The Acropolis of Athens is probably one of the most photographed sites on the entire planet. However, one single picture has a particular value for the world: It is the oldest photograph of the Acropolis ever to be taken.
The Parthenon and the other buildings on the Athenian hill known also as “the sacred rock” are masterpieces of classical architecture and monuments to human history. Completed in the 5th Century BC, they are still influential in blending harmonic architecture with their natural surroundings.
The Oldest Photograph of the Acropolis
179 years ago, in the distant year of 1842, French photographer and draughtsman Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey took the first-ever photograph of the ”Holy Rock”.
To be more precise, this photograph is a daguerreotype, and it is actually one of the earliest surviving photographs of Greece.
Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey took the picture from the Hill of the Nymphs, also known today as the Hill of the National Observatory.
It depicts part of the fortification of the Rock, the Parthenon, and some of the other ancient buildings of the Acropolis.
What is a daguerreotype?
The daguerreotype was the first publicly available photographic process widely used during the 1840s and 1850s.
It was invented by Frenchman Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre and introduced worldwide in 1839.
To create the photograph, a daguerreotypist would have to polish a silver-plated copper sheet to a mirror. He would then have to treat it with fumes that made its surface sensitive to light and expose it to a camera.
The artist would then have to make the resulting image visible by fuming it with mercury vapor. The complicated procedure would then finish by removing its liquid chemical treatment, rinse and dry it, and then seal the result behind a glass.
This was approximately what Girault de Prangey did in Athens in 1842.
The Newly-Established Greek State
The year 1842 was only twelve years after the first modern Greek state’s official establishment and only nine years after the last Ottoman soldier left Athens forever.
Athens had become the capital of the Kingdom of Greece in 1834, only eight years before the first picture of the Acropolis had been taken.
At the time, the city was a small town, almost ruined due to the long Greek War of Independence that ultimately led to Greece’s liberation.
It is worth mentioning that this was the period when Georg Maurer, the Regent of the new Greek state, had said that “Athens, which before the Liberation War had about 3,000 houses, now doesn’t even have 300. The rest have been turned into an amorphous pile of stones.”
The 1840s and 1850s were the decades when the city of Athens began to take its modern shape, with its emblematic buildings built at that time, including today’s Parliament House.