Acropolis Museum

Acropolis Museum (11)

When in 481 BC, the Acropolis was captured by the Persians, the Athenians, knowing the artistic value of the buildings and decorations that were there, did not remain inactive. 

The iron will to protect their valuable assets was not fully recognized until nearly 25 centuries later when, in the 19th century, during archaeological excavations remains were discovered that had been buried by the Athenians to prevent the Persian looting.

In order to avoid further deterioration of these remains, it was decided to house them in the Acropolis Museum, which opened in 1878. 

The collection, however, is not limited to the remains of the archaic period but includes, with exemplary care for their preservation, several pieces from the classical Greece of Pericles. Thus, the 6th and 5th centuries BC are well represented in the halls of this museum located on the same site as the Acropolis. Of course, you can be sure we will not see all the friezes and decorations extracted from the original buildings but to see all these artistic remains you have to move a few kilometres to the northwest because, contrary to the wishes of the Athenians, most of the rest are in the British Museum in London.

The museum was planned by architect Panages Kalkos and, architecturally speaking, it is not a work of art, since, located at the south eastern end, it breaks up the beauty of the Acropolis. 

The Acropolis Museum with its new display rooms, is considered to be one of the most valuable in the world. Outside, you will find next to the entrance a 5th century BC statue of an owl, symbol of the wisdom of the goddess Athena. 

From the first to the sixth hall, the museum contains masterpieces from the 6th century BC, the Archaic period. In them, you will see the splendid pediments of several temples illustrating the battles of heroes like Heracles fighting mythological monsters, or those of the ancient temple of Athena in Room V, where the goddess is in central position, beside Zeus, fighting giants, alluding to the victory of the Greeks over the barbarians. Moreover, as a pleasant surprise, it should be noted that some of these friezes still retain polychrome fragments, which will give you a better idea of the original spectacular image of the temples of antiquity. 

Moreover, in the museum you will find valuable pieces from the origins of Greek sculpture. We refer to the round figure of a Kriophoros (or ram-bearer) from 570 BC This is an example of well-known archaic sculptures of the kuroi and korai, male and female figures respectively of Egyptian influence, characterized by the rigidity of their grimace and position, by the vigour of their bodies and, in the case of the girls, by the work involved in their hairstyles. 

In Room VI, you will find a collection of korai, for example, from between 550 and 500 BC, and, as you follow the route, you will see the evolution from the stiffness and the mysterious, static smile of archaic times towards greater naturalism in the classical period. 

Rooms VII, VIII and IX bring together pieces from the Acropolitan stage of Pericles. The sculptures on display belong mainly to the Parthenon, the temple of Athena Nike, and the Erechtheion. The sculptural wonders of the artist Phidias in the metopes and friezes from the Parthenon depicting the Panathenaic procession, with rearing, twisted horses, and a daring and even exaggerated naturalism. The friezes from the temple of Athena Nike also reveal a shift from classicism to a later, more dramatic Hellenistic style. The Goddess is represented in a very human gesture, putting on her sandal, and the sculptor used the technique of drapery whereby the anatomy is seen through the clothing.

In the final room, you can admire four of the caryatids of the Erechtheion. They were moved from their original location, the south portico of the temple, to the museum, due to the serious deterioration they were suffering from as a result of the concentrated presence of sulphur in the air in Athens. Another of the caryatids, female statues that were used instead of columns, is in the British Museum in London.

The museum has struggled in recent years to recover the large number of pieces that are in collections abroad, especially in the Louvre and the British Museum. The most flagrant case is that of the Elgin marbles, which are famous sculptures from the Parthenon. The Briton, Lord Elgin, bought them at the beginning of the 19th century from the Turkish authorities, who at that time governed the country. Lord Elgin sold them to the British state for the price of 35,000 pounds, with which the debate began. And there are those who favour leaving the works in the British Museum, with the view that there the friezes and sculptures may receive better care than in Greece. However, the Greek government considered it completely illegal to have sold the marbles to the British Government and fervently believe that the marbles should be returned to where they belong, to their origins. The Greek actress and politician Melina Merkoúri was one of the leading activists in the struggle to regain these examples of Greek heritage. 

Gradually, Athens has recovered some pieces and, therefore, the premises of the Acropolis Museum have been outgrown. Hence, the exhibits are being transferred to a new, larger and expensive complex, which will be the new home of the Museum of the Acropolis, on the southern slope of the mountain. There, the empty rooms are waiting to someday receive the friezes that belonged to them.

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