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Why has the New Acropolis Museum become so controversial

The New Acropolis Museum was redesigned specifically to avoid creating problems with the archaeological site that it sits over. Many people in Greece (I suspect largely for political reasons) are continuing to raise objections to it, seemingly glossing over everything that it does to avoid damaging the site & instead talking about the potential for destruction. The reality is than anywhere you build in central Athens, you will be on archaeological remains. The building surrounding the Acropolis Museum doubtless damaged large areas of remains when they themselves were built. Far more than most buildings in Greece, this one is deliberately designed around the ruins that it shares the plot of land with, yet people continue to obstruct it construction. Surely though, looking at it pragmatically, it is better to have the building constructed as it is proposed, than to have no building at all? If the objections carry on in this way, a great opportunity for Greece will end up being lost.

Washington Post [1]

Marbles Lost and Found
In the Parthenon’s Shadow, an Old Grievance Gets Put on a Pedestal
By Kirstin Downey Grimsley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 29, 2002; Page C01

ATHENS — A $100 million museum being built here in hopes of shaming the British government into giving back sculptures taken two centuries ago is creating controversy in Greece, where a growing number of critics say the government is damaging other antiquities in a rush to make the museum ready in time for the 2004 Olympics.

They charge that excavation at the museum’s site at the foot of the great Acropolis citadel has uncovered substantial Roman, Byzantine and Stone Age ruins that provide vivid archaeological snapshots of ancient Athens, and that development should be delayed while the remains are studied.

“What is happening is a crime,” said Giorgos Dontas, president of Athens’s archaeological society, who has urged the Greek government to pick another site for the museum, even if it delays construction by a decade.

Greek officials defend their selection, saying all antiquities uncovered there are being properly protected and catalogued — and some outside experts agree. Work must continue, officials say, because a new facility is vitally needed to take over from a small Acropolis museum that isn’t big enough to properly exhibit the trove of items found over the centuries.

Under the government’s plan, the museum’s prime exhibit would be sculptures that once graced the Parthenon, the columned temple that is the Acropolis’s centerpiece. Taken away in 1801 by British diplomat Lord Elgin, the sculptures are now on display at the British Museum in London as the Elgin Marbles. So far, the British government has refused to give them up.

The construction site, located just off the ancient Plaka district in Athens, is closed off from public view, but from the bedroom windows of an adjacent apartment building, a dense honeycomb of ruins is visible, partially draped by a canvas tarp flapping in the wind.

Dismayed residents there have taken pictures that appear to show construction workers taking to ancient walls with pickaxes and jackhammers.

“It’s pure vandalism,” said prominent Greek artist Yiannis Hainis, who has gathered 300 signatures from Greek intellectuals opposing the museum’s construction.

Greek Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos has pledged that the new Acropolis Museum will be ready by 2004, regardless of the controversy. In a statement released last week, he said that newspaper reports in Britain raising questions about the project were intended to alienate International Olympic Committee officials who were visiting Greece.

Achilles Paparsenos, a spokesman for the Greek government in Washington, said the antiquities found at the new museum site were being handled with “every care.”

Greek officials have spent years deliberating over the location and design of the museum, which will be built on stilts to avoid disturbing the remains underneath. Huge windows would allow visitors to catch glimpses of the Parthenon high overhead and the ruins below while they view exhibits.

The Parthenon marbles were removed from Greece when the nation was ruled by the Ottoman Turks; Greeks have always regarded the transfer as a case of looting. “The marbles have been stripped from the place where they were supposed to be,” said Paparsenos. “The reunification of the marbles with the monument is something we really believe should be done.”

Greece has made their return a point of diplomatic friction with Britain for decades, but so far without success, despite the help of a group of sympathetic British parliamentarians. British officials maintain that their country acquired the marbles legally, preserved them for future generations and have suggested that Greece is not capable of properly protecting and displaying them.

Construction of the museum is intended to undermine the last of those contentions. The project is part of a vast effort by the Greek government to ready the Acropolis for the flood of tourists expected when the Summer Games return in two years to the nation where they were born.

More than 80 engineers, architects and stonemasons are working steadily to repair damage created by time, pollution and previous restoration attempts.

A construction crane now looms 50 feet high in the middle of the Parthenon, near the spot where an imposing ivory-and-gold statue of the goddess Athena once held court. Workers are using the crane to lift tons of chipping alabaster marble, which is then repaired and put back in its proper location. Efforts are also underway to repair damage left where concrete and iron were used to hold stone pieces, reassembled puzzlelike from piles of rubble, in place. Engineers now know that when iron rusts, it causes marble to crack and discolor, and that concrete can turn into a growth medium for algae.

At the 2,500-year-old ruins, today’s restorers are using pioneering laser and microwave devices to clean off a dark crust caused by air pollution.

The beautiful little Temple of Athena Nike, which normally stands guard over the entryway to the Acropolis complex, has been disassembled, awaiting the insertion of a titanium skeleton that engineers expect will hold it firmly together, without danger of rust.

Greek archaeologist Lena Lambrinou, who is overseeing the Parthenon restoration effort, stood on the temple’s steps at midday recently, inspecting the work. She said archaeologists working atop the Acropolis and at the new museum take their responsibility very seriously, and that every effort is being made to assure nothing of value is damaged.

“We’re trying to be ready for the Olympics, but the main thing is to do the right job, not to do it quick and not well,” Lambrinou said, echoing other Greek officials.

Several classical archaeologists said they believed the government was proceeding responsibly, and that there were few other site choices in the densely packed city. Some who have visited the site said that the finds there were of minor interest, but were being well catalogued and handled with professionalism. In their view, the need for the exhibition space outweighed the value of the antiquities discovered there.

“There are pros and cons,” said Stephen G. Miller, a professor of classical archaeology at the University of California at Berkeley who has worked at many sites in Greece and is familiar with the museum project. “My personal feeling is that [the museum site] is the best possible solution to a difficult problem. There are going to be critics — there always are.”

Archaeologists say Greece faces unique difficulties because its long and rich history has deposited antiquities seemingly everywhere. “The whole country is like a museum,” said James Wiseman, a professor of archaeology at Boston University who directs the Center for Archaeological Studies there. “Every time they try to do anything — build a house, farm — they run into antiquities and the project needs to be stopped.”

Construction of the Athens subway system, for example, was delayed for 35 years as opponents argued that it would endanger too many priceless artifacts. It was only recently completed.

Repeated legal challenges have delayed but not blocked another Olympics-related venue, a rowing and canoeing center at an artificial lake to be built north of Athens. The site is on the coast where the Persians and Greeks fought the famous Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. Environmentalists say the development there would destroy a rare bird habitat, and historians have worried about endangering one of the world’s most famous battlefields.

Archaeologist Lambrinou said she remains optimistic that most of the temple complex will be ready by 2004, including the museum, and that Olympic visitors will get the best possible appreciation of the Acropolis, the single most important symbol of Greek civilization during the 5th century B.C., when democracy first flowered.

“Sometimes you can see miracles in Greece,” she said.