The New Acropolis Museum is one of the highest profile cultural projects of the decade in Europe. It was built at the slopes of the Acropolis, by the New York-based architect Bernard Tschumi. The 21,000 square meters state-of-the-art facility, provides a safe haven for the Acropolis masterpieces. This is achieved with ideal interior atmospheric conditions and natural lighting while it provides a visual contact between the Parthenon Hall and the temple itself.
Visitors can enjoy, for the first time, the entire sculpted decoration of the Parthenon as it was on the ancient building even if this is achieved through combining original sculptures with copies of those in the British Museum. The new Acropolis Museum has five floors that provide space for 4,000 artifacts, ten times the number displayed in the old building.
We visited the museum 3 days after its official opening on June 20 and were completely overwhelmed by the unsurpassed quality of the masterpieces of ancient Athens, most of which we had never seen before as they were carefully kept from the public eye for years. We had the opportunity to go around and study free-standing statues at close range, to inquire about the missing Caryatid which is currently held at the British Museum and photograph a variety of ancient inscriptions, anything from votive offerings to Gods to honorary decrees and treaties with other city-states dating from the 6th century B.C.
In another section of the museum, weathered original sculptures from the Parthenon frieze stand in contrast to white reproductions of the part which is currently in the British Museum and as The New York Times points out, this is more than a subtle pitch for the return of the marbles. The Parthenon Marbles, a series of seventeen marble sculptures and a 160-meter-long frieze depicting the gods and heroes of classical Athens, were forcefully removed from the Acropolis by the British Ambassador Elgin in 1801 and later sold to the British Museum where they have been held since 1811. Back then, several of these sculptures were permanently damaged as they were sawn and sliced into smaller sections to facilitate their transfer to England. Lord Byron himself strongly objected their removal from Greece denouncing Elgin as a vandal.
Is it time to return the Parthenon Marbles? Many Greeks hope the opening of the museum will bring international attention to their country’s claim over the Elgin Marbles, and put an end to Britain’s longtime argument that it is in a better position to look after the 2,500-year-old panels. Despite the British Museum’s position on the ownership of the marbles and the continuing denial of its officers to return the hacked off sculptures, the public opinion in the UK favours the return of the Parthenon Marbles according to several polls that have been conducted since 1998.