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Athens, the Acropolis Museum

Athens, the Acropolis Museum

Marie Lecocq - 2010-04-26

Nearly one year after its inauguration, the sparkling new Athens Acropolis Museum is still bereft of the long-awaited Parthenon Marbles held by the British Museum. Designed by the Greco-Swiss tandem Michalis Fotiadis Bernard and Tschumi, the luminous building has received plenty of media attention nevertheless.

A star-crossed museum?
Is the Acropolis Museum ill-starred? That’s what was written in the French newspaper Le Monde the day of its inauguration, 20 June 2009. But if the number of tickets sold during its first six months is any indication, things are not so bad! Enthusiasts and sceptics, Greeks and curious visitors from the world over have flocked to this modern temple of Hellenic culture. Athenians, who were not overly fond of the old museum (considered cramped and isolated), had long been anticipating the event. 
Let there be light!
Along with the generous Attican sun, let us shine some light on the premises. First surprise: the visit begins outside. In front of the cavernous museum entrance, a section of the archaeological site is clearly visible, giving visitors a very concrete idea of the Acropolis’ grandeur during its glory days. The great hall of the ground floor presents the findings of archaeological digs carried out on the slopes of the Acropolis Hill. On the first floor, the sculptures and remnants from the Archaic period are bathed in an ideal light. This is where you will find the legendary Caryatids, minus one (guess where she is!). The star attraction on the top floor is the re-created frieze designed as an exact image of Phidias’s chef-d’œuvre. Even though the British Museum has kept some of the key elements, museum-goers can get a real feel for the Parthenon, as the Acropolis and its archaeological artefacts are experienced directly through the windows of this ‘glass cube’. One can’t help but be moved by the result, despite the bright white replicas which call to mind the horrendous desecration of the Athena Nike temple.
Costa Gavras censured
The British have not been the only culprits - everyone seems to have participated in the mutilations, including early Christians who found the nudes too scandalous to allow. In his short film made for the new museum, the Greek director Costa Gavras shows them destroying certain sculptures - two short seconds of cinema which caused such an outcry that the film was not projected for several days (the official version, according to museum management, is that certain visitors were terribly shocked).
 A controversial, symbolic and legendary site
So what do the Greeks think of their new museum? Highly symbolic, it is also highly polarizing. Avgi, a student, says that, ‘it is a superb building which does a fine job of spotlighting the exhibited objects.’ The lighting is soft and ubiquitous and the second storey and its gorgeous panoramic view have swayed even the harshest critics of the ultramodern architecture. According to Andreas, a translator, ‘even if the museum is a handsome addition to the city’s architectural heritage, the collection itself is rather mediocre.’ Kiriakos, a foreman in the capital, even finds the first floor to be ‘quite chaotic!’ And when Amalia, an architect, says that she was, ‘expecting something better,’ one gets the general idea. Years of patient waiting, plus the disappointed hopes of retrieving an important part of the lost heritage of Athens created enormous expectations within the Greek population. Controversial, already a legend in its own right, the new Acropolis Museum is still a hot topic. In any case, it’s a must-see for anyone spending time in the Greek capital.  
 
 
 
The Acropolis Museum
Dionysiou Areopagitou Street
Athens

Nearly one year after its inauguration, the sparkling new Athens Acropolis Museum is still bereft of the long-awaited Parthenon Marbles held by the British Museum. Designed by the Greco-Swiss tandem Michalis Fotiadis Bernard and Tschumi, the luminous building has received plenty of media attention nevertheless.

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