Greek Museum Planners Prepare for Herculean Task

The new Acropolis museum in Greece is scheduled to open early next year.
The new Acropolis museum in Greece is scheduled to open early next year. (Thanassis Stavrakis - AP)
By Nicholas Paphitis
Associated Press
Wednesday, May 30, 2007

ATHENS, May 29 -- The Acropolis sculptures survived on the ancient hill for 2,500 years despite war, weather and looting. But their remaining days there are numbered.

Three hundred marble statues soon will be moved off the Acropolis to a new museum, Greek officials said Tuesday.

The sculptures, weighing up to 2 1/2 tons each, were carved in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. to decorate the Parthenon and other temples. Most are now exhibited in a small museum on the Acropolis.

A new glass and concrete museum, at the foot of the hill specifically to house all the Acropolis finds, will open in early 2008, Culture Minister George Voulgarakis said. A huge operation will start in September to move the marble works to the new facility, he said.

"It will be a very difficult undertaking," said Voulgarakis. "This has never been done before. [But] I think everything will go well."

Three cranes, standing up to 165 feet tall, will relay the sculptures from the old museum on the Acropolis to the new $174 million building -- a distance of about a quarter-mile.

Among the works to be moved will be four caryatids from the Erechtheion temple -- decorative statues that held up a small porch -- and sections of the Parthenon pediment and 530-foot frieze.

The sculptures will be stored in foam-packed metal boxes, while the cranes are designed to absorb shocks that could damage the precious works.

The operation will cost $3.4 million and is scheduled to finish by the end of this year, Voulgarakis said. The old Acropolis museum will close to visitors in July to facilitate the move, he said.

"It will depend on the weather, too," he said. "Our main concern was to ensure the works' safe transportation and that minimal damage is caused to the monuments. The cost is not a concern."

The move will be insured, although that could be complicated.

"These works are beyond price," Voulgarakis said. "Nobody can set a precise value to one of the caryatids."

Initially scheduled for completion before the 2004 Athens Olympics, construction of the 215,000-square-foot museum was delayed by long-running legal fights and new archaeological discoveries at the site.

The top of the two-story building will be a glass hall containing the Parthenon sculptures. The glass walls will allow visitors a direct view of the ancient temple.

Blank spaces will be left for sculptures removed from the Parthenon two centuries ago by British diplomat Lord Elgin, which are now in the British Museum in London. Greece has campaigned long and unsuccessfully for their return.

In addition to the Parthenon sculptures, the 150,000-square-foot exhibition area will contain more than 4,000 works -- 10 times the number on display in the old museum. Most have never been exhibited before.

"Many more of the Parthenon's sculptures will be on view in the new display, including many that are now in storage, or fragments that have been reassembled in the 1980s and 1990s," said archaeologist Alexandros Mantis.

The new museum was designed by U.S.-based architect Bernard Tschumi in collaboration with Greece's Michael Photiades. It will incorporate, under a glass cover, building remains from a 3rd-to-7th-century Athenian neighborhood discovered in the 1990s during preliminary work on the site.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company