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The New Acropolis Museum is ready for the reunification of the Elgin Marbles

The opening of the New Acropolis Museum [1] is proceeding towards the main event on 20th June. Although Greece is waiting until after the opening before announcing any new initiatives for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, most press reports are still (rightly) observing that the buildings raison d’etre is the creation of a new home for the marbles.

From:
Xinhua [2]

New Acropolis Museum to showcase complete Parthenon sculptures
2009-06-19 12:20:41
by Liang Yeqian

ATHENS, June 19 (Xinhua) — Visitors from across the world will admire the complete sculptures of the famous Parthenon Temple for the first time when the new Acropolis Museum officially opens on June 20.

Dimitros Pantermalis, director of the new museum, told Xinhua that all of the Parthenon Temple sculptures owned by Greece will be displayed on the third floor of the new museum.

Replicas of the sculptures in the British Museum which were taken from Parthenon’s frieze some 200 years ago will sit next to those left in Greece.

“As you know, Parthenon sculptures were divided in Athens and London. After a long discussion, the museum decided not to leave the space empty, but to put on display the copies of the pieces we miss in London,” Pantermalis said.

“This is the privilege of the museum and the big sculptures are really a feast of culture,” he said.

Pantermalis said this museum houses very important findings and cultural objects of world heritage.

“The exhibits are very important, and therefore the ceremony should be a big one,” he said, referring to the grand opening ceremony which will be held in the evening of this coming Saturday.

On the security and insurance for the museum, Pantermalis said he thinks no bank can pay for any missing exhibits since they are of incalculable value.

“I think it is more important to have very good guards in the museum and use modern systems and cameras to check the exhibits everyday and every moment. For us it is more important to know what is going on in the museum every minute,” he said.

Pantermalis said the Acropolis Museum had held two exhibitions in Beijing during the Olympic Games in 2008.

“It is a good idea to plan for a future exhibition in China. We hope to be able to make a bigger exhibition in China,” he said.

The new Acropolis Museum is located some 300 meters away from the Acropolis. It is a modern building with glass walls and floors. Visitors could enjoy the antiquities from the ancient temples while looking at the Acropolis through the glass.

Compared with the old Acropolis Museum which covers an area of 1,500 sq meters, the new museum has a total area of 25,000 sq meters.

Heads of state and government, celebrities and world media have been invited to attend the opening ceremony on Saturday.

From:
Xinhua [3]

Greek minister: Greece ready to reunite sculptures

2009-06-19 14:42:32

By Liang Yeqian

ATHENS, June 19 (Xinhua) — Saturday’s long-awaited opening of the new Acropolis Museum will show the world that Greece has a world-class facility suitable for the Parthenon Marbles, the Greek culture minister says.

British Museum officials have rebuffed repeated Greek requests for the return of the 2,500-year-old marbles removed from the Parthenon in 1806 by Lord Elgin, British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire when it ruled Greece.

The modern glass and concrete museum, Culture Minister Antonis Samaras told Xinhua during a recent interview, knocks down British contentions that Greece has no decent place to house the sculptures.

“I think now the argument no longer exists,” Samaras said. “The new argument, a great argument, is not a simple revaluation of the marbles but the reunification of the marbles.”

He likened the absent marbles to family photos that have been cut into several sections.

“You need to get photos with whole family members together,” Samaras said. “You cannot cut works of Picasso, Rembrandt or Da Vinci into two parts, showing half of them in Spain, other parts in Paris, London or Italy.”

The 177 million-dollar museum, initially scheduled to open before the 2004 Athens Olympics, will host most of the Acropolis finds. That includes some of the best surviving works of classical sculpture that once adorned the structure’s marble temples.

The museum, designed by U.S.-based architect Bernard Tschumi in collaboration with Greece’s Michalis Photiadis, contains more than 4,000 ancient works in 20,000 square meters of display space.

“Statues are all around us. You can study the statues from all the sides, you can talk to the statues,” Samaras said. “It is a unique experience.”

Samaras said the opening of the museum, which exploits natural light and offers panoramic views of Athens from nearly every hall, means a lot to Greece.

Dignitaries from around the world will attend the opening ceremony at the foot of the Acropolis.

“It is a great day for us,” he said. “I am happy the whole international community, including China, sheds light on the opening of the new Acropolis museum. ”

Samaras said culture exchanges with China would be great for both countries.

“I believe that Chinese people should have the opportunity to see these sculptures, I am not talking about Parthenon marbles specifically, I am talking about Greek culture in general,” he said.

“We feel very close. Greek people love Chinese very much. I think Chinese like Greek too.”
Editor: Zhang Xiang

From:
Kathimerini (English Edition) [4]

Friday June 19, 2009 – Archive
Acropolis Museum reignites Marbles debate
Opinion still divided on whether artifacts in British Museum should be returned to be put on display in new building in Athens
REUTERS
Two 1st to 3rd century AD terracotta statuettes are seen on display at the entrance to the New Acropolis Museum, which will be inaugurated during an opening ceremony tomorrow.
By Christian Flood – Kathimerini English Edition

For Cambridge University Classics Professor Mary Beard, the Parthenon Marbles aren’t just a historical treasure; they’re a life-changing event. Seeing the famed pieces of Acropolis sculpture in the British Museum’s Duveen Gallery at age 5, Beard says, was “gobsmacking” – one of the things that influenced her to devote her life to the study of the ancients.

No surprise then that Beard – the well-known author of the 2002 book “The Parthenon” – was among a crowd of academic, artistic and political luminaries descending on the New Acropolis Museum for a series of invitation-only inaugural events that began on Wednesday with a tour for arts correspondents and the Greek media.

Greek officials have been meticulous about the proceedings: allotting four days for the events and inviting a long list of international guests, while framing the opening of the museum as an opportunity to cement public support for the stance that the Marbles – unceremoniously transported to the United Kingdom by British Ambassador Lord Elgin in the early 19th century – should be returned to the Acropolis.

Divisive

But for several people with a stake in the new museum’s opening who spoke to Kathimerini English Edition in the past week, the issue remains divisive. And even Beard, a lifelong admirer of the Marbles who was set to attend an event yesterday evening for scholars and various supporters of the sculptures’ restitution, said she hadn’t been convinced either way on the issue.

“I’m not in favor of sending [the Marbles] back, I’m not in favor of keeping them,” Beard said from her home in Britain earlier this week. “I don’t think there’s many of us in the world like me who are actually on the fence about this… we sit extremely uncomfortably on the fence, the enemy of both sides, looking and wondering about the arguments.”

Such sentiments are hardly in keeping with the wishes of the Greek Ministry of Culture, which, in online materials documenting the “official Greek position” on the Marbles, lists an excerpt from a 2004 interview with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis forecasting consensus in favor of the sculptures’ return.

“We are dedicated to our goal, the return of the Marbles,” the interview reads. “We feel optimistic that in the end, even the most doubtful will be convinced, and will change their attitude toward the matter.”

Converts

Undoubtedly, the new museum has won some converts. When Athens-born Oxford historian Angelos Chaniotis made his first trip to London to see the Marbles in the 1980s, he did not believe they should be returned to Greece.

Fresh from the clutches of a military dictatorship, the country lacked the infrastructure to make the display of the sculptures a viable priority, he said. Pollution, lack of restorative efforts on the Acropolis, and limited funding for necessary archaeological research elsewhere in the country were all concerns. And the old Acropolis museum, Chaniotis said, “was not adequate for the Marbles.” But from the outset the new facility promised better, he said.

“When it was clear that a very good museum was going to be built, I felt that there was absolutely no reason not to support every effort to return the Marbles there,” said Chaniotis, who planned to attend inaugural events this week. “The New Acropolis Museum is much better in every way than the British Museum in terms of display and research possibilities – it is in every respect the better environment for the exhibition.”

Others have been less quick to acknowledge the new museum’s ability to change the discourse on the Marbles. The British Museum, which planned to send two representatives to the inaugural celebration according to spokeswoman Hannah Boulton, maintained last week that it would not relinquish the sculptures, new museum or no.

“[The museum] doesn’t alter our view that the sculptures in the Museum’s collection should remain here as part of the unique overview of world cultures that the British Museum exists to present,” Boulton wrote in a statement to Kathimerini English Edition last week.

Add to that the fact that the new museum, a decidedly modern structure delayed for years partly by concerns over how its design would fit with its surroundings, has its detractors on the home front.

Detractors

“It’s certainly a functional venue,” said Ioannis Petropoulos, a classics professor at the Democritus University of Thrace and chairman of Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies in Greece. “But its appearance is highly controversial, and I along with many think it’s a monstrosity out of proportion and out of tune with its surroundings, both the local architecture and the physical landscape.”

The new building, Petropoulos said, should not lead to the prioritization of further contention about the Marbles at the expense of other efforts like revamping Greece’s classical education system and improving archaeological and display practices in areas more provincial than Athens. Modern Salamis, site of a naval battle that “changed the course of human history” in 480 BC, is now little more than a “dumping ground,” Petropolous said, pointing to sites away from the Sacred Rock that deserve the nation’s attention.

Re-education

“Charity begins at home, so let’s get more professional, more scholarly at the provincial level and let’s re-educate the Greeks about the Parthenon,” he said. “I’m sure very few Greeks actually know the names of the individual buildings on the Acropolis. Ask a typical Greek high school student when it was built, who built the Acropolis, how do you spell ‘Parthenon,’ and I’m sure many people will be nonplussed.”

But for now, with all eyes trained on the Acropolis, and a third-floor display space in the new museum reportedly waiting for the receipt of the Marbles, the debate over their location seems destined to end no time soon. Beard, for one, has no problem with that – calling the Marbles controversy “one of the most interesting cultural debates going on at the moment” and citing its value for the worldwide discourse on the ownership of historical artifacts.

“There are all sorts of conflicts that are really dangerous ones, and this isn’t one of them,” she said, chuckling. “The worst they could do is drop a block on somebody.”

From:
Reuters [5]

Reuters Blogs – Global News Blog – Beyond the World news headlines
June 19th, 2009
New Acropolis museum-perfect home for Parthenon marbles?
Posted by: Dina Kyriakidou

Black-robed Orthodox priests chanted and sprinkled holy water to bless Greece’s new, ultra-modern Acropolis Museum, which opens officially on June 20 with the hope of bringing back the Parthenon marbles from Britain.

What if early Christians tore down statues and temples in a effort to eradicate paganism? The ancient, medieval and modern merged seemlessly during the ceremony held ahead of the formal inauguration.

“Art elevates man,” said the bishop officiating. “I bless all those who worked for this museum.”

The stunning, glass and concrete building at the foot of the Acropolis had almost as turbulent a history as the ancient monument itself. Neighbours fought for years in court to move it away, international design contests were cancelled and finally ruins were found right beneath it, requiring a complete redesign.

“All great projects challenge and scandalise,” said Culture Minister Antonis Samaras. “But it is these projects that mark their era.”

Built specifically to provide proper space for the Parthenon marbles, many of which are now in the British Museum, the new museum’s dark glass shell rises among residential buildings just 400 metres from the Acropolis and offers visitors a direct view of the temple to the goddess Athena – the crowing glory of the Golden Age of Athens, which laid the foundations of Western art and values.

For Greeks, who feel the connection to their ancient ancestors as if they were only a generation apart, this museum is much more than a great cultural building. It is a major weapon in getting back what they feel is an integral part of their identity – the Parthenon marbles, torn from the temple and taken to Britain 200 years ago by Lord Elgin, then ambassador to the Ottoman empire.

“The dialogue with the British Museum is now on a different basis,” museum director Dimitris Pantermalis told reporters on a sneak tour of the top floor – where the Parthenon marbles are displayed, the missing pieces clearly marked.

The late actress and culture minister Melina Mercouri fought hard for years to convince the British Museum to return the art works, to no effect. One of their main arguments was that the “Elgin Marbles” were better off in London, safe from the ravages of Athens pollution, as the Greeks had no place to put them.

The Greek case has changed over the years – from legal claims to the marbles to a moral argument that the monument was vandalised and must be put back together. Nowhere is this more obvious than the top hall of the new museum. White plaster casts of limbs, heads and animals stand next to the honey-coloured originals that Lord Elgin left behind.

“The Greeks have now excelled themselves in creating a place worthy of its breath-taking content,” wrote British author Christopher Hitchens in a New York Times column. “It is impossible to visit Athens and not yearn for the day Britain decides to right an ancient wrong.”