Acropolis Now | History | Smithsonian

Acropolis Now

A modern museum of ancient Greece rises near the Parthenon

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Housing more than 4,000 works of art, the New Acropolis Museum in Athens will contain the world's most extensive repository of Archaic and Classical Greek sculptures. The $190 million glass-and-concrete complex, at the foot of the Acropolis and just over 300 yards from the Parthenon, has been more than seven years in the making and is expected to completely open by early 2009.

The structure echoes ancient Athenian architecture without imitating it. Simply trying to mimic the Parthenon—perhaps the most influential building in Western civilization—might be kitschy, says Bernard Tschumi, a New York- and Paris-based architect who designed the museum.

In the lower level galleries, sculptures by Phidias, Alcamenes and other ancient masters will be placed so they can be studied in the round, "like living persons," says museum director Dimitrios Pandermalis. "We're not lecturing people about the golden era of Pericles, but letting them discover for themselves the beauty of facial expressions, the movements of the horses and warriors." The ground floor is mostly glass and is raised on concrete stilts to showcase the archaeological work conducted on the site prior to construction. The dig yielded finds from prehistoric times through the 12th century.

An exhibit that will most likely be missing is the so-called Elgin Marbles, sculptural works that include 247 feet of the original Parthenon frieze. Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to Constantinople in the early 19th century, acquired the masterpieces from the Ottomans who then ruled Greece. The marbles are now at the British Museum. The New Acropolis Museum will display some of the remaining original frieze along with plaster replicas of the Elgin Marbles.

In a design masterstroke, the glass-enclosed top floor is turned at a 23-degree angle from the two lower levels to align with the Parthenon. Sculptures will be arrayed largely as they were in the original temple. "The idea," Tschumi says, "is to create a dialogue between the sculptures and the Parthenon."

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About Richard Covington

Richard Covington is a Paris-based author who covers a wide range of cultural and historical subjects and has contributed to Smithsonian, The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, among other publications.

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