Posts Tagged With: Caryatids

The New Acropolis Museum

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.

Entrance to New Acropolis Museum

Notice the glass floor between the stairs and the open area where you can observe the work below

Entrance to New Acropolis Museum

Jim, Brian, and Abi at entrance to New Acropolis Museum with view of archeological dig below

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.

Everyday items found on the slopes of the Acropolis

Everyday items found on the slopes of the Acropolis and glass floor on the first level

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.

Photo showing pediment is at the top with metopes underneath on the Parthenon

Blue line points to pediment and red line points to metopes at the top of the Parthenon

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.

Parthenon Gallery

Brian ad Abi with the Parthenon marbles: pediment sculptures, frieze, and metopes

Parthenon Gallery

Jim viewing the Parthenon marbles with the Acropolis visible through the window

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




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The Acropolis

A tour of ancient Athens begins at the Acropolis and my advice is to start early because it will soon be totally over-run with tourists. Arriving right after the 8 am opening, we had the place nearly to ourselves.

Acropolis means high city, also called the sacred rock, and this iconic citadel is where people in ancient times sought refuge when the city below was threatened.  A rocky hill overlooking the city is easier to defend, so it makes sense that the most important and sacred monuments were also erected here.  The Acropolis went through many iterations but the ruins that are present today were built in the 5th century BCE after the previous structures were destroyed by the Persians.  This new construction occurred under the oversight of the statesman, Pericles, during the golden age of Athens and during the lifetime of the philosopher, Socrates.  (He’s the dude who proclaimed, “The unexamined life is not worth living” before he drank hemlock when sentenced to death for impiety which basically means he advocated questioning the religious beliefs of the day, aka Greek mythology.)

You’ll enter through the Propylaea, a monumental gateway built around 437 BCE that was definitely designed to impress the visitor.

Propylon, Entrance to Acropolis

Brian, Jim, and Abi at the Propylaea, Entrance to Acropolis

Entrance to Acropolis

Entrance to Acropolis

This fellow, however, doesn’t seem too impressed.  It’s just another day in the neighborhood for him.  Don’t be surprised by the number of dogs or the scaffolding you see when you visit.  Only some of the dogs are actually strays and 2500 year old ruins require shoring up on a regular basis.  The current restoration project has been in progress for over 30 years.

Once inside the gates, the main attraction is the Parthenon, a temple built in 432 BCE to honor Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and (sometimes) war, after whom the city of Athens is named.

Michael, Jim, and me at the Parthenon

Michael, Jim, and me at the Parthenon

A chryselephantine (ivory and gold) statue of Athena originally stood 40 feet tall in the center of the temple until the Byzantines took it to Constantinople in the 5th Century AD, where it disappeared sometime thereafter.  Athena held a six foot statue of Nike, the goddess of victory, in her right hand and in her left she held her shield with a snake behind it.

Today, a smaller replica is on display in the National Archeological Museum in Athens.

Statue of Athena in the National Archeological Museum Athens

Statue of Athena in the National Archeological Museum Athens

Much of the damage to the Parthenon that is still visible today occurred in 1687 when mainland Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire.  At that time the Parthenon was used as a storehouse for ammunition.  (Previously, it was a mosque among other things.)  When the Venetians attacked, cannonballs striking the Parthenon caused the gunpowder stored inside to explode, killing at least 300 people and destroying 28 of the columns along with other damage to the edifice (Nova, 2008).

As an interesting side note, there is a full-scale replica of the Parthenon and the statue of Athena in, of all places, Nashville, Tennessee, in the USA. The Parthenon replica was built in 1897 as part of the state’s centennial celebration and the statue of Athena was completed in 1990 although the gold gilt wasn’t added until 2002.

The Erechtheion is a smaller temple on the Acropolis which was home to the famous Caryatids, six massive female statues.  Their meaning has been lost but their existence has not.  Five of the originals are housed nearby in the New Acropolis Museum and what you see today on the Acropolis are exact replicas.  The sixth is in the British Museum in London.  More on that later.

Erechtheion on the Acropolis

Erechtheion on the Acropolis


Caryatids on Display at the New Acropolis Museum

There is also another small temple on the Acropolis, Athena Nike, which is often overlooked because it’s to the right of the Propylaea upon entry.  Unfortunately, I overlooked it and didn’t get a photo. I did, however, photograph the elevator that makes the Acropolis accessible to the disabled.  That’s probably often overlooked as well.

Elevator up the Acropolis

Elevator up the Acropolis

And here are a couple more scenes from around the Acropolis.

View from Acropolis

View of Athens from the Acropolis

Acropolis from Below

Looking up at the Acropolis from below

Next time  we’ll visit the New Acropolis Museum as we continue our tour of Athens.

Based on events from 2009 and 2013



Nova, (2008). Secrets of the Parthenon.  Retrieved from


Categories: Greece, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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