June 9, 2008

Will the buildings in front of the New Acropolis Museum be demolished?

Posted at 3:28 pm in Greece Archaeology, New Acropolis Museum

The saga of the buildings blocking the view of the New Acropolis Museum keeps on running. Whilst I’m not disputing the architectural merit of the front facades of these buildings, one wonders if many people payed much attention to them until they were faced with demolition.

Guardian Blogs

Acropolis v art deco: Athens’s divided view
If it comes to a choice between an obstructed view of the Acropolis and the destruction of exemplary art deco architecture, which do you choose?
June 9, 2008 8:00 AM

A row is raging at the foot of the Acropolis. It goes like this: should pilgrims to a new museum dedicated to the world’s pre-eminent classical site be allowed to have an unimpeded view of the 5th-century BC masterpiece at the expense of two rather more contemporaneous cultural gems? Or should the monuments in question – listed buildings whose contribution to art deco is among the best in Europe – be allowed to stay? Put another way, can the city’s great classical heritage coexist with the architectural heritage of its midwar period?

All these are questions that a panel of Supreme Court judges in the Greek capital has begun to ponder only months before the opening of the €130m museum. If Athens’s centre-right government had its way, the offending buildings would have been torn down last summer, when it took the controversial decision to have them “de-listed” as protected monuments – preservation orders that conservationists had fought hard and fast to win back in the seventies and eighties. In a highly contentious move, Giorgos Voulgarakis, the former culture minister, gave the green light for their demolition after it was discovered that the edifices rather inconveniently blocked the view of the sacred rock from the new museum’s mezzanine-level restaurant.

Unless razed, he snorted, visitors would not only have to put up with an “interrupted” vista of the Periclean masterpiece – when unequalled views of the Acropolis had been the new museum’s great selling point. Even worse, they’d have to feast their eyes on two buildings whose backsides were anything but fetching (even if their façades seen from the vantage point of Dionysiou Areopagitou, one of the most beautiful walkways in Europe, were fabulous).

What neither the government nor the Archaeological Council – whose discredited chairman has since been replaced – counted on was the furore the decision would cause, or the mobility and ability of campaigners to amass protest votes.

The idea that two early 20th-century architectural gems – one designed by a friend of Pablo Picasso, the other belonging to the Oscar-winning composer Vangelis Papathanasiou of Chariots of Fire fame – could be demolished in a city bereft of much beautiful urban landscape has, quite rightly, incensed the likes of the World Architectural Council, ICOMOS (the International Council for Monuments and Sites) and art deco societies around the world.

With the Supreme Court not set to announce its decision for several months yet, the hullabaloo now threatens to eclipse the grand opening of a museum in which Greeks one day hope to house the Parthenon Marbles – and, much more than that, which they have wanted for decades.

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