Acropolis – Athens

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The New Acropolis Museum in Athens is a fact.

The Museum, designed by the Swiss-born architect Bernard Tschumi in collaboration with Michalis Photiadis & Associate Architects in Athens, opened its doors to the public only a few days ago on June 20th. Located only 300 meters (980 feet) SouthEast of the Parthenon, with an exhibition space of 14,000 square meters and a cost of €130 million, the New Acropolis Museum houses some of the most famous works of classical antiquity. It aims at providing the visitors with a comprehensive picture of the human presence on the Acropolis, from the pre-historic times through late Antiquity, with the advantage of being built on the slope of the Acropolis itself. The three major materials used for its construction are glass for the facades and some of the floors, concrete for the core and the columns, as well as marble for the galleries.

Inside the Museum, visitors ascend a wide glass-floored gallery, as if they were ascending the slope of the Acropolis. The glass ramp reveals ancient remains that were excavated during the building’s construction, thus providing a sense of continuity between the Acropolis and the museum site itself. Along the ramp, on the left and right hands, archaeological finds from the sanctuaries, as well as from the almost uninterrupted settlements from the end of the Neolithic period (about 3000 BC) until late antiquity (6th century AD) are displayed. At the end of the ramp the visitors come across the large finds of the “Hekatompedon”, the first large temple of the Goddess Athena on the Acropolis.

On the second floor archaic and early classical statues are scattered across a big gallery like a crowd in an agora. The specific display selection caused curatorial dispute, as the visitors might miss many important statues of the time, such as the “Kritios Boy”  and other landmarks of archaic and classical sculpture. However, while wandering around one cannot help noticing the interaction between the public and the statues. The three-dimensional exhibits seen from all sides create a sense of an ongoing dialogue between the people mingling with the statues like in a promenade; visitors are pausing, admiring, taking photos and walking back and forth while following no specific predetermined museum course.

A bit further down, the five Caryatids, those exquisite sculpted female figures from the Erechtheion’s temple porch, seem a bit incomplete without the sixth member of their “family”. The empty statue base is a reminder of the sixth Caryatid, displayed at the British Museum in London.

The top floor is the rectangular Parthenon Gallery. Arranged around an indoor court and with the Museum’s glass enclosure, the gallery display aims at orienting the Marbles – Ionian frieze  and metopes – exactly as they were placed at the Parthenon on the 5th century B.C. The visitor has the opportunity to view not only the Parthenon marbles in a space that has exactly the same dimensions as the cella of the Parthenon, but also the monument itself through the gallery’s all around glass enclosure.

Ancient Athens and modern Athens combined, with the Parthenon and the Acropolis as their focal point. The presence of ambient natural light on the marbles is what makes the display breathtaking.

The New Acropolis Museum is a major event not only for Greece. Its completion is one more argument on the ongoing issue of the repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum. Removed by Lord Elgin’s agents from 1801 to 1812 under a controversial permission from the Ottoman authorities to remove pieces from the Acropolis, the return of the Parthenon marbles has been troubling governments, museums and the public. The return of the marbles is not a new issue; one cannot mention politicians with an eye to posterity, starting with Melina Mercouri – the late actress who initiated the campaign for the return of the marbles already in 1981. The large worldwide archaeological and public community, who support the return of the marbles to their rightful place, now have another strong practical and sentimental argument: a brand new Museum, constructed with top architectural standards right on the Acropolis slope, thus facilitating the reunification of the marbles.

Moreover, the Museum -with its first construction groundbreaking taking place in September 2003- has been at the centre of general interest; neighbours have been complaining, values of surrounding houses have been raised; pros and cons have been expressed by curators and architects both on the museum design and the connection of the building to the general urban architecture. It makes sense for objections to arise on such a huge project. In all attempts and projects, from the smallest structure building to the largest construction, conflicting voices and objections often arise. For something of the New Acropolis Museum magnitude, those were even more.

The New Acropolis Museum is already extremely popular among visitors from all over the world. What is now left for you is to experience the Museum for yourselves.