The new lighting of the Acropolis reminds us of some basic truths. First and foremost, that the monuments on the sacred hill define and shape the notion of Athens. Second, that the symbolism of the Acropolis is constantly being renewed against the basic motif of a collective projection and shared understanding of how the nation defines itself. The third truth is that the country’s international image is intrinsically linked to how it showcases all of its historical monuments, and the Parthenon especially.
In terms of aesthetics, the new lighting design casts the monuments on the sacred rock in a play of shadows on what appears to be a stark white canvas so that the Acropolis emerges as though unaffected by the density of urban life around it, untouched and autonomous. It excites the senses and evokes a sense of awe and superiority. It creates the sense that the Acropolis is Athens, but also something much bigger than that; it is a monument that evokes utopia and a sense of the almost imaginary. Its new whiteness, meanwhile, invokes Greek art as viewed by German archaeologist and pioneer Johann Winckelmann, while the warmth of the shadows is a reminder of all the countless eyes that have covetously gazed upon these monuments through the ages.
The new lighting design renews the Athenians’ relationship with their city’s greatest emblem. It redefines an old discussion and reminds us why it became the country’s capital in 1834. The play of symbols it unleashes serves as a prompt for a fresh look at issues such as public history, national symbolism, international identity and urban endurance, while bringing the younger generations into the conversation and taking that conversation into the public sphere.
The new relationship between the Acropolis and the city, and the conversation arising from this, tells us that every generation will be called upon to take a position.