As the new reflects the old in Athens, Greece, so the ancient Parthenon is mirrored in the upper construction of the New Acropolis Museum, which opened this past June.
One of the most common criticisms heard about town, and from visitors themselves, is that the museum looks too modern for the antiquities it houses. But to understand this design, one must consider the motivations for building it in the first place: To encourage the British Museum to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece. As such, the construction shows off modern engineering designed to protect the statues and metopes from earthquake damage, and the multiple levels of security to support their importance. Be prepared to wait in a number of lines, first for tickets, again to have any handbags x-rayed, and then again for something else (I wouldn’t know for what, as an archaeologist I’m a grateful line jumper). As someone who remembers the old Acropolis museum up on the hill, there is no comparison. The natural light, the high ceilings, the arrangement of the artifacts, as well as the integration of the archaeological site they uncovered during construction make for a relaxed visit and lots to see.
Glass floors at ground level give a top view of the early Christian settlement uncovered during the construction of the museum. As a 3000 year-old cosmopolitan there are few places in Athens where a shovel in the ground is not met with pot sherds and wall stones. The integration of the site to the museum was not in the original conception, but was nicely executed. However, I questioned the social sensibility of the designer as I looked upwards to see more levels of glass floors…my only piece of advice for visiting the museum: don’t wear a skirt.
The organization of the Pathenon marbles on the top floor recreates their original order and relationships, to the best of our knowledge. Included are casts of pieces missing from the collection, with specifications when the original lies in the British Museum. This is done even when the only fragment in the New Acropolis Museum is an arm or a leg from an entire metope or statue. The entire third floor is surrounded by windows looking out to the Acropolis and the surrounding city. This element was probably my favorite, as it allows the visitors to appreciate the marbles in the context of a vibrant city, an effect that simulates being on the actual ancient Acropolis. Enjoying a coffee on the second floor cafe terrace allows one to continue appreciating the parallels of the ancient and modern city.
I won’t open up the debate on whether the Elgin marbles should or will be returned to their country of origin, but the Greeks have fulfilled their part of the deal. They have demonstrated that they can appropriately house the marbles that, in my opinion, rightly belong to them as a unified set. While I agree that the outside design would make for a nice contemporary art museum, the interior flow and light are a beautiful venue for the marbles. As a promotion, admission is only 1 Euro until the beginning of next year.
Athens Hotels with Views of the Acropolis
- Acropolis Museum Boutique Hotel – 3-star hotel – double room from €115
- Hotel Divani Palace Acropolis – 5-star hotel – double room from €148
- Hotel Acropolis View – 2-star hotel – double room from €99
Photo of the New Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece, by Dinstereo