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New exhibit showcases reconstruction of ancient Greek temple

Observer Scene | Thursday, March 2, 2006

A majority of people envision ancient Greek temples as massive structures, like the Parthenon in Athens, surrounded by stone columns with many decorations carved into the stone on all sides of the building. What most people do not realize is that monumental structures like the Parthenon have their roots in a much older temple without stone columns and carvings, the temple of Zeus and Hera at Corinth, Greece. This temple, which was the first monumental temple in ancient Greece, is the subject of the exhibition “The Genesis of Monumental Architecture in Greece: The Corinth Project” at the Snite Museum of Art.

This exhibition, headed by Notre Dame professor Robin Rhodes, presents the architecture of the 670 B.C. temple and the means of reconstructing it. He and a team of Notre Dame architecture students began studying the remains of this ancient temple in Greece in 1995. After many years of measuring, examining and piecing together the remnants, Rhodes and his team developed a means to reconstruct how the temple might have looked. The culmination of this is set out in the “Corinth Project” exhibit.

Rhodes’ aim in the exhibit was to “create an architecture exhibit that was architecture.” He did not want his exhibit to merely display ancient Greek architecture, but he intended it to show visitors how to perform the tasks of recreating the architecture.

As visitors enter, they see simple fragments of stone blocks piled in a seemingly random order. These stones are literally the “building blocks” of the temple and were used to construct the wall. Directly next to these is a massive, nearly to scale partial recreation of what the temple wall would have looked like. A video shows how new blocks are formed in a process called “vacuum forming.” This process creates plastic replicas that look exactly like real blocks but weigh much less. This reconstruction allows visitors to see and appreciate the effort that goes into monumental architecture.

The other monumental aspect of the Corinth temple on display at the “Corinth Project” is the intricate system of interlocking roof tiles. After viewing several displays illustrating the nature and design of the tiles, visitors get to experience firsthand how Rhodes and his team were able to recreate the terra cotta tiles using modern methods. A video shows the process in real time, as actual tiles the team made are put together to show what a real roof would have looked like.

After examining the various aspects of the architecture, an interactive computer station allows one to visualize how the elements of the roof and the walls come together to form the entire temple. Finally, the entire temple is on display in the form of a 1:25 scale model.

This amazing model is accurate down to the smallest detail and is surrounded by three screens that continually depict landscapes of Greece filmed by Rhodes. Rhodes says that this is one of the most important aspects of the exhibit because visitors come to understand the “placement of this temple in the landscape for which it was constructed.”

The panorama, enhanced by the sounds of bird songs, depicts beautiful scenes of the Greek countryside and affords visitors with a sense of appreciation for the total environment of the temple at Corinth.

“The Corinth Project” is one of those rare museum exhibits that allows visitors to learn more about a topic in a hands on, instructive manner that is fun at the same time. A trip to the Snite Museum to learn more about monumental architecture at the ancient temple at Corinth is well worth it.

“The Genesis of Monumental Architecture in Greece: The Corinth Project” continues through March 21 at the Snite Museum of Art. Admission is free.