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Lavish opening for the New Acropolis Museum

The grand inauguration event for the New Acropolis Museum [1] has finally taken place, so now the general public will be allowed admission to the building to see it in its completed state for the first time.

Associated Press [2]

New Acropolis Museum opens with lavish party

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Gods, heroes and long-dead mortals stepped off their plinths into the evening sky of Athens on Saturday during the lavish launch of the new Acropolis Museum, a decades-old dream that Greece hopes will also help reclaim a cherished part of its heritage from Britain.

The digital animated display on the museum walls ended years of delays and wrangling over the ultramodern building, set among apartment blocks and elegant neoclassical houses at the foot of the Acropolis hill.

The nearly euro3 million ($4.1 million) opening ceremony was attended by some 400 guests, including European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura, and foreign heads of state and government. Conspicuously, there were no government officials from Britain, which has repeatedly refused to repatriate dozens of 2,500-year-old sculptures from the Parthenon temple that are held in the British Museum.

President Karolos Papoulias said Greeks think of the Acropolis monuments as their “identity and pride,” and renewed the demand for the missing marble works, displayed in London for the past 200 years.

“The whole world can now see the most important sculptures from the Parthenon together,” Papoulias said. “Some are missing. It is time to heal the wounds on the monument by returning the marbles that belong to it.”

Culture Minister Antonis Samaras said the sculptures “will inevitably return,” but ruled out Greece acknowledging the British Museum’s legal title to the works — as requested by officials in London as a precondition for any loan.

Large crowds watched the heavily policed opening ceremony from nearby cafes, and families gathered on overlooking balconies.

Crouching 300 yards from the Parthenon’s slender bones like a skewed stack of glass boxes, the euro130 million ($180 million) museum provides an airy setting for some of the best surviving works of classical sculpture that once adorned the Acropolis.

By day, printed glass panels filter the harsh sunlight while revealing the ancient citadel in the background. The internal lighting projects the battered statues outward at night, contrasting with the floodlit ruins on the low hill.

“We tried … to be as simple, as clear, as precise as we could be establishing a visual relation between the Parthenon, the museum with the beautiful sculptures and with the archaeological remnants,” said the building’s designer, French-Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi.

And with a special glass hall designed to showcase all the surviving Parthenon sculptures in their original alignment, the building is Greece’s answer to the argument that it had nowhere to safely house those sawed off the temple in the early 1800s by British diplomat Lord Elgin.

Among the exhibits are small sculptures recently returned from Italy, The Vatican and Germany.

The Parthenon was built at the height of Athens’ glory, between 447-432 B.C., in honor of the city’s patron goddess, Athena, and is still considered one of the most impressive buildings in the world.

Despite its burning by invading Goths in 267 A.D., conversion into a Christian church in the early 6th century and Ottoman occupation from the 15th century — when it served as a gunpowder store — it survived largely intact until a Venetian cannon shot caused a massive explosion in 1687. Elgin, a Scotsman, removed about half the surviving sculptures between 1801-04, when Greece was an unwilling part of the Ottoman Empire.

The British Museum has repeatedly rejected calls for their return. It says it legally owns the collection it bought from Elgin, who sold it to stave off bankruptcy, and that it is displayed free of charge in an international cultural context.

“I think they belong to all of us. We are all global citizens these days,” said British Museum spokeswoman Hannah Boulton.

But on the top floor of the new Acropolis Museum, Greece’s counter-argument — that the sculptures were looted from a work of art so important that the surviving pieces should all be exhibited together — is eloquently laid out.

The glass hall with a panoramic view across Athens and the Parthenon itself displays the section of the frieze that Elgin’s agents left behind, joined to plaster casts of the 90-odd works in London.

The soft brownish patina of the original marble contrasts starkly with the bright white of the copies: battle scenes are cut jaggedly in half, with the torso and heads of warriors and horses in London and the legs in Athens. The attempt to shock is deliberate.

“It is like looking at a family picture and seeing images of loved ones far away or lost to us,” Samaras said.

Greece has promised to compensate the British Museum with visiting exhibitions of major antiquities.

But the museum is much more than a political lever.

With about 150,000 square feet (14,000 square meters) of exhibition space, it holds more than 4,000 ancient works, many of them never displayed before due to lack of space in the cramped old museum that sat atop the Acropolis hill.

Most left the citadel for the first time in late 2007, during a meticulously choreographed operation using a relay of cranes.

Now visitors can walk among freestanding statues and reliefs with surviving traces of paint; view fragments of sculptures and coins still bearing scorch marks from the Persians’ sacking of the city in 480 B.C.; gaze through three stories of glass floors straight into the foundations, where construction revealed an entire neighborhood of ancient and early Christian Athens.

The museum opens to visitors Sunday. Entry is at a nominal charge of euro1 ($1.40) until the end of the year, when it will increase to euro5. The first four days are already completely sold out through Internet sales.
On the Net:

* Acropolis Museum: http://www.theacropolismuseum.gr

Sunday Times [3]

June 21, 2009
The Acropolis Museum opens in Athens
Now all it needs is the Elgin Marbles says Sean Newsom on a flying visit to the Greek capital
Sean Newsom

Chaps, it looks as if we’re running out of arguments. In the long-running dispute over who should have the Elgin Marbles — the exquisite frieze sawn off the Parthenon between 1801 and 1805, and currently housed in the British Museum — the Greeks may have just played the winning card.

Yesterday, Athens saw the official opening of the state-of-the-art Acropolis Museum, almost within touching distance of the monument itself.

And the top floor, which is specifically designed to house the controversial sculptures, is the finest display case you’re ever likely to see.

Walled on all four sides by glass, the floor reconstructs both the frieze and the 92 metope sculptures set within it in something like their entirety.

Plaster casts take the place of the sections that are missing — and for a British visitor, they make for extremely uncomfortable viewing. We’re not the only nation that has taken bits of the building.

The Louvre has some of it, and there are fragments in Würzburg and Copenhagen, but it’s clear from the endlessly repeated initials “BM” (British Museum) on the information plaques that we’ve got all the best bits.

We can argue all we like about how we saved the sculpture from years of turmoil in Greece, but with this room finally completed, it’s obvious where they now belong.

You can imagine the fanfare that has accompanied the opening. I was at the preview for the Greek press on Wednesday, and even that was blessed by a bishop and attended by the kind of paparazzi scrum you’d expect for Britney.

And if it makes you wonder whether it might be time to stretch the resources and plan a visit to see what all the fuss is about, then you’d be right.

Just don’t go for the museum alone. The irony inherent in the project is that, with most of its star attraction missing, the collection feels half-baked. It does have its moments.

The caryatids are here — the graceful women/pillars that used to support the southern porch of the Erechtheion (and yes, the British Museum has one of these too).

There’s also a particularly fine explanation of classical Athenian weddings, using fragments of vases. For the moment, though, this is more a political statement than a world-class collection. If you’re after dazzling artefacts and original sculpture, you need to go to the National Archaeological Museum, just a couple of stops north on the Athens Metro.

Instead, consider the new museum as the final touch in the rehabilitation of the whole Acropolis site and you won’t be disappointed. The really important step was made before the 2004 Olympics, when the roads around it were pedestrianised.

Now, instead of the roar of traffic, you get cafe conversation and birdsong.

The intellectual and emotional buzz that comes from visiting such a dramatic and significant monument is accompanied by sensual summer pleasure, too.

Athens may be one of the most congested cities in Europe, but you won’t feel it here, staring up at the Parthenon’s columns as they turn to gold in the evening sunlight. Suddenly, your high-speed city break will feel like a proper holiday.

Beat that, Bloomsbury.

Sean Newsom travelled as a guest of Aegean Airlines and the Athens Hilton

Travel brief

Getting there: fly to Athens from Stansted with Aegean Airlines (0871 200 0040, aegeanair.com); from Heathrow with British Airways (0844 493 0787, ba.com) or Olympic Airlines (0871 200 0500, olympicairlines.com); or from Luton, Gatwick or Man­chester with EasyJet (easyjet.com). Olympic also flies from Manchester; Aer Lingus (0818 365­000, aerlingus.com) flies from Dublin.

Where to stay: for all-singing, all-dancing luxury, it’s hard to beat the Hilton (00800 4445 8667, hiltonathens.gr; doubles from £150, room-only), which comes with three pools and a glamorous (if expensive) rooftop bar. Closer in, the mid-range Adrian (00 30 210 322 1553, douros-hotels.com) has doubles with balconies for £130, B&B.

Visiting the museum: tickets for timed entry to the Acropolis Museum (theacropolismuseum.gr) can be booked online, and cost only €1 (85p) until December 31. For more infor­mation, visit breathtakingathens.com.

BBC News [4]

Page last updated at 09:29 GMT, Sunday, 21 June 2009 10:29 UK
Greece urges return of sculptures

Greek President Karolos Papoulias has renewed his country’s call for Britain to return sculptures removed from the Parthenon in Athens 200 years ago.

At the opening of the Acropolis Museum, Mr Papoulias said it was “time to heal the wounds” of the ancient temple.

The new museum, opened five years behind schedule, houses sculptures from the golden age of Athens.

The British Museum houses many of the surviving scultpures from the temple, and has refused to return them.

“Today the whole world can see the most important sculptures of the Parthenon assembled, but some are missing,” said Mr Papoulias.

“It’s time to heal the wounds of the monument with the return of the marbles which belong to it.”

The British Museum sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, originally decorated the Parthenon temple and have been in London since they were sold to the museum in 1817 by Lord Elgin.

He had them removed from the Acropolis when he was visiting Greece, then under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

The British Museum long argued that Greece had no proper place to put them – an argument the Greek government hopes the Acropolis Museum addresses.

The opening ceremony was attended by heads of state and government and cultural envoys from about 30 countries, the UN and the EU.

There were no government officials from Britain, but the most senior British guest, Bonnie Greer, the deputy head of the board of trustees of the British Museum, said she believed more strongly than ever that the marbles should remain in London.

She argued that in London they are displayed in an international cultural context.

She said a loan was possible, but that would require Greece to acknowledge British ownership, something Greece refuses.

The British Museum holds 75m of the original 160m of the frieze that ran round the inner core of the building.

‘Act of barbarism’

Their reconstruction in the Acropolis Museum is based on several elements that remain in Athens, as well as copies of the marbles in London.

The modern glass and concrete building, at the foot of the Acropolis, holds about 350 artefacts and sculptures from the golden age of Athens that were previously held in a small museum on top of the Acropolis.

The £110m ($182m; 130m euros) structure, set out over three levels, also offers panoramic views of the stone citadel where they came from.

The third floor features the reconstruction of the Parthenon Marbles.

The copies are differentiated by their white colour – because they are plaster casts, contrasting with the weathered marble of the originals.

Museum director Prof Dimitris Pandermalis said the opening of the museum provides an opportunity to correct “an act of barbarism” in the sculptures’ removal.

“Tragic fate has forced them apart but their creators meant them to be together,” he said.

Bernard Tschumi, the building’s US-based architect, said: “It is a beautiful space that shows the frieze itself as a narrative – even with the plaster copies of what is in the British Museum – in the context of the Parthenon itself.”

Xinhua [5]

New Acropolis Museum officially unveiled
http://www.chinaview.cn 2009-06-21 02:43:53

ATHENS, June 20 (Xinhua) — The galleries of the new Acropolis Museum that houses invaluable finds dating from the 4th Millennium BC to the 5th century AD found on the Sacred Hill of the Acropoliswere officially unveiled here on Saturday.

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.

The third level of the 25,000 square meters museum, offering an unparalleled view of the Parthenon atop the Acropolis a couple of hundred yards away, has been reserved for when the Marbles — as many Greeks devoutly hope — return.

Replicas of the sculptures in the British Museum which were taken from Parthenon’s frieze some 200 years ago are sitting next to those left in Greece. Visitors from across the world will admire the complete sculptures of the famous Parthenon Temple for the first time.

Greek President Karolos Papoulias, Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis as well as heads of states and governments, the President of EU Jose Manuel Barros and the Director-General of UNESCO Koichiro Matsuura attended the opening ceremony.