November 5, 2007

Greece inaugurates new Acropolis Museum

Posted at 1:51 pm in Elgin Marbles, New Acropolis Museum

Coverage of both the transfer of artefacts to, & the imminent opening of the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.

Southeast European Times

Greece inaugurates new Acropolis Museum
By George Anagnostopoulos for Southeast European Times in Athens – 05/11/07

On Sunday, October 14th, the first sculpture was moved to the new Acropolis Museum. Three high security cranes were used to transfer the 2.3 tonne masterpiece. Precision and safety were the main objectives of the operation, which lasted 90 minutes.

“It is a historic event of great significance,” said Greek Culture Minister Michalis Liapis. He observed the transfer together with the architect of the new museum, Bernard Tsumi, 25 ambassadors from EU-member states and numerous journalists.

Transfer of all the museum artefacts is expected to be finished in the next two to three months, depending on weather conditions. Temperature, wind and humidity are being measured before each transfer. During heavy rainfall or excess wind, the process will stop. No porous artefacts will be moved under conditions of extreme humidity.

Three cranes are being used to move a total of 4,246 antiquities, amounting to 297 tonnes. Sculptures are placed in specially designed styrofoam-filled crates made of wood and metal. Up to 4 crates are making the trip each day. The project is being carried out under the supervision of chief engineer Kostas Zambas.

Discussions began decades ago on building a new museum to replace the existing one, which dates back to 1865. In 1989, former Culture Minister Melina Mercouri announced an international competition for the design of the new facility, but the project that was selected never materialised.

In September 2001, a new competition took place. Santiago Calatrava, the award-winning Spanish architect, was one of the judges. The winning project belonged to Bernard Tschumi, a Swiss-born architect now based in New York.

The new museum is located at the base of the Acropolis and provides a direct view of the Sacred Rock. It is a three-story, 23,000sq metre glass structure mounted on pillars. Some 30% of the cost of building the museum and transporting the artefacts — totaling an estimated 129m euros — is being provided by the EU. The transfer alone will cost an estimate at 1.6m euros, and the antiquities have been insured for 400m euros.

The base of the museum, overlooking the Makriyanni excavation site, contains temporary exhibition spaces and support facilities. The middle level, a large trapezoid hall, accommodates all galleries from the Archaic period to the Roman Empire. It also contains a multimedia auditorium, a mezzanine bar and a restaurant with views facing the Acropolis.

Finally, the top level houses the Parthenon Gallery. The whole collection will be arranged around an outdoor court and enclosed by state-of-the-art glass technology.

The design enables visitors to study the Parthenon marbles while also viewing their original location, the Acropolis itself. The arrangement within the gallery replicates the Parthenon as it stood centuries ago, giving the visitor the sense of actually being inside the temple.

The new museum is the most important modern structure to be built in such close proximity to the Acropolis, and the project has not been without controversy. Critics argue that the design is too contemporary for its environment.

“Some people have said it is disrespectful to the Parthenon not to have Doric columns, but I am not interested in imitating the Parthenon,” responds Tschumi. “I am interested in that level of perfection in my buildings, and for early twenty-first-century architecture to match it in its own way.”

The new museum will be fully functional in 2009. The Parthenon Gallery will be the first to open in early 2008, followed gradually by the rest of the galleries and exhibitions.

Many Greeks hope that this advanced museum will help bring back the Parthenon marbles that are currently on display at the British Museum. The lack of adequate facilities has been a sticking point in efforts to win their return. Greece now hopes to initiate new negotiations with Britain.

“We are all very impressed with the new Acropolis Museum,” International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures Chairman David Hill said. “It is a great asset for Greece and the best argument for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.”

The missing marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, originally decorated the Parthenon and other buildings of the Acropolis — they represent more than half of what remains of the site’s surviving sculptural decorations. Removed in the early 19th century, their return has been a significant issue for successive Greek governments over the years.

The marbles include 75m of the Parthenon Frieze (from the original 160m), 15 metopes (from the original 92) taken from the south side of the Parthenon and 17 figures from the east and west pediments. In addition, the collection contains a Caryatid from the Erechtheion (from the original six), four slabs from the frieze of the Temple of Athena Nike and architectural fragments of the Parthenon, Propylaia, Erechtheion and the temple of Athena Nike.

In the new museum, the spaces where the missing marbles should be will be left empty instead of being filled with cast substitutes. “The way we will display the Marbles will be a permanent protest for their return,” says Professor Dimitris Pandermalis, president of the Organisation for the Construction of the New Acropolis Museum.
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