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THE NEW ACROPOLIS MUSEUM OF ATHENS

  On Saturday June 20, 2009, the New Acropolis Museum of Athens opened its doors to the public for the first time.
 
Τhe new Acropolis Museum has a total area of 25,000 square metres, with exhibition space of over 14,000 square metres, ten times more than that of the old Museum on the Acropolis, built in 1874. This is a new Museum, with all the amenities expected in a Museum of the 21st century.



The Museum was officially inaugurated during a nationally televised ceremony that brought together Greece’s political leadership and scores of international dignitaries.

Professor Dimitris Pantermalis, the Director of the new state-of-the-art facility, pointed to numerous mutilated sculptures on display in the third-storey Parthenon Gallery, sculptures the other half of which is found at the British Museum in London. Instead, white-coloured plaster replicas depict the missing friezes in the New Acropolis Museum most celebrated gallery.

The President of Greece, Mr Karolos Papoulias, also made mention of the missing Parthenon Marbles, when he said:

“Today, the whole world can see, all together, the most significant sculptures of the Parthenon. Some are missing. Now is the time to heal the monument’s wounds with the return of the marbles to where they belong … their natural setting”.

The Prime Minister of Greece, Mr Costas Karamanlis, stressed the cultural aspect of the Museum, and the fact that it forms part of the world’s cultural heritage:

“In the sacred hill of the Acropolis the world views the forms that ecumenical and eternal ideals take. In the New Acropolis Museum the world can now ascertain these forms, these ideals, reuniting them and allowing them to regain their radiance … Welcome to a Greece of civilisation and history; together we are inaugurating a Museum for the supreme monument of the Classical civilisation: the Acropolis Museum”…

“The Acropolis Museum is a reality for all Greeks; for all the people of the world. It is a modern monument, open, luminous and is harmoniously intertwined with Parthenon itself. It permits the Attica sun to shed its light on the ancient works of culture and allows the visitor to enjoy and appreciate the details of the exhibits. This modern monument narrates the history of democracy, art, rituals and everyday life”.

The opening of the New Acropolis Museum, coming five years after the successful running of the Olympic Games of 2004, constitutes a bold statement from Greece that she reclaims her historical and cultural heritage.

It also serves as a stern notice to Britain that the Parthenon Marbles belong in the New Museum, next to the Acropolis, from which they were taken by the Scottish aristocrat Thomas Bruce, seventh earl of Elgin, more than 200 hundred years ago, and now housed in the London’s British Museum.

The Athens Acropolis Museum is one of the finest buildings in the city of Athens, and one of the most functional Museums in the world. It was designed by the Swiss-born, New York-based architect Bernard Tschumi, in collaboration with the Greek architect Michael Photiadis.

The Museum is designed in such a way as to make the most of natural light, and it incorporates seismic technology, so as to survive earthquakes measuring up to 10.0 on the Richter scale, in anticipation of the region’s frequent earthquakes.

The New Acropolis Museum was scheduled to be completed in time for the Athens Olympic Games in 2004. However, during excavation a series of archaeological discoveries were made at the site of Makrigiannis – which consisted of artifacts such as marble busts, mosaic flooring, and amphorae. Assessment of these objects, and changes to the plans so as to accommodate them, led to delays in the completion of the Museum. 

 

The base of the Museum contains an entrance lobby overlooking the Makrygianni excavations, as well as temporary exhibition spaces, retail and all support facilities. A wide ramp leads up to the first floor. Transparent sections in the ramp's floor allow visitors to see the exposed archaeological remains below that were found during the preparation of the site.

The structure of the Museum actually sits above on-going archeological excavations. In the process of digging the foundation, a variety of artifacts was discovered. This necessitated alterations to the original design, so as to include pylons to suspend the Museum over the archeological site.

Along the sides of the ramp, and as free-standing installations, there will be artifacts recovered from the Sanctuary of the Nymphs, the Sanctuary of Asklepeios and elsewhere on the slopes of the Acropolis. The middle is a large, double-height trapezoidal plate that accommodates all galleries from the Archaic period to the Roman Empire. There will be a multimedia auditorium and a mezzanine bar and restaurant with view on the Acropolis.

Among the museum’s many treasures are artifacts from the Archaic, Classical, and Roman periods. All were found in the Parthenon, on the slopes of the Acropolis, or in other places adjacent to Acropolis.

Amongst the best known sculptures are Caryatids, five female statues that supported a porch on the Erechtheum temple on the Acropolis. An empty space has been left for the sixth, which is in the London British Museum, amongst portions of the Parthenon frieze and other sculptures, removed from the Acropolis by Elgin at the beginning of the 19th century. This collection is known as the Parthenon marbles.

It should be mentioned here that the design includes a rectangular glass gallery that will display the Parthenon marbles when, not if, they are returned from the London British Museum, to be repatriated to the place where they were created and saw the light of day, and to which they naturally, culturally and artistically belong.

The collections of the Museum are exhibited on three levels. A fourth middle level is reserved for the auxiliary spaces, which include the Museum shop, the café and the offices. The Museum also provides an amphitheatre, and a hall for periodic exhibitions.

On the first level of the Museum there are the findings of the slopes of the Acropolis, the Archaic gallery. The design of the rectangular hall, with its sloping floor, is a representation of the ascension to the rock of Acropolis.

Another floor houses the artifacts and sculptures from various Acropolis buildings other than the Partenon, such as the Erechtheum, the Temple of Athena Nike and the Propylaea, and findings from Roman and early Christian Athens.

The last level, known as the Parthenon hall, has the same orientation with the temple on the Acropolis, and the use of glass, which allows natural light to enter, creates the illusion that the Parthenon exhibits are viewed in their natural setting.

Only about half of the original friezes, the metopes and the exquisite pediments of the Parthenon, which represent the acme of classical Greek art, are on display, under the natural light, but in a controlled  atmosphere environment. The other half languish in the London British Museum, deprived of their natural, and native, surroundings. In their place the Acropolis Museum has placed, temporarily, one would hope, the plaster cast replicas – sold to Greece in the 1840s by the British Museum.

Safekeeping of the exhibits is ensured, as the Museum encompasses the latest security technology.

The Museum is located in the southeastern slope of the Acropolis hill, some 300 metres from the top of the “sacred rock”, as it was known in classical times.

The entrance to the building is on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street and directly adjacent to the Acropolis Station, line 2 of the Athens Metro.

The Rationale for returning to the New Acropolis Museum the Elgin Marbles

 

The Museum marks the city’s most ambitious attempt to date to reclaim its cultural patrimony. In addition to archaeological finds spanning 2,500 years, Greece hopes the New Acropolis Museum will one day house the Elgin Marbles, which the Greek government has been trying to recover from the British Museum since the mid-1800s.

The Elgin Marbles, also known as the Parthenon Marbles, are a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures, inscriptions and architectural members that originally were part of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens.

The issue of the Elgin Marbles has been the subject of dispute for some 200 years, with no tangible results. The issue was revived in the early 1980s by the then Greek Minister of Culture Melina Mercouri, who began to make emotive appeals for the return of the Marbles to Athens.

Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, was the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople from 1799–1803. In 1801 he had obtained permission from the Sultan to remove pieces from the Acropolis. From 1801 to 1812 agents removed on Elgin’s behalf about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as architectural items and sculptures from the Propylaea and Erechtheum.

Greece was then under the control of the Ottoman Empire. For a small fee, Thomas Bruce, otherwise known as Lord Elgin, was allowed to basically take whatever he wanted, and so he proceeded to loot much of the Acropolis, including friezes and metopes that were integral part of the Parthenon.

The Marbles were transported by sea to Britain. In 1816 the Marbles were purchased by the British Government for the sum of £35,000, and were placed on display in the London British Museum. The legality of the removal has been questioned and the debate continues as to whether the Marbles should remain in the British Museum or be returned to Athens.

Proponents of the request for the return of the Marbles claim that they should be returned to Athens on moral, historical and artistic grounds.

The main stated aim of the Greek campaign is to reunite the Parthenon sculptures around the world in order to restore organic elements which at present remain without cohesion, homogeneity and historicity of the monument to which they belong and allow visitors to better appreciate them as a whole.

Presenting all the extant Parthenon Marbles in their original historical and cultural environment would permit their fuller understanding and interpretation.

Returning the Elgin Marbles would not set a precedent for other restitution claims, because of the distinctively universal value of the Parthenon.

Safekeeping of the marbles would be ensured at the New Acropolis Museum, situated to the south of the Acropolis hill. It was built to hold the Parthenon sculptures in natural sunlight that characterises the Athenian climate, arranged in the same way as they would have been on the Parthenon.

The Greek government has frequently requested the return of the marbles, but the British Museum, claiming among other reasons that it has saved the Marbles from certain damage and deterioration, has not acceded to the request, and the issue remains unresolved.

 

Lord Byron condemned the removal of the Marbles

 

George Gordon Byron was born on the 22nd of January 1788 in London and died on the 19th of April 1824 in Mesologgi in Greece.

He was the best known Philhellene, and visited Greece twice, during 1809-1811 and 1823-1824. In his first visit he toured the Acropolis, and was appalled at the damage caused to the Parthenon by Elgin, when under his instructions the Parthenon Marbles had been removed.

In 1812 he wrote the poem, “The Curse of Minerva” – Minerva being the Latin equivalent to goddess Athena, to denounce Elgin's actions.

The poem was written at the Capuchin Convent, Athens, on 17 March 1811, and it consists of 312 verses. The following 12 verses are part of that poem.

And last of all, amidst the gaping crew,

Some calm spectator, as he takes his view,

In silent indignation mix’d with grief,

Admires the plunder, but abhors the thief.

Oh, loath’d in life, nor pardon’d in the dust,

May hate pursue his sacrilegious lust!

Link’d with the fool that fired the Ephesian dome,

Shall vengeance follow far beyond the tomb,

And Eratostratus and Elgin shine

In many a branding page and burning line;

Alike reserved for aye to stand accursed,

Perchance the second blacker than the first.

 

Lord Byron took up the subject of the Parthenon Marbles again in 1812, in the lengthy narrative poem “Childe Harold's Pilgrimage”. Canto XI to XV of 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage' are a tribute to the Parthenon Marbles, and condemnation for their removal from their ancestral land. The following verses are from Canto XV.

Cold is the heart, fair Greece, that looks on thee,

Nor feels as lovers o’er the dust they loved;

Dull is the eye that will not weep to see

Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed

By British hands, which it had best behov’d

To guard those relics ne’er to be restored.

Curst be the hour when their isle they roved,

And once again thy hapless bosom gored,

And snatch’d thy shrinking Gods to northern climes abhorr’d!



This article was compiled by Kyriakos Amanatides





 

 




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