Saturday, 20 June 2009

The New Acropolis Museum, Athens

I am so envious! - a friend is going to Athens for a week - to visit the new Acropolis Museum which opened with a big, lavish party yesterday.

New Acropolis Museum, by day. Notice The Parthenon way in the back, at the top of the hill.

This museum replaces the old, crowded 1874 museum next to the Parthenon. It boasts of 226,000 square feet of glass & concrete and was designed by the French-Swiss architect, Bernard Tschumi, based in New York. It has 5 floors and enough room for 4,000 artifacts.

But to a casual eye like me, the building looked stark & unimpressive.. but I am happy to be proven wrong by these rehearsal night views of the building :

Ancient figures are projected onto the wall of the new Acropolis museum as people take photographs in Athens on Friday, June 19, 2009.

Beautiful? Wait till you see the inside -

"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, Bernard Tschumi.

On the first level, a glass floor offers visitors close-up views of an early Christian settlement, dating from the 7th to 12th centuries, that was discovered under part of the future building’s footprint during excavations in 2002. The second floor, reached by a glass ramp, features a rich trove of free-standing objects from the archaic and classical periods.

On the third & fourth floor, is a glassy gallery. Rotated 23 degrees off the axis of the lower floors to parallel the Parthenon itself, this rectangular glass enclosure feels dramatically different from the rest of the museum.

This gallery holds the remains of the original Parthenon sculptures and marble frieze. Fragments of sculptures & 79 out of 115 panels of Parthenon's marble frieze were 'taken' (see Controversies - The Past) to London by Lord Elgin 200 years ago and now 'resides' in the British Museum.

Parts of the 'taken' sculptures were copied, casted in plaster and placed beside the original honey coloured marble - thus making a calculated & strong protest statement! “We wanted it this way,” said Dimitris Pandermalis, the museum’s director. “Who will fail to notice that a torso is here and a head in England?”

At the opening ceremony of the new Acropolis Museum, foreign dignitaries & officials were present but the British government officials were conspicuiously missing!

Controversies ! The Present
The museum was supposed to be completed & opened during the Athens Olympics but was locked in legal battles for years, related to the 25 buildings that were to be demolished to make way for the massive building. Even til now, many are not happy with its location - wedged among Neo-classical buildings & ultra modern apartment blocks in a middle-class residential area. Nikos Dimou, a prominent Greek author laments, "It is as if a titanic U.F.O. landed in the neighborhood, obliterating all of its surrounding structures”

Controversies ! The Past
The 'taken' frieze & sculptures were nicknamed 'Elgin Marbles'. Lord Elgin, a British diplomat originally brought in artists to make sketches, take measurements, make molds & plaster casts of Partenon's treasures to send back to London as a way of preserving & appreciating Greek art, considered the purest form of art. But he found that it was relatively easy to acquire the real pieces from Turkish officials (in power at that time). His purpose, many argued, was noble - to rescue Greek artifacts from pilferation by parties who do not realise its artistic & historical value. It is said that people were grinding up the sculptures for its lime content. Many considered him a thief, stealing Greek's national treasures..

For more of this saga, check out Matt Barrett's :
Barrett's suggestion (2002) - "Lord Elgin's intent was to make molds and drawings of the great works of the ancient Greeks, to bring back to England. Instead he brought back the originals. So make the drawings and the molds and send the marbles home. They have been in England long enough and for those visiting the museum I think copies will suffice. If people want to see the real thing they can come to Athens. "

And now they have a brand new home to come back to !


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