5.2.17

Conservation of the West Frieze of the Parthenon

The west frieze is part of the Parthenon frieze that encircled the upper part of the cella walls and the columns of the pronaos and opisthonaos. It comprises 16 blocks, the first and second of which are in the British Museum. The frieze slabs have suffered mechanical stress and damage from the vandalisms, from the failure of previous interventions and from atmospheric pollution.

In 1978 the frieze was sheltered in an effort to avoid acidic attack on the sculptured surface and the washing out of the gypsum formed. The result of this choice was the covering of the surface of the slabs with deposits of soot and black incrustation. In 1992-93 the frieze blocks were dismantled and transferred to a specially constructed laboratory in the Acropolis Museum, so that their conservation could begin.
Conservation of the blocks began in 1999 and was successfully completed in 2005. Initially the work was focussed on structural restoration of the blocks, in the course of which fragments were joined, the surfaces were consolidated and the mortars and pins of earlier interventions were removed. The surface was then cleaned of soot deposits and the black incrustation. Following a comparative study of four cleaning methods (microblasting, absorptive poultices, gypsum inversion and laser), cleaning by laser proved to be the most effective in all cases of deposits and substrates (monochromatic surface layers and marble). The cleaning system was designed and developed by the Institute of Electronical Structure and Laser of the Technical and Research Foundation , Crete. This is the laser type Q-switched Nd: YAG. The prototype system can emit both at two wave lengths (infrared 1064nm and ultraviolet 355nm), individually or simultaneously.

At the end, the joints were pointed in order to smooth out the surface discontinuities. The blocks of the west frieze are now on exhibition in the Acropolis Museum. Copies of artificial stone have been set in their place on the monument.

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