Acropolis Museum celebrates first anniversary


New Acropolis Museum Entrance

More than two million people have visited the new Museum of the Acropolis during its first year of operation, according to figures presented by the museum to mark the first anniversary since it first opened to the public on June 20, 2009.

The museum’s board chairman Prof. Demetris Pandermalis said the museum received a total of 2,010,641 visitors in that time, had set research and scientific goals, made progress in the area of conservation and also in educational programmes.

He also announced the launch of the museum’s first touring exhibition “Pericles Xanthippos” on June 20. This uses archaeological finds such as inscriptions, coins and other artifacts to illustrate and explore the life of the famous ancient Athenian statesman, the man who led Athens during its ‘Golden Age’ and who conceived the idea of building the Parthenon. The exhibition will run until January 31, 2011.

The Acropolis Museum is the first public museum in the country that operates as a public-sector legal entity and its aim is to cover its costs with its own revenues as much as possible. It currently employs a staff of 200, some of whom are contract workers and civil servants detached from the culture ministry. It currently covers its public utility bills on its own and gets financial assistance from the Organisation for the Building of the New Acropolis Museum (OANMA).

Once a presidential degree on the operation of the museum is completed, following delays caused by the change of ministers and government, this will allow the museum to address the issue of hiring managerial staff and the position of the director will be proclaimed.

Pandermalis also referred to the museum’s medical unit and in-house doctor, noting that this had dealt with 377 incidents from November 1, 2009 until May 31, 2010, of which 67 percent were visitors to the museum.

The ticket will remain at 5 euros in 2011, by decision of the museum’s board, while it has also allowed the lease of the restaurant and cafe area on terms decided by the museum management.


Acropolis Museum


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.


Acropolis museum – new home for Elgin marbles


Fresh demands for the return of the Elgin Marbles are accompanying the launch next month of the £115 million Acropolis Museum, which has a reserved space for the world’s most famous piece of classical statuary.

The 270,000 sq ft museum is being established as a home for the 160-metre long strip of marble that adorned the Parthenon until 1801. The museum, which stands just 400 metres from the Parthenon, opens in June – three decades after the building was first proposed.

Antonis Samaras, the minister for culture and tthletics said: “The opening of the Acropolis Museum is a major world event. June 20th will be a day of celebration for all civilised people, not for Greeks alone. I want the Britons especially to consider the Acropolis Museum as the most hospitable place for them.”

Greeks hopes have been emboldened by the return to Athens from Germany and Sweden of a host of treasures, including some taken from the Acropolis itself. The frieze adorned the Parthenon until 1801 when Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, removed it, along with a host of other treasures when Athens was under enemy occupation.

They were sold by Lord Elgin to the British Museum for £35,000 after Parliament voted in 1816 to acquire them for the nation and were vested “in perpetuity” in the trustees of the British Museum. The Greek Government disagrees.

Mr Samaras is the successor to the late Melina Mercouri, whose strident claims for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles made headlines more than 20 years ago.

The language today is more restrained, yet more confident. “I, along with every other Greek, wants the marbles reunited, just as Melina did,” he said. “The argument against was that there was no deserving museum in Greece to house them. Now, this argument is off the table – it cannot stand anymore. The Acropolis Museum was Melina’s dream, and now we see it standing.”

Greece retains 36 of the 115 panels in the Parthenon frieze. With the reproduction in its glass-walled upper gallery of the exact dimensions of the Parthenon temple, the building allows the marbles to be represented in their original configuration and context, in a way that could never be done in the British Museum.

The Greeks have also taken heart from polls that have shown that the majority of Britons support the return of the Marbles.

The fight for the return of the Marbles has led to committees being set up in 14 countries to lobby for their return.

The gallery offers a simultaneous view of the Parthenon itself, the extraordinary temple to the goddess Athena and, in the view of many, the greatest classical building in the world.

Constructing a vast new museum in one of the world’s most ancient cities was not easy. When archaeologists began work they uncovered a 5th century BC settlement. The response of the architectural team of Bernard Tschumi from New York and Michael Photiadis from Greece was to build the elegant modern structure above the archaeological diggings. The site, which is still being excavated, can be seen by visitors through the museum’s glass floor.

Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, has rejected overtures from Athens and said that it is the museum’s duty to “preserve the universality of the marbles, and to protect them from being appropriated as a nationalistic political symbol”.

If the British Museum, which says it is barred by its constitution from handing back its treasures, were obliged to return the marbles, the floodgates might open on other restitution claims. Nigeria, for instance, wants the return of the Benin bronzes, looted by Britain in 1897.