Since its opening on June 20, 2009, the Acropolis Museum in Athens has won plaudits from around the world for its groundbreaking research and innovative exhibitions. Its construction was seen as a major step forward for Greece’s ongoing claims for the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum in London; a state-of-the-art museum to house the country’s most important cultural treasures.
Its fame has spread far and wide, attracting millions of visitors from all corners of the globe, and yet the past two years have seen unprecedented challenges, no least in the guise of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, bringing tourism to a deafening halt. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going. As the world emerged from the pandemic, the Acropolis Museum’s curatorial staff set themselves the task of developing ever-more interesting and engaging activities to entice visitors back, in even greater numbers than before.
Despite the limitations created by the various health protocols of the pandemic, attendance has been steadily rising, from just under 500,000 visitors in the second half of 2021, to over 800,000 visitors in the first half of 2023, which is testament to the Museum’s hard work.
In the Museum’s conference room yesterday, June 19, the General Director, Professor Nikolaos Stampolidis, presented a thorough review of the various works and achievements of the world-famous Museum over the past two years, from June 2021 to June 2023.
He began with a heartfelt tribute to the Museum’s Chairman, Dimitrios Pandermalis, who died on September 14, 2022. An Emeritus Professor of Classical Archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Pandermalis was a veteran archaeologist with many decades of experience. His crowning achievement was as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the New Acropolis Museum Construction Organization from 2000 to 2019 and was a driving force in the establishment of the Museum. A 40-day memorial service was held at the Holy Church of Aghios Georgios and Aghioi Anargyros Makrygianni, after which an olive tree was planted in memory of the late chairman, which welcomes visitors at the entrance of the Museum on Mitsaion Street.
Artistic events, presentations, and special programs
Over the last two years, the Acropolis Museum has offered its visitors a broad range of artistic events, including dance performances, musical recitals, and an evening in celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2022, with the theme “The Parthenon’s Expatriate Goddesses,” featuring a presentation of the works of ancient poets.
The Museum launched a new collaboration with the Development and Tourism Promotion Company of the Municipality of Athens with its participation in the Athens City Festival, where it organized two tasting evenings in the restaurant combined with a guided tour of the exhibits related to ancient nutrition (12 May 2022 and 4 May 2023), and two jazz concerts on the restaurant terrace (May 16, 2022 and May 22, 2023).
Various festive events also took place in the run up to Christmas in 2021 and 2022, including a night of carol singing by the Children’s Choir of the National Opera and the Women’s Vocal Ensemble CHORES.
The Museum’s archaeologists have been busy offering free weekly presentations, based on a range of permanent and temporary exhibitions, exploring different aspects of the ancient Greek world. Among these was the hugely successful “Hidden Stories of the Diaspora,” which ran from May 22, 2022 to January 29, 2023, where visitors learned about the adventures of the smaller fragments of the Parthenon’s decorative sculptures, and how they ended up in various European museum collections.
The Museum has also been at the forefront of developing special programs and activities aimed at refugees and immigrants, prison inmates, and persons undergoing treatment at the country’s rehabilitation centers for drug and alcohol addiction. In May 2023, the Museum started a collaboration with the Special Secretariat for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors on a new themed presentation, “Arts, Craftsmen and Professions in Ancient Athens,” which is proving to be popular.
Schools and Families
During the period June 2021 to June 2023, the Acropolis Museum was visited by nearly 140,000 schoolchildren from Greece, and over 90,000 pupils from abroad. Many of them attended one of the six educational programs offered by the Museum’s Education Department, aimed at students and teachers at all levels of education. More information of the educational programs can be found here.
Families with young children have also been well looked after over these past two years, with a series of imaginative programs and activities. Last September, on the theme of sustainable heritage, young visitors and their parents watched the program “In the houses of the ancients … without television and internet,” while at Christmas time, from December 28, 2022, to January 5, 2023, children enjoyed the wildly popular “Goblin … mix-up” activity, which challenged participants to find various artifacts in the Museum’s collections that had been switched by cheeky goblins.
The Acropolis Museum has also hosted a number of temporary loans from international museums during this period, including two beautifully preserved Panathenaic amphorae from the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada. These 2,500-year-old vessels, painted in the black-figure style, would have been filled with oil and awarded as prizes to the winners of the games of the ancient Panathenaic Festival. Their temporary exhibition in the Parthenon Gallery at the Museum from June 20, 2022 to April 23, 2023, gave visitors an opportunity to see them in the context of the masterful Parthenon frieze, which depicts scenes from the ancient festival.
In February of this year, the Museum welcomed three vases from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA, which were placed in a temporary exhibition space showcasing the world of employment in ancient Athens. These remarkable vases will remain on display until July 30.
On March 8, 2023, in commemoration of International Women’s Day, the Museum unveiled a stunning marble statue of the goddess Aphrodite, on temporary loan from National Museum of Naples in Italy. Presented on the ground floor of the Museum until May 28, the “Venus in a Gold Bikini” statue, which depicts the goddess wearing intricate jewelry and a golden garment reminiscent of a “bikini,” was unearthed in 1954 at the ancient city of Pompeii.
Conservation and Maintenance
The Museum’s Conservation Department has been extremely busy during this period, completing important conservation work on 322 objects in the permanent collection. An ambitious cleaning program using state-of-the-art laser technology was also completed, removing thousands of years of dirt, grime, and pollution from a large number of exhibits, including floor mosaics and delicate frescoes. At the same time, the Department undertook 3D scanning of exhibits.
The Department of Archaeological Collections has continued its work in the Museum’s archives, expanding its documentation of the collections with up-to-date research, new entries, explanations of terms (glossary), bibliographic references, and photographs and drawings of the 1,112 objects that form part of the on-site exhibition. The Department also published an upgraded version of the online application, www.parthenonfrieze.gr, with photos and descriptions of all the surviving pieces of the Parthenon frieze in the Museum and abroad.
The Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles
One of the most important aspects of the Museum’s work, besides the dissemination of knowledge regarding the spectacular monument of the Athenian Acropolis, is the ongoing campaign for the reunification of the remaining fragments of the Parthenon’s decorative sculptures from overseas museums.
Following a unanimous decision by UNESCO in September 2021 to recognize the dispute between Greece and the British Museum regarding the removal of the sculptures by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century as intergovernmental in nature, the campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles has intensified. In response to this decision, on January 3, 2022, the National Archaeological Museum in Athens returned to the Acropolis Museum ten fragments held in its own collections. A week later, on January 10, the Antonio Salinas Museum in Palermo, Sicily, returned the famous Fagan fragment, removed from the Parthenon’s east frieze by Elgin.
These actions paved the way for the final return of three more fragments, held in the collection of the Vatican Museums; a unilateral decision made by Pope Francis, in close consultation with the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and All Greece. On March 24 of this year, amid jubilant scenes in the Parthenon Gallery, these three fragments were reunited with the Museum’s exhibits.