History and museums
The Acropolis Museum (Greek: Μουσείο Ακρόπολης, Mouseio Akropolis) is an archaeological museum focused on the findings of the archaeological site of the Acropolis of Athens. The museum was built to house every artifact found on the rock and on its feet, from the Greek Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece. It also lies on the archaeological site of Makrygianni and the ruins of a part of Roman and early Byzantine Athens.
The museum was founded in 2003, while the Organization of the Museum was established in 2008. It opened to the public on June 20, 2009. Nearly 4,000 objects are exhibited over an area of 14,000 square metres.The Organization for the Construction of the new museum is chaired by Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Professor Emeritus of Archaeology, Dimitrios Pandermalis.
The first museum was on the Acropolis; it was completed in 1874 and underwent a moderate expansion in the 1950s. However, successive excavations on the Acropolis uncovered many new artifacts which significantly exceeded its original capacity.
An additional motivation for the construction of a new museum was that in the past, when Greece made requests for the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the United Kingdom, which acquired the items in a controversial manner, it was suggested by some British officials that Greece had no suitable location where they could be displayed. Creation of a gallery for the display of the Parthenon Marbles has been key to all recent proposals for the design of a new museum.
The first architectural competition to design a new museum was held in 1976 and was limited to participants from Greece. Both the 1976 competition and one that followed it in 1979 failed to produce any results mainly because the plots of land selected for the proposed constructions were deemed unsuitable.
In 1989, a third competition for the design of the new Acropolis Museum was announced that would be international. A choice of three possible sites was provided. This competition was won by the Italian architects, Manfredi Nicoletti and Lucio Passarelli. After delays throughout the 1990s, work on the construction of the museum based on this third design progressed to the stage of excavations for the foundations, but these were stopped due to apparently sensitive archaeological remains on the site, leading to annulment of the competition in 1999. In retrospect, the location of the new museum was rather straightforward: the large lot of the unused "Camp Makrygianni" gendarmerie barracks, opposite the Theater of Dionysus. The barracks were built on public land and a limited number of expropriations of surrounding private houses were needed to free up the necessary space. The main building of the old barracks, the neoclassical "Weiler Building", has been renovated and houses the Museum of the Center for the Acropolis Studies.
The fourth competition had made no provision for the preservation of the ancient site. These were met to a degree only after local and international (ICOMOS) campaigners exposed this oversight and it became the final competition. The new plans were adjusted so that the building was elevated above ground, on pillars. Competition was open only to architectural practices by invitation and it was won by New York–based architect, Bernard Tschumi, in collaboration with the Greek architect Michael Photiadis. Excavation has revealed two layers of modest, private roadside houses and workshops, one from the early Byzantine era and another from the classical era. Once the layout and stratigraphy of the findings were established, suitable locations for the foundation pillars were identified. These traverse the soil to the underlying bedrock and float on roller bearings able to withstand a Richter scale magnitude 10 earthquake.
As construction work neared completion, the operation to move the historic artifacts the 280-meter (310 yd) distance from the Acropolis rock to the new museum started in October 2007, took four months, and required the use of three tower cranes to move the sculptures across the distance without mishap. Greek officials expressed their hope that the new museum will help in the campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.
The museum is located by the southeastern slope of the Acropolis hill, on the ancient road that led up to the "sacred rock" in classical times. Set only 280 meters (310 yd), away from the Parthenon, and a mere 400 meters (440 yd) walking distance from it, the museum will be the largest modern building erected so close to the ancient site, although many other buildings from the last 150 years are located closer to the Acropolis. The entrance to the building is on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street and directly adjacent to the Akropoli metro station in line 2 of the Athens Metro.
The design by Bernard Tschumi was selected as the winning project in the fourth competition. Tschumi's design revolves around three concepts: light, movement, and a tectonic and programmatic element. Together these characteristics "turn the constraints of the site into an architectural opportunity, offering a simple and precise museum" with the mathematical and conceptual clarity of ancient Greek buildings.
The collections of the museum are exhibited on three levels while a fourth middle level houses the auxiliary spaces such as the museum shop, the café and the offices. On the first level of the museum there are the findings of the slopes of the Acropolis. The long and rectangular hall whose floor is sloping, resembles the ascension to the rock. Then, the visitor is found at the large trapezoidal hall which accommodates the archaic findings. On the same floor there are also the artifacts and sculptures from the other Acropolis buildings such as the Erechtheum, the Temple of Athena Nike and the Propylaea and findings from Roman and early Christian Athens. However the visitor is intended to see the latter during descent so as to keep the chronological order because he will first be directed to the top level, which displays the Parthenon marbles.
The top level of the Museum sits askew on the lower levels to achieve the same cardinal orientation as that of the ancient temple on the Acropolis. The spacing of the columns of the Parthenon hall is the same as that of the ancient temple, and the use of glass walls on all four exterior walls allows the natural light to illumine the Parthenon marbles as they do on the ancient temple. The 48 columns in the Parthenon hall mark the outline of the ancient temple and form a colonnade for the display of the Parthenon marbles. For ease of viewing, the pediment marbles are displayed at eye level in front of the end columns; the metopes are displayed on the columns, two per column, but not as high as in the ancient temple; and the frieze are displayed behind the metopes, forming a continuous band around the walls of a rectangular space set inside the columns, as in the ancient temple but not as high, again for ease of viewing. From the north side of the Parthenon hall, one can see the ancient temple above on the Acropolis.
As the museum is built over an extensive archaeological site, the floor, outside and inside, is often transparent using glass and thus the visitor can see the excavations below. The museum also provides an amphitheatre, a virtual theatre and a hall for temporary exhibitions.
A controversy erupted over the plans of the new museum and whether it was appropriate to build it on the archaeological site in Makrygianni. Another concern was whether a large modern building would fit well into the landscape.
In 2007, another controversy erupted over the proposed demolition of two historic buildings. These are in front of the museum, numbers 17 and 19, Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, facing the Acropolis (see picture, left). Bernard Tschumi has been showing photographic images of the space in front of the museum edited to remove the two buildings and nearby four-story-tall trees. The Greek Government has had the two buildings de-listed historically although one is Neo-Classical and the other an example of Art Deco architecture. Protests against the proposed demolition came from international agencies such as INTBAU and ICOMOS.
At the centre of the controversy is the composer Vangelis Papathanassiou, who is the owner of the neo-classical house targeted for demolition. According to Greek officials the house obstructs the view to the ancient Theater of Dionysus, which is located on the southern slope of the Acropolis. Vangelis Papathanasiou claims that the real reason for the demolition plan to include his house is because it blocks the view from the museum restaurant, and he has accused the Greek government of “architectural terrorism”. The latest proposal with regard to the impasse is a planned salvage and transfer of the facades of these two buildings to adjacent, newer buildings; this will allow demolition while preserving the facades, albeit, out of context to their original locations.