Acropolis Museum is a formidable rival to the British Museum

acropolis-museumThe opening of the New Acropolis Museum was one of the most emotional experiences of my life” says Tina Daskalantonakis, a Greek hotelier. “It is more than a museum – it is a symbol of national pride and hope for the future.”

The museum in question crouches 300 metres below the Acropolis. An angular behemoth of glass, steel, concrete and marble housing some 4,000 artefacts, it is the culmination of an idea first mooted by Konstantinos Karamanlis’s Conservative government in 1976 and, since the early 1980s, passionately advocated by the Socialist minister of culture Melina Mercouri: the creation of a home in which the Parthenon Marbles can be reunited and displayed to the world.

After 140 court cases relating to archaeological finds during construction, and the destruction of neighbouring neoclassical buildings to clear sightlines to the Acropolis, the new museum has opened to international fanfare, five years behind schedule. And while arguments rumble on, Daskalantonakis’s sentiment is widely shared by Greeks.

acropolis_museumThe return of the Elgin Marbles, displayed in the British Museum, remains the one issue that rallies Greeks of every political spectrum. By the time Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, arrived in Athens in the early 19th century, the Parthenon had already suffered the ravages of time and war.

Using his influence as Ambassador to the Sublime Porte, Elgin acquired permission to remove “some stones with inscriptions and figures”. On his instructions, in 1801, sculptures and friezes that Phidias had designed in honour of the goddess Athena 25 centuries earlier were sawn off the Parthenon and about half the remaining marbles shipped to Britain. The motives and legality of Elgin’s actions have been the subject of heated debate since 1816 when, now bankrupt, Elgin offered the marbles to the British Government for £35,000.

While Greek culture minister Antonis Samaras speaks of “crime” and “plunder”, Professor Dimitris Pantermalis, president of the board of directors of the Acropolis Museum, who has been involved with the project since inception, is more circumspect. “It is not even a question of legality,” he declares. “The unity of the marbles is a matter of culture and ethics. ”

acropolis_museum2The design, by Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi, is itself an allegory of unification: that between art, rituals and everyday life and, in the words of Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, “linking antiquity with the modern world of technology”.

It accommodates views of ongoing excavations of an ancient urban settlement beneath glass floors gently ramped to reflect the ascent to the sacred hill of the Acropolis. The sloping ground floor displays everyday objects, mostly pottery, found on the hillside.

On the first floor, amid a forest concrete pillars, marble statues from archaic to Roman times stand proud, some still bearing traces of original colour, while glass walls and floors suffuse the interior with natural light, dancing in dynamic dialogue with the sculptures.

For the first time, five of the six caryatids that supported the Erechtheion, one of the most familiar monuments on the Acropolis, can be seen in the round, a perfect offering to the gods.acropolis_museum2

The tour de force, however, and the focus of renewed debate about the Marbles, is the top-floor Parthenon Gallery. Turned through a 23-degree angle from the building to align perfectly with the Parthenon, visible through the glass walls, the gallery recreates the east-west orientation and dimensions of this Temple to Athena.

With sculpture fragments from the pediments at either end, brushed-steel pillars, at the exact distance of the originals, frame some of the high-relief sculptures that used to decorate the outside of the temple. Visitors may walk through the columns to view the famous low-relief frieze, at eye level on an inner wall representing the temple’s inner sanctum.

Displaying the frieze – a 160m continuous narrative poem in stone – presented special problems. “About 75m of the frieze is in London. And several blocks contain mutilated figures whose heads and torsos are divided between Athens and London,” explains Pantermalis. “How do you make contextual sense of that absence? To leave the missing areas blank would be too shocking.”

The favoured solution of covering copies in scrims created technical difficulties, as the netting would not permit a close fit with the originals. Instead, Pantermalis sanctioned the use of plaster copies to fill the gap left by the British Museum’s collection.

“The originals are immediately identifiable, both from the striking difference in quality and from the colour,” explains Pantermalis. The copies are white – as are the originals in London, irrevocably damaged by scrubbing in the 1930s – whereas the Athens marbles, laser-cleaned 60 years later, retain the amber hue from the iron content of Pentelic marble. Lost panels have been left blank. “There is no need for propaganda,” states Pantermalis “The Parthenon marbles make their own case for reunification.”

The cornerstones of the British Museum’s argument against returning the Elgin Marbles were those of greater public access and the lack of a suitable home for the sculptures in Athens. The British Museum undoubtedly saved them from pilfering and atmospheric erosion, but how does the creation of the New Acropolis Museum affect the British argument?

acropolis-museum3“Our stance has always been that our collection should remain intact, so that the public can view the Elgin Marbles in the context of art from other great cultures,” says Hannah Boulton for the British Museum. It is the view echoed by Bonnie Greer, deputy head of the board of trustees, and the UK’s most senior representative at the opening in Athens. “I believe more strongly than ever that the marbles should remain in London,” she argued, “to be displayed in an international cultural context.”

Italians, Germans, Swedes and the Vatican have already returned missing fragments. The Greeks say they seek the return of no other treasures, only, in the words of Professor Pantermalis, of “this unique work of global significance, whose meaning lies in its totality”.

During the opening ceremony, Antonis Samaras inserted the marble head of Iris, whose body was removed to London, into a plaster panel of the frieze. It was a symbolic gesture. Goddess of rainbows, emotions and travel, and messenger of the gods, she embodies their message of hope.



Belize Barrier Reef and Colombia’s Los Katios National Park enter UNESCO’s List in Danger

BelizeThe World Heritage Committee has decided to inscribe Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System and Colombia’s Los Katios National Park on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The main problem with Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System concerns mangrove cutting and excessive development in the property which was inscribed in 1996 as largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, with offshore atolls, several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons and estuaries. While requesting stricter control of development on the site, the Committee also requested that the moratorium on mangrove cutting on the site which expired in 2008 be reinstated.

Los Katios National Park was placed on the Danger List at the request of Colombia so as to help mobilize international support for the preservation of the property which is threatened by, notably, deforestation in areas inside and around the property due to the illegal extraction of timber. Inscribed in 1994 for its exceptional biological diversity, the site is also suffering from illegal fishing and hunting.

Belize barrier reefSOURCE

China’s Mount Wutai inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List


The World Heritage Committee has inscribed China’s Mount Wutai on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as a cultural landscape.

With its five flat peaks, Mount Wutai is a sacred Buddhist mountain. The cultural landscape numbers 53 monasteries and includes the East Main Hall of Foguang Temple, the highest surviving timber Building of the Tang Dynasty with life size clay sculptures. It also features the Ming Dynasty Shuxiang Temple with a huge complex of 500 statues representing Buddhist stories woven into three dimensional pictures of mountains and water.

Overall, the buildings on the site present a catalogue of the way Buddhist architecture developed and influenced palace building in China over more than one millennium. Mount Wutai, literally, the five terrace mountain, is the highest mountain in northern China and is remarkable for its morphology characterized by precipitous sides with five open treeless peaks. Temples have been built on the site since the 1st century AD to the early 20th century.


Cidade Velha becomes Cape Verde’s first World Heritage site

Cidade Velha has been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, marking Cape Verde’s entry to the international community’s inventory of properties of outstanding universal value.

The World Heritage Committee, chaired by María Jesús San Segundo, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Spain to UNESCO, inscribed the historic centre, which dates back to the late 15th century and bears testimony to the history of Europe’s colonial presence in Africa and to the history of slavery.

The town of Ribeira Grande, renamed Cidade Velha in the late 18th century, was the first European colonial outpost in the tropics. Located in the south of the island of Santiago, the town features some of the original street layout impressive remains including two churches, a royal fortress and Pillory Square with its ornate 16th century marble pillar.


Dresden is deleted from UNESCO’s World Heritage List!!!

Dresden_bei_Nacht“Every time we fail to preserve a site, we share the pain of the State Party,” declared María Jesús San Segundo, the Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Spain to UNESCO who is chairing the 33rd session of the World Heritage Committee presently underway in Seville on Thursday.

The World Heritage Committee decided to remove Germany’s Dresden Elbe Valley from UNESCO’s World Heritage List due to the building of a four-lane bridge in the heart of the cultural landscape which meant that the property failed to keep its “outstanding universal value as inscribed.”

Dresden was inscribed as a cultural landscape in 2004. The Committee said that Germany could present a new nomination relating to Dresden in the future. In doing so, the Committee recognized that parts of the site might be considered to be of outstanding universal value, but that it would have to be presented under different criteria and boundaries.

The 18th- and 19th-century cultural landscape of Dresden Elbe Valley stretches some 18 km along the river from Übigau Palace and Ostragehege fields in the north-west to the Pillnitz Palace and the Elbe River Island in the south-east. The property, which features low meadows, and is crowned by the Pillnitz Palace as well as numerous monuments and parks from the 16th to 20th centuries in the city of Dresden, was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2006 because of the planned Waldschlösschen Bridge.

Dresden is only the second property ever to have been removed from the World Heritage List. The Oman´s Arabian Oryx Sanctuary was delisted in 2007.


St.Kilda World Heritage Site faces danger

St-Kilda-001One of Britain’s most prized world heritage sites, the remote islands of St Kilda, will be threatened by vandalism, storm damage and alien species if a missile testing base is closed down, a leading heritage charity has warned.

The National Trust for Scotland said it was dismayed by proposals from the Ministry of Defence to withdraw all 12 staff from its small base on the main island of St Kilda as part of cuts at a missile testing range based in the Outer Hebrides.

Largely uninhabited since the islands’ last 36 residents were evacuated in 1930, after centuries of continuous occupation, St Kilda is now Britain’s only place to have two world heritage site designations from Unesco, for its archaeology dating back to the iron age, and its birdlife.

The NTS said the MoD personnel, who are stationed on the main island of Hirta to monitor missile tests from Benbecula 41 miles away on the Western Isles, played a crucial role in deterring visits from uninvited ships, monitoring storm damage or spotting alien species that could damage its very vulnerable ground-nesting birds.

St Kilda was involved in a significant scare in February 2008 after a trawler ran aground in heavy storms, potentially allowing rats to colonise the islands. The NTS sent over specialist rat catchers to ensure its gannets, fulmars, puffins and guillemot were safe. No rats were found.

The islands, which include dramatic cliffs and sea stacks, are regarded as north-eastern Europe’s most important seabird colony: about half a million birds nest there, including the world’s largest northern gannet population, as well as Manx shearwater, storm petrel and Leach’s petrel.


If the MoD base is left unmanned, the NTS, now faced with its most severe financial crisis in its history, would have to employ a full-time keeper for the island.

Kate Mavor, the trust’s chief executive, urged the MoD to reconsider its plans. “Without the support of the MoD and the infrastructure that they have in place there, there is no doubt that we would find it very difficult to give St Kilda the level of care and attention that it requires.

“However, of more concern is the risk that this proposal poses to the environmental and cultural treasures which make St Kilda so special.”

The MoD said todayit wants to cut 150 posts from the missile testing range based at Benbecula, South Uist and St Kilda and an underwater submarine testing facility at Raasay near Skye, as part of £50m savings it needs to make.

Quentin Davies, minister for defence equipment, said: “I know that this will be very disappointing news for the staff at our ranges, and I do not underestimate the impact these proposals and job losses will have on the Hebrides community, especially in the recession.”

The area’s MSPs, economic development agency and local authorities attacked the decision. Highland and Islands Enterprise’s chairman Willie Roe said the loss of 150 jobs would be a “devastating blow” to the Hebridean economy.

The sites’ operator, the private defence contractor Qinetiq, was the islands’ largest private employer. “We believe these plans fail to take account of the sites’ value and we will be doing everything in our power to find a way to put pressure on the MoD and its operator QinetiQ to seek another option,” Roe said.