Friday, August 31: After wandering around Plaka, I venture into the new 130-million-euro Acropolis Museum, opened with much fanfare in 2009. Passing outdoor cafes and a peanut vendor, I walk along the southern foothills of the Acropolis itself, to the entrance at Dionysiou Areopagitou Street. Outside the door is something I will see numerous times in Greece: a glassed-over excavation, showcasing an archeological dig. I pay the entrance fee of 5 euros, still feeling unsettled about my lost luggage.
The new museum is apparently ten times larger than the former on-site museum. This huge modernist building collects the surviving treasures of the Acropolis, including items held at other museums or in storage, along with pieces returned from foreign museums — a total of over 4,000 artifacts. The museum’s collections focus on the Acropolis of the 5th century BC, generally agreed to be the height of Greece’s artistic achievement.
In the first gallery past the turnstiles, the glass floor slopes upwards in sync with the finds displayed from the slopes of the Acropolis. This ascending floor alludes to the climb up the sacred hill, while allowing glimpses of the ruins below. Not understanding that no photography is allowed in this gallery, I snap a picture of the painted vases below. A guard walks over to reprimand me… Oops! Other artifacts include votive offerings from the sanctuaries where the gods were worshiped. Many finds from the excavated settlements are featured, including everyday household items used by Athenians of all historical periods as well as two clay statues of Nike at the entrance. (The Gallery of the Slopes of the Acropolis). In ancient times, the slopes of the Sacred Rock constituted the transition zone between the city and its most famous sanctuary. Here official and popular cults, as well as large and small sanctuaries, existed alongside private homes.
The first floor Archaic Gallery is surrounded by glass, allowing the exhibits to be seen in natural light. Archaic is the period throughout the 7th century BC, until the end of the Persian Wars (480/79 BC). This period is characterized by the development of the city-state and the transition from aristocracy to tyranny and, eventually, democracy. It is also characterized by great achievements in the economy, art and intellectual life. Sadly, no photography is allowed on this floor. Most statues are 6th century kore (maiden) statues in draped gowns and elaborate braids, carrying a bird, pomegranate or wreath.
In this gallery is also a 570 BC youth bearing a calf, one of the rare male statues here.
The top floor Parthenon Gallery, a glass atrium built in alignment with the temple, is the museum’s highlight. According to the Museum’s website: “The installation of the frieze of the Parthenon on the rectangular cement core that has exactly the same dimensions as the cella of the Parthenon enables a comprehensive viewing of the details of the frieze, as one takes the perimetric walk of the Gallery. The narrative of the story of the Panathenaic Procession is pieced together with a combination of the original blocks of the frieze and cast copies of the pieces in museums abroad, such as the British Museum and the Louvre.” The British Museum bought the original Parthenon Marbles after Lord Elgin absconded with them in 1801; currently more than half the frieze is in Britain.
The museum was designed by U.S.-based architect Bernard Tschumi, with Greek architect Michael Photiadis, and stunningly showcases layers of history, hovering above the ruins and with the Acropolis visible above, allowing us to see the masterpieces in context. I love the design of the museum and how it is interwoven with the Acropolis itself; I also love all the natural light and especially the layout of the Parthenon Gallery, which is the closest thing to being able to experience the Acropolis as a whole.
Between being upset about my lost luggage and the sheer exhaustion from my flight two days earlier from the USA to Oman and then from Oman to Greece, I am ready to relax for the evening. I head straight back to my hotel, where I go directly to the lobby and order a glass of Greek wine….
Tuesday to Sunday: 8.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m.
Last admission: 7.30 p.m.
Galleries cleared at 7.45 p.m.
The Museum is open every Friday until 10 p.m.
Closed: 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 25 December and 26 December.