites. Getting to the site and getting a picture of the site seem to be important tourist achievements. The experience of being a tourist at these sites can be terribly unpleasant. Disoriented, thirsty, tired, uncomfortable, footsore, hungry, hot, cold — I think archaeologists forget that this is how most of the world experiences “the past.”
On another note, I think the scaffolding is lovely. In 1999 I took an architecture class with Tasos Tanoulas, the architect in charge of restoring the Propylaia. We got to crawl all over the scaffolding on the Propylaia and on the Partheon, and it was great fun to see these buildings from unconventional perspectives. After one class up on the Acropolis he asked us to write an essay on How Classical Architecture Makes Us Feel. It was the most bizarre essay topic I’ve ever been assigned, and it produced the most honest response I’ve ever given in an academic paper. I think I said something along the lines of liking the buildings better in ruins than whole because the ruins made me focus on the materiality of the building, its structure, the design, the lines, the perspective, rather than on the building as a living, breathing site of social activity. Yet since that essay I’ve written about buildings and pots and graves and all other ancient artifacts as sites of social activity rather than for their “objectness”.