RECONSTRUCTING THE ANCIENT CITY: IMAGINING THE ATHENIAN POLIS

in Urban Mindscapes of Europe
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This chapter identifies the ways in which the Athenian polis is conceptualised as both a cultural site and as the origin of democratic practices. The Acropolis and its environs is often presented as the embodiment of an ‘ideal’ city-state, a tradition which persists in museum guides, photographic studies, archaeological reports and European ‘mediascapes’ in general. The dominant notion of a cultured demokratia, inseparable from the physical site of the Parthenon and other monuments, has its origins in ancient literary sources. Adherence to this tradition tends, therefore, to obscure other aspects of Athenian history, including the imperial character of its fifth century dominance, the political and military symbolism of its building programme, and the fact that a polis did not necessarily have to be linked to a particular physical domain. The major part of the enquiry is focussed, however, on those modern interpretations which draw attention to the cultural significance of the Acropolis as both a physical site and an urban ‘imaginary’.

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