The new Acropolis Museum beautifully showcases the treasures of the Acropolis with views of the citadel from the new location. The old museum, situated on top of the Acropolis, displayed only a fraction of the artifacts but expansion was not an option in that space. The new facility, with 14,000 square meters of exhibition space, now displays over 4,000 objects. While I am not normally a fan of modern structures, this is an architectural masterpiece. Built over an archeological site, construction of the museum was required to preserve the site below and incorporate it into the architecture of the museum. Both goals were accomplished in an astonishing venue.
As you approach the entrance to the museum, below your feet you will see the archeological excavation through both an open area and glass floors. As you enter the museum, the glass floor continues on the first level of the museum allowing the visitor to view ancient archeological remains.
Inside, the exhibits are arranged in the order they are naturally found. As you enter on the main level you’ll see an incline to the second level. This slope simulates the walk up the Acropolis and every day artifacts uncovered on the slopes are displayed here.
The second level displays finds from the archaic period which preceded the building of the Parthenon, followed by a partial level that houses a coffee shop and terrace.
The fourth level contains the Parthenon Gallery, exhibiting marbles from the pediments, the frieze, and the metopes (meh’ toe pees). On the photo below, the blue line points to the location of the pediments and the red line points to the metopes. The frieze would have been at the same level as the metopes but on the inside of the temple so not visible here. Large sculptures depicting the birth of Athena from the head of her father, Zeus, and the battle of Athena and Poseidon over Attica were found on the two pediments (gables) on the east and west ends of the temple, respectively. The frieze depicts a Panathenaic procession which was a festival celebrating Athena’s birthday. Finally, the metopes are individual mythological scenes that were placed high on the outside of the temple just under the pediments.
The photo below shows large sculptures from the pediments, the continuous frieze, and the individual metopes above the frieze. They have been removed from the Parthenon and displayed for optimal viewing in the museum.
Leaving the Parthenon Gallery, the visitor is routed back to the second level where artifacts from the Propylaia, the Erechtheion with the Caryatids, and the temple of Athena Nike are displayed.
Items that were removed from the Acropolis over the years and not on display in the new Acropolis Museum are the subject of controversy. The most well-known of these controversies concerns the Elgin Marbles which are on display in the British Museum in London. At the risk of totally destroying my credibility, let me tell you about my first look at the Elgin Marbles. I’d read that they were one of the most famous exhibits housed in the British Museum and, although I was anxious to see them, I wondered what could be so special about some marbles. I mistakenly thought I was going to see half-inch diameter glass balls. Imagine my surprise when I saw the collection sculpted in marble which “includes sculptures from the Parthenon, roughly half of what now survives: 247 feet of the original 524 feet of frieze; 15 of 92 metopes; 17 figures from the pediments, and various other pieces of architecture. It also includes objects from other buildings on the Acropolis: the Erechtheion, the Propylaia, and the Temple of Athena Nike” (The British Museum). Oh.
So how did Lord Elgin come by the marbles and what’s the controversy? The Greek version is simply that they were looted from the Acropolis and should be returned to Greece for display at the new Acropolis Museum. The British version is that Thomas Bruce, Lord Elgin, saved the antiquities from destruction in the early 1800’s when he was British Ambassador to Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Mainland Greece was, at that time, part of the Ottoman Empire and mostly had been since 1456. The story goes that he was authorized by the Ottoman Empire to take antiquities and that he subsequently sold the marbles to the British government who then placed them in the British Museum (The British Museum).
The British long maintained that Greece didn’t have adequate facilities to protect or display the Elgin Marbles but that argument was effectively refuted with the opening of the new Acropolis Museum. Today, you can tell where the missing pieces belong in the exhibit as they are replaced by noticeable bright white plaster reproductions.
Incidentally, artifacts from the Acropolis can be found in other locations outside Greece such as the Louvre in Paris. But then there are Egyptian antiquities found all over the world, too, including some in Athens at the National Archeological Museum.
No agreement to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece has been reached to date.
Based on events from October, 2009 and April, 2013.
What are the Elgin Marbles? The British Museum. Retrieved from http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/articles/w/what_are_the_elgin_marbles.aspx