July 20, 2007

Acropolis sculptures boxed for move

Posted at 12:44 pm in Acropolis, New Acropolis Museum

More information on the transferral of artefacts to the New Acropolis Museum.

Middle East Times (Egypt)

Your World
Acropolis sculptures go in boxes for first-ever move
Catherine Boitard
July 19, 2007

ATHENS — Huddled on Athen’s Acropolis, archaeologists are fine-tuning an unprecedented, multi-million dollar operation to relocate Greece’s most prized antiquities to a new, modern showcase set to open in 2008.

Around 330 statues and artifacts from the Parthenon and other temples that overlook the capital are to be transported from the current museum, which was carved into the rock in 1874, starting in September.

The New Acropolis Museum – also meant to give muscle to Greece’s campaign to force the UK to return the Elgin Marbles, priceless friezes from the Parthenon – is only 300 meters (328 yards) away.

But the task is all the more daunting since many of the masterpieces were never meant to be moved – the heaviest weighs 2.5 tons. Others have been meticulously restored or reconstructed from fragments and sat undisturbed for decades.

“Statues pieced together from fragments or consisting of different materials are the most difficult,” said art restorer George Paganis, pointing to a huge marble sculpture of the goddess Athena dating from the 6th century BC.

The piece, which has been restored with plaster patches, weighs 850 kilos (1,874 pounds), and while moving such a mass is already a challenge the nightmare is doing so without damaging a thin serpent in Athena’s outstretched hand.

“We will need all our expertise to unglue this sculpture from its base, package it safely, and take it down the hill,” said Paganis, who has worked at the Acropolis museum for 20 years.

Transporting the many statues carved out of limestone, a porous rock more fragile than marble, carries a similar risk.

But help will come from engineer Costas Zambas, a veteran of the operation that successfully moved the famed Caryatid statues – the columns from the “porch of maidens” on the Erechtheion, the temple that shares the limelight on the Acropolis with the Parthenon. They were brought inside and replaced with replicas when threatened by smog pollution 30 years ago.

“Naturally we cannot chop the sculptures into pieces for easier transport, only Elgin did that,” he said.

The reference was to the UK’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Thomas Bruce, seventh earl of Elgin, who is reviled in Greece for removing parts of the Parthenon’s marble frieze and taking them to London in the early 19th century.

Greece maintains that the frieze is part of its national heritage, looted from the country’s most iconic monument. For 20 years Athens has demanded its return from the British Museum, which has argued it should stay in London.

The winning design for the new facility, by Franco-Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi, included a rectangular glass gallery to display the Elgin Marbles with exactly the same dimensions they once occupied on the Parthenon – an exhibition space whose partial void will only highlight the battle with the UK.

On a media tour of the site, archaeologist Christina Vlassopoulou said the move was seen as an “opportunity to give the sculptures a general makeover and to even piece together statues whose fragments we have had in storage for years.”

Behind her, a restorer was busy gluing a fissure on an entwined couple called “The Cecrops Composition,” believed to represent the snake-footed legendary king of Athens and his daughter. Another was re-attaching a fragment identified in 1982 to the statue of a woman.

One piece posing little problem is the famed “Kritios Boy,” a 5th-century BC statue of a youth in “contrapposto” stance – the breakthrough, in art history terms, to a fluid new pose that captured classical ideals of balance and proportion. The statue has traveled abroad in the past and workmen again were crating it.

Most of the statues will be moved inside large iron cases via a three-crane relay. The trickiest part of the operation will be lowering them down the 156-meter (510-foot) near-vertical rock wall of the Acropolis.

The move is expected to take at least six weeks and the overall cost of the operation is estimated at 8 million euros ($11 million).

The three-storey New Acropolis Museum, which covers 25,000 square meters and cost €129 million itself, is expected to open to the public early next year.

The Acropolis has been considered sacred ground for 3,500 years since the Mycenaean era immortalized by Homer in the Iliad and Odyssey.

In addition to the Parthenon and the Erechtheion, its architectural marvels include the Propylaia and the Temple of Athena Nike created by the sculptor Phidias and the architects Callicrates and Ictinos during the Golden Age of Pericles, in the 5th century BC.

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