15 Dionysiou Areopagitou,
Athens 117 42
Today, the New Acropolis Museum opens in Athens, Greece. It is positioned 300 metres from the Acropolis itself, so that visitors will be able to see it – the source of the objects before them – from the windows of the museum.
On display are seven collections, titled: The Acropolis Slopes (The Settlement; The Sanctuaries); The Acropolis During the Archaic Period (The Hekatompedon; The Ancient Temple; The Votives); The Parthenon (The Monument; The Metopes; The Pediments; The Frieze); Other Monuments of the Classical Acropolis (The Propylaia; The Temple of Athena Nike; The Erechtheion); The Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia; The Votives of the Classical & Hellenistic Periods; The Votives of the Roman Periods. But there is one more component: metal ramps will take visitors to the ongoing excavation taking place at the museum’s lower levels. The excavation concerns an ancient Athenian neighbourhood, where houses, baths, shops, workshops and roads have been uncovered.
The building is designed by architect Bernard Tschumi of New York and Paris. It is near ten times the size of its 19th century predecessor, with 14,000 square metres of exhibition space. The building, although very modern, is intent to offer a “simple and precise museum with the mathematical clarity of ancient Greece.” The exhibits will operate largely on “ambient natural light,” which Tschumi says will complement the sculptures best. (The state-of-the-art glass will protect the displays from any ill-effects of heat and sun).
The design of the museum is to “provide visitors with all the key information gleaned from the archaeological finds from the Acropolis.” It is also seen as a nationalistic statement. Antonis C. Samaras, Greek Minister of Culture, says the New Acropolas Musuem is “a whole nation’s duty to its cultural heritage” and a “part of our soul, of who we are…”
And this is where that old debate comes in: should the Elgin Marbles be repatriated or should they stay at the British Museum? The Frieze room at the New Acropolis Museum displays the marbles reproduced alongside those blocks still owned by the Greeks (which total 50 of the original 160 metres – the British Museum has 80). White-washed and indented against the wall, the reproductions are an aggressive demand to the British Museum to give the marbles back to Greece. Samaras also writes of his “anticipation that eventually – better sooner than later – they will be re-united in their birth place and in the integral form they were meant to be.”
This piece does not mean to express any opinions on the subject. For the debate, I suggest reading Huntley Dent’s “Reflections on the Elgin Marbles” (which argues for the repatriation of the Marbles) and Michael Miller’s” The Elgin Marbles: Another View” (which expresses the benefits of having them at the British Museum).
Elgin Marbles or no Elgin Marbles, the New Acropolis Museum offers an exciting new space for the visitor to observe, appreciate and learn from a wealth of exquisite objects, and do so in the vicinity of the geographical context that produced them.
From 21 June to 31 December 2009, tickets are €1.