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New Acropolis museum-perfect home for Parthenon marbles?

June 19, 2009

Black-robed Orthodox priests chanted and sprinkled holy water to bless Greece’s new, ultra-modern Acropolis Museum, which opens officially on June 20 with the hope of bringing back the Parthenon marbles from Britain.

What if early Christians tore down statues and temples in a effort to eradicate paganism? The ancient, medieval and modern merged seemlessly during the ceremony held ahead of the formal inauguration.

“Art elevates man,” said the bishop officiating. “I bless all those who worked for this museum.”

The stunning, glass and concrete building at the foot of the Acropolis had almost as turbulent a history as the ancient monument itself. Neighbours fought for years in court to move it away, international design contests were cancelled and finally ruins were found right beneath it, requiring a complete redesign.

“All great projects challenge and scandalise,” said Culture Minister Antonis Samaras. “But it is these projects that mark their era.”

Built specifically to provide proper space for the Parthenon marbles, many of which are now in the British Museum, the new museum’s dark glass shell rises among residential buildings just 400 metres from the Acropolis and offers visitors a direct view of the temple to the goddess Athena – the crowing glory of the Golden Age of Athens, which laid the foundations of Western art and values.

For Greeks, who feel the connection to their ancient ancestors as if they were only a generation apart, this museum is much more than a great cultural building. It is a major weapon in getting back what they feel is an integral part of their identity – the Parthenon marbles, torn from the temple and taken to Britain 200 years ago by Lord Elgin, then ambassador to the Ottoman empire.

“The dialogue with the British Museum is now on a different basis,” museum director Dimitris Pantermalis told reporters on a sneak tour of the top floor – where the Parthenon marbles are displayed, the missing pieces clearly marked.

The late actress and culture minister Melina Mercouri fought hard for years to convince the British Museum to return the art works, to no effect. One of their main arguments was that the “Elgin Marbles” were better off in London, safe from the ravages of Athens pollution, as the Greeks had no place to put them.

The Greek case has changed over the years – from legal claims to the marbles to a moral argument that the monument was vandalised and must be put back together. Nowhere is this more obvious than the top hall of the new museum. White plaster casts of limbs, heads and animals stand next to the honey-coloured originals that Lord Elgin left behind.

“The Greeks have now excelled themselves in creating a place worthy of its breath-taking content,” wrote British author Christopher Hitchens in a New York Times column. “It is impossible to visit Athens and not yearn for the day Britain decides to right an ancient wrong.”

(The famous Elgin Marbles on display at the British Museum June 5. Controversy continues over whether Britain should return the invaluable artifacts to their country of origin, Greece. IW)

Comments

Those that know say that the main reason that the British Museum doesn’t accept the claim, is not that they dismiss the arguments associated with it, but actually they fear it will set a precedent for returning to the countries of origin all ancient artifacts.However one should note that the position of Greece, which itself is one of the countries with the most “expat” antiquities, is that the case of the Parthenon marbles is a unique case (I won’t go into repeating why, tons of ink has been written on this issue). Now if that would be the final understanding, then it would actually strengthen the case of the British Museum that foreign museums should be able to host and wn antiquities.

Posted by Vasileios Savvidis | Report as abusive
 

The exhibits of the British Museum were stolen from Acropolis of Athens during the Turkish occupation of Greece and just before the Greek revolution. The temple of Parthenon was cut and some of its pieces were transfered by sea (note: some boats sunk during the operation) into Britain. It is very fair that Greek people want to reunify their greatest monument of all times.

Posted by Dimitris | Report as abusive
 

The Acropolis Museum is spectacular and would honor the repatriation of the extracted and exported marbles.

Posted by Spyros | Report as abusive
 

There was an argument that the marbles were better off in London because they would be safe from the ravages of Athens pollution? But, apparently, by leaving Athens some marbles weren’t safe from sinking. What kind of argument are we talking about?

 

It is time for the “green and pleasant” land to show to the world it is also just and fair, and true to the intellectual, moral and cultural values of its people. There are no more valid arguements against the return of the Parthenon Marbles, removed by Lord Elgin, arguably vandalizing the monument. The new Acropolis Museum is more than technicaly adequate, contextualy appropriate and historicaly relevant to exhibit the marbles.The Parthenon is a building and its decoration an integral part.It’s not a painting, not a standalone sculpture, not a mummy, not a rosetta’s stone.

Posted by Kostas | Report as abusive
 

I wonder whether the British will feel shame when they go to ancient Olympia to get the olympic flame!!!!!!

Posted by citizen of the world | Report as abusive
 

they can pay us for them if they want. why should we just give them back?

Posted by billy | Report as abusive
 

This is a reply to Billy’s comment:Simply because they were stolen.

Posted by Sophia | Report as abusive
 

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