August 17, 2007

Dispute over view from New Acropolis Museum divides government

Posted at 1:32 pm in Greece Archaeology, New Acropolis Museum

More on the dispute over the demolition of two buildings to stop them obstructing views from the New Acropolis Museum.

Bloomberg News

Acropolis View Divides Ministers, Vangelis, 85-Year-Old Elly
By Maria Petrakis
Aug. 16 (Bloomberg)

It’s a hot day in Athens and a builder working on the new $178 million Acropolis Museum pauses to wipe his brow and stare up at the 2,500-year-old Parthenon.

At the same time, Elly Kouremenos looks out of the apartment she’s lived in for 72 years and wonders why the view from the museum means her home must be razed.

“They’re trying to make us vanish,” says Kouremenos, 85. “It’s as though there’s nothing between. No neoclassicism, no Art Nouveau.” The white-haired great-grandmother looks at her pink and grey marble Art Deco apartment building and says: “We’re going straight from antiquity to now.”

The future of her block, once declared a work of art by the Greek Ministry of Culture, and its neoclassical neighbor, owned by Oscar-winning composer Vangelis Papathanasiou, has caused a furore, pitting architects against archaeologists.

The properties prevent a view of the Acropolis from the ground floor and mezzanine of the museum — which has also faced criticism over growing costs and delays as the Greek government seeks a world-class structure to house the Elgin marbles, the sculptures that it says the British Museum should return.

In July, the Central Archaeological Council voted to remove protection for the houses at Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, a move that normally leads to demolition. Christos Zahopoulos, the secretary-general of the ministry who used his second vote when the decision was split 12 and 12, is unrepentant.

“The main thing is the unification of the archaeological sites,” he says. “We must have thematic unity.”

Antennas and Acropolis

For Elly’s daughter Marina, 56, the decision is inexplicable. A condition of all the museum-design competitions was that their homes stay, says Kouremenos, who was born in the block, built for her family by her great-uncle Vassilis Kouremenos. She is trying to convince officials to consider landscaping or renovation and is prepared for legal action.

“ We’re not the only ones who spoil the view,” Kouremenos says. “Wherever you turn in this museum, which is all glass, you see Athens: balconies, antennas, washing hanging out to dry.”

The next stage must be “thorough discussion,” says Dimitris Pandermalis, 67, the archaeology professor who heads the museum project. “It can’t look out on anything else but the Acropolis,” he says in a telephone interview, suggesting the homes could possibly be moved not demolished: “The thing I want is their removal from that position. I’m not doing it for myself. It’s something that the visitor will demand.”

The protection order was imposed in 1978 by Stefanos Manos, then minister for public works, to prevent over-commercialization of the Acropolis, which is called the “sacred rock” by Athenians.

Work of Art

A decade later, the culture ministry said the Kouremenos building, with its marble facade and mosaic of Oedipus and the Sphinx, was a work of art, providing additional protection. Its architect Kouremenos studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. The girls carved into the entrance are thought to be inspired by the Caryatids, the figures that act as columns for the Erechtheion temple on the Acropolis.

Nikos Rousseas, who has based his architecture business there for two decades, says the owners do not want any change of use or their homes flattened. Vangelis’s legal advisers, contacted by telephone, say he opposes demolition. Since being cleared of traffic, the area has become one of the most expensive in central Athens, according to real-estate agents, with two- bedroom apartments selling for 800,000 euros.

The removal of protection sets a dangerous precedent, Manos, a member of the Greek parliament, wrote in a July 11 letter to Kathimerini newspaper.

Disneyland Fear

“All these houses, which are tied to the past, create the right atmosphere for those walking up to the Acropolis,” Marina Kouremenos says. “I don’t know how it would look if in their place there was a huge restaurant with tables and umbrellas. It would be like Disneyland.”

The museum is years behind its completion date after a log- jam of legal challenges about demolitions and archaeological digs.

Now due to open in 2008, the museum will attract more than 3.6 million people a year, more than three times the number that currently visit the Acropolis, officials say. Designed by Athens architect Michael Photiadis and Swiss-born Bernard Tschumi, the centerpiece is the gallery where visitors can see the Acropolis 300 meters above, marred by the offending apartments below.

The museum “is there to show what is both within and outside it,” Tschumi said in a speech in Athens on July 11. “It is the first museum that plays such a role.”

Counting Tourism

Greece’s tourism supports about 17 percent to the country’s $265 billion economy and about one in every five of its jobs, says the London-based World Travel and Tourism Council.

Meanwhile, sweltering in the hot day, Culture Minister George Voulgarakis helps artisans pad up sculptures for their move to the museum. At the same time, passerby Stavros Theofanides stops at Rousseas’s office, his curiosity sparked by a campaign leaflet saying the building is at risk. “Are they really going to pull this down?” he asks. He points to the new black-glass and concrete museum. “They should be pulling down that outrage instead.”

Last Updated: August 16, 2007 01:40 EDT

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