by John Leonard & Paulina Björk Kapsalis
When the Acropolis Museum first opened, in June 2009, central Athens was buzzing with the news. “The smell of cement still pervades the corridors and stairwells of the three-storey, €130m museum but neither that, nor the scouring Athenian heat, has stopped it being a sell-out success,” wrote Helena Smith for the Guardian days after the opening.
Now excitement is growing again as Athens looks forward to celebrating the museum’s first decade of operation with a series of events and exhibitions, as well as the grand opening of a brand new section.
Thursday June 20th marks 10 years since the museum first opened its doors. On this day, the museum will extend its opening hours until midnight, and entrance to the exhibition areas will be free (until 20.00).
Then on Friday, the ongoing archaeological excavation below the museum – until now only visible through the glass floor – will be opened to the public for the first time adding a fascinating dimension to this already beloved institution.
The excavated area of 4,000 square meters comprises houses, workshops, baths and streets of the ancient Athenian neighborhood that existed here from Classical to Byzantine times. Visitors will now be able to see up close the streets of ancient Athens, gaining insight into the everyday life of the neighborhood that existed in the shadow of the Acropolis.
Museum officials say that this will help provide visitors with a more holistic overview of the city, with the votive and ritualistic items from the Sacred Rock displayed on the floors above, now complemented with an entirely new level dedicated to the daily lives of the city’s residents in antiquity and beyond.
Together with the grand opening of the new level, visitors can enjoy a special temporary exhibition, a lecture, a concert, and extended hours for the Museum’s galleries (see below for full details).
A decade of achievement
This year’s special 10th-anniversary festivities mark an extraordinary period of activity since the “New Museum” took over from the “Old,” highlighting not only its main mission – to present the great monuments, artifacts and history of the Acropolis – but also emphasizing its related scientific activities through the last decade that have led to fresh perspectives on the Sacred Rock and surrounding ancient city.
The Acropolis Museum, although its boldly modern design was initially a subject of some controversy, is clearly an enormous improvement over its humble predecessor and a magnificent step forward for Greek heritage. Nowadays, eyebrows are raised only in admiration.
Perhaps the Museum’s most striking achievement since 2009 has been the public’s increased understanding of the complex history of the Acropolis and of the masterful artistry of Archaic Athenian temple-builders and sculptors, already hard at work long before the 5th-century-BC Parthenon.
Ever since opening, the quality of the Acropolis Museum has been Greece’s strongest argument in pressing its case for the return to Athens of the Parthenon Marbles currently housed in the British Museum.
That fight has not yet been won, but the Acropolis Museum is continuously named one of the best in the world, ranking, for example, as the 6th best museum in the world in TripAdvisor’s 2018 Travelers’ Choice Awards. It houses over 4000 exhibits, which have been viewed by over 14.5 million local and international visitors.
Where once most modern-day attention was focused on Pericles’ brilliant new temple for Athena, now the Museum’s Acropolis Slopes and Archaic Acropolis Galleries have elucidated the multiplicity of other shrines and sanctuaries that also existed both on and around the Rock; the intricacies of women’s daily life and rituals in ancient Athens; and the impressive religious, historical and artistic significance of the many mythical and dedicatory sculptures that enhanced the sacred architecture and filled the open spaces of the pre-Classical Acropolis.
Through its “behind-the-scenes” scientific activities, the Acropolis Museum has also refined our understanding of the artistic treatment and intended perception of painted Archaic Kore figures. Laboratory analyses and the experimental reconstruction of the colorful pigments that once adorned the statues and structures of the Acropolis now bring the time-washed surfaces of these marble masterpieces vividly back to life, in part through the power of digital imaging.
Meanwhile, just below the visitors’ feet, within the Museum’s own constructional footprint, the clean-up and conservation of the extensive Byzantine archaeological site revealed by rescue excavations before 2009 have been proceeding. This fascinating sub-floor and open-air exhibition space is now being readied for its grand-opening to museum visitors on June 21.
Equally prodigious have been the preservation and restoration efforts of the Acropolis Museum’s “colleague” and regular collaborator, the Acropolis Monuments Restoration Service (YSMA), a department of the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports. Many of YSMA’s long-term projects on the Rock have at last come to fruition during the past decade, including its restorations of the Propylaia, the temple of Athens Nike and the north colonnade of the Parthenon.
Temporary exhibition: “CHISEL AND MEMORY. The contribution of marble craftsmanship to the restoration of the Acropolis monuments”
In tribute to YSMA’s achievements and especially the remarkable efforts of its marble-carvers, the Acropolis Museum is presenting a moving, must-see temporary exhibition of black-and-white photographs, entitled “CHISEL AND MEMORY. The contribution of marble craftsmanship to the restoration of the Acropolis monuments.”
Six themes – self-denial, labor, cooperation, zeal, pride and companionship – are represented in this inspiring display of photographs that are both artistic and documentary in character. Revealed is the human element integral to the Acropolis restorations; the emotions the workers experience during their daily challenges and triumphs on the Sacred Rock; and the timelessness of their traditional copying, hand-carving and installation techniques, now combined with state-of-the-art technology and materials.
June 11 – October 31, 2019.
Acropolis Museum, ground floor.
Admission is free.
Lecture: “The true colors of the Parthenon sculptures: evidence for traces of original polychromy and its interpretation”
Witness the polychromy of Archaic and Classical statues and temples that many among modern viewers once accepted as having been simply creations from gleaming white marble. The Acropolis Museum is pleased to host an illustrated lecture by Prof. Giovanni Verri, who is a pioneer in the field of scientific analyses developed for the detection and recovery of ancient pigments on Greek and Roman antiquities.
Prof. Verri, currently a Reader at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, received his PhD in Physics at the University of Ferrara in Italy, following an MA in Conservation of Wall Paintings from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.
Thursday, June 13, 2019; 19:00.
Acropolis Museum, Auditorium, ground floor.
Admission is free.
Concert:“Stavros Xarchakos – Instrumental”
Come enjoy an evening of music at the Acropolis Museum, where the doors will be open until midnight! The museum invites visitors to a unique instrumental concert by the great Greek composer Stavros Xarchakos, who will conduct an orchestra of eight renowned Greek soloists. Together, they will take visitors on a musical journey comprised of familiar compositions by Stavros Xarchakos, Mikis Theodorakis, Vasilis Tsitsanis, Markos Vamvakaris and Manos Hadjidakis.
Wednesday, June 19, 2019, 21:00.
Admission free after 20:00.
A birthday party: 10-Year Acropolis Museum Celebration
On Thursday, the 20th of June, 2019, the Acropolis Museum is celebrating its birthday! Entrance to the exhibition areas will be free for all visitors from 08.00 – 20.00.
Thursday, June 20, 2019. Acropolis Museum. Admission is free all day, 08:00-20:00.
Grand Opening: Inaugural presentation of the Acropolis Museum’s archaeological site
On Friday, the 21st of June, the Acropolis Museum will open its newest permanent “exhibition hall” – the archaeological excavation beneath the museum building. Step down into the museum’s lowest levels, where you can visit an exposed Byzantine neighborhood, covering some 4,000 square meters, whose roots date back as far as the Classical era.
Here you will find houses, workshops, baths and streets, some of them lying more than 5 m below present ground level. From the “fly-over” walkways that have been installed, one can spot mosaic floors, circular cisterns and a network of rooms and narrow passageways, where you will feel as if you have traveled back in time.
Soon, ancient everyday life in the shadow of the Acropolis will be even clearer and closer, as the museum is also readying a display of artifacts from the excavations to be presented within its new, amazing sub-floor gallery.
Friday, June 21, 2019
Acropolis Museum, lower level
Special hours: 08.00 – 22.00.
Free entrance with general admission ticket