Tag Archives: Acropolis Museum

Weekly Photo Challenge: Victory

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The ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace’,  regarded as one  of the great surviving masterpieces of sculpture from the Hellenistic period, was unearthed by the French Consul to Turkey in 1883 and promptly shipped back to Paris.

It remains on display at the Louvre Museum.  I was privileged to see it on a visit to the museum in 1990 but I have a couple of questions…

…where should it be?

and with the Louvre bursting at the seams with stolen artefacts,

…why all the fuss about the Elgin (Parthenon) Marbles?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Beneath Your Feet

Acropolis Museum Excavations

Outside the museum and also in the cavernous entrance hall there are glass floors with sub-level views of the excavations that were discovered during the construction of the building and contributed to the delays and then there is a steady incline through a timeline of seven centuries of history and impressive well set out displays along a generously wide gallery that provides sufficient space for everyone to stop and enjoy the exhibits without feeling hurried or under pressure to rush.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone But Not Forgotten – The Elgin Marbles (2) and no Quiz

Parthenon Acropolis Athens

The Parthenon in Athens was built about 447-438 BC to house an enormous statue of the goddess Athena.  The temple was the crowning glory of a great programme of architectural renewal masterminded by Pericles, the leader of the Athenian democracy and it is still considered to be one of the most impressive buildings in the world.

Despite being burnt down by invading Goths in 267 A.D., conversion into a Christian church in the early sixth century and Ottoman occupation from the fifteenth century and another conversion, this time into a Mosque, it survived largely intact until 1687.   By 1800 however only about half of the original sculptural decoration remained.

And then along came Lord Elgin who helped himself to half of what was left.

This makes him the villainous tomb raider in the eyes of modern Greeks but what the Acropolis Museum  fails to mention is that at the time he removed the sculptures Athenians themselves were using it as a convenient quarry and a great deal of the original sculptures and the basic building blocks of the temple itself, were being reused for new local housing or simply being ground down for mortar.  There was no preservation, there was no cultural value attached to the sculptures and certainly no question of restoration.

It is all very well getting irritable about it now but whatever Elgin’s motives were for removing the sculptures there is no doubt at all that he saved them from possible even worse damage and without his intervention we might not be even having the ‘Elgin Marbles’ debate at all.

In justification of the non-return policy the British Museum rather provocatively points out that the statues are in fact relics of an Athenian civilisation rather than the modern Greek state so modern Greece has no greater legitimate claim to ownership.

I think this raises an interesting point because we really have to be careful not to apply modern political boundaries to the ancient world.  It is important to put things into historical context.  Two hundred years ago there was no UNESCO (and if there had been Elgin would probably  have been on the Board of Directors).

The classical Cambridge Scholar Professor M I Finley pointed out that “…Neither then, or at any time in the Ancient World was there a nation, a single national territory under one sovereign rule, called Greece”.  If we accept this then it begins to construct a counter argument against the modern Greek claims.  Even if they are a product of an ancient civilisation that happened to live in Athens they have no relevance to modern Greece.

The travel writer Lawrence Durrell considered this argument and although seemingly accepting it came to the conclusion: “Myself, I think I should have given them back and keep copies in plaster for the British Museum.  For us they are a mere possession of great historic interest.  For the Greeks they are a symbol, inexplicably bound up with the national struggle as an image of themselves as descendants of foreign tribes”.

I really enjoyed the Museum but what I did not like was the unbalanced narrative and the demonising of Lord Elgin and the unnecessary  provocative and belligerent anti-English sentiment attached to the explanations and the video commentary.  I found this to be slightly offensive as an English visitor and it made me feel uncomfortable and a little unwelcome and I am certain that is not what the museum really wants.

The descriptions of Elgin as a looter and a pirate seemed especially designed to stimulate a reaction from visitors from the USA who were encouraged to gasp in outrage and awe that an Englishmen could have done such terrible things.  I know that a lot of what should be in Athens is in London but let’s not forget that there is also bits of it in the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the Vatican Museums in Rome, the National Museum in Copenhagen, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the University Museum, Würzburg and the Glyptothek in Munich all of which seems to have been conveniently overlooked.

Let’s also not forget that there are other Ancient Greek sculptures which have been removed and are exhibited elsewhere – for example the ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace’,  regarded as one  of the great surviving masterpieces of sculpture from the Hellenistic period, which was unearthed by the French Consul to Turkey in 1883 and promptly shipped back to Paris.  It remains on display at the Louvre Museum as does the ‘Venus de Milo’ discovered on the Greek island of Milos in 1820 and also spirited away to Paris in double-quick time.  Should these also be returned, perhaps there is a much wider debate to be had?

There are many factors to take into consideration.  We do not know for sure if Elgin’s actions were legal at the time but he had certainly obtained from the Ottoman authorities, then in control of Athens, permission to work on the Acropolis and it seems that he had a genuine interest in archaeology and the preservation of the past.

In my opinion the sculptures should be returned to Athens but let’s please acknowledge Elgin’s possible contribution in having saved these precious artefacts for posterity and for the World.  A hostile approach may just be counter-productive and harden a British commitment to retain the sculptures in London and that won’t be very helpful because that would be the wrong thing to do!

Have you visited the Acropolis Museum in Athens?  I would be interested in your views.

Acropolis and Parthenon Greece Athens

Weekly Photo Challenge: Culture

The Acropolis Museum and the Elgin Marbles:

Elgin might be the villain in the eyes of Greece but what the Acropolis museum  fails to mention is that at the time he removed the sculptures Athenians themselves were using it as a convenient quarry and a great deal of the original sculptures and the basic building blocks of the temple itself, were being reused for new local housing or simply being ground down for mortar.

It is all very well getting irritable about it now but whatever Elgin’s motives were for removing the sculptures there is no doubt at all that he saved them from possible even worse damage and without his intervention we might not be even having the ‘Elgin Marbles’ debate at all.

Read the full story…

 

My Personal Greek A to Ω – B (Beta) is for Βύρων or Byron

After four years of waiting I was actually going to see the new Acropolis Museum.  It was originally planned to be completed in 2004 to accompany the symbolic return of the Olympic Games to their spiritual Athenian home but construction setbacks and various outbreaks of controversy along the way meant that it did not finally open to an expectant public until June 2009.

I purchased tickets on line and arrived at my allocated visit time of ten o’clock.

I had feared that the place would be crowded and uncomfortable but this was not the case at all and without the lines of visitors that I had anticipated it was easy to cruise effortlessly past the ticket desks and into the museum.  I had a gigantic sense of anticipation because I was genuinely looking forward to seeing this magnificent replacement for the hopelessly inadequate museum at the top of the Acropolis that I had visited before and which it had replaced.

I have to say that anticipation was mixed with some trepidation because having followed the saga of the open wound debate about the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles I wondered how I was going to feel because the long awaited €130m Acropolis Museum is a modern glass and concrete building at the foot of the ancient Acropolis and home to sculptures from the golden age of Athenian history but unlike any other museum in the world this one has been designed to exhibit something it doesn’t own and can’t yet exhibit but all of Greece hopes that it will be the catalyst for the return of the disputed Marbles from the British Museum in London.

Outside the museum and in the cavernous entrance hall there were glass floors with sub-level views of the excavations that were discovered during the construction of the building and contributed to the delays and then there was a steady incline cruising through seven centuries of history and impressive and well set out displays along a generously wide gallery that provided sufficient space for everyone to stop and enjoy the exhibits without feeling hurried or under pressure to rush through this timeline of ancient treasures.  Moving on to the second floor there are two galleries that I have to say I did not find so well set out and involved a rambling walk through a succession of exhibits that was not helped by the absence of a simple floor plan to help guide the visitor through and having finished with the second floor I then had to double back to get to the third and the Parthenon Gallery skilfully avoiding the café terrace and the inevitable gift shop along the way to make sure I wasn’t parted from my cash.

After an hour passing through various centuries of ancient Greece I finally arrived at the top floor Gallery, which is designed to eventually hold and display all of the Parthenon sculptures but for the time being has only about half of the originals.  The remainder are plaster casts made from (and controversially paid for by the Greek Museum) of the remaining treasures temporarily remaining in London.  It is truly impressive and with the Acropolis Hill and the Parthenon looming up outside I can only explain it rather inadequately as a very memorable experience.  The top floor is designed to provide a full 360º panoramic of the building and how the sculptures would have looked when they were originally commissioned and sculptured in the fifth century BC.

I really liked the Museum but what I didn’t care for especially was the demonising of Lord Elgin and the unnecessary nationalist, provocative and belligerentanti-English sentiment attached to the explanations and the video commentary. I considered that rather offensive as an English visitor and it made me feel slightly uncomfortable and unwelcome.  The descriptions of Elgin as a looter and a pirate seemed especially designed to stimulate a reaction from visitors from the United States who were encouraged to gasp in awe that a British Lord could have done such malicious and terrible things.  I know that a lot of what should be in Athens is in London but let’s not forget that material from the Parthenon was dispersed both before and after Elgin’s time and the remainder of the surviving sculptures that are not in Athens are in museums in various locations across Europe and there are also parts of it in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, the Vatican Museums in Rome, the National Museum, Copenhagen, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, the University Museum, Würzburg and the Glyptothek in Munich all of which seemed to have been conveniently ignored.

As I wandered around I considered the debate and tried to balance the two radically opposing views.  There are many factors to take into consideration. We do not know if Elgin’s actions were legal at the time but he had certainly obtained permission to work on the Acropolis from the Ottoman authorities, then in control of Athens, and it seems that he had a genuine interest in archaeology and the preservation of the past.  What shouldn’t be forgotten is that when Elgin removed the sculptures from the Parthenon, the building was in a very sorry state indeed and this is expediently omitted from the commentary and the otherwise excellent interpretation.   In the early twentieth century there was some inappropriate restoration work that has subsequently been proved to be damaging so perhaps Elgin saved the Marbles from the deadly fate of ignorant restoration and we should thank him for that?

Although we think of it primarily as a pagan temple, its history as church and mosque was an even longer one, and no less distinguished. It was, as one British traveller put it in the mid seventeenth century, ‘the finest mosque in the world’ but all that changed in 1687 when, during fighting between Venetians and Turks, a Venetian cannonball hit the building, which was inappropriately being used as a temporary gunpowder store and approximately three hundred women and children were amongst those killed as the building itself was blown apart and destroyed. By 1800 a small replacement mosque had been erected inside the shell, while the surviving fabric and sculpture was suffering the predictable fate of many ancient ruins and falling further into a state of unloved disrepair.

Elgin might be the villain in the opinion of modern Greeks but what the Acropolis museum conveniently fails to mention is that at the time he removed the sculptures Turks and Athenians were using it as a convenient quarry and a great deal of the original sculptures and the basic building blocks of the temple itself were being reused for new local housing or simply being ground down for mortar.  It is all very well getting precious about it now but whatever Elgin’s motives were for removing the sculptures there is no doubt at all that he saved them from possible even worse damage and without his intervention we might not be even having the ‘Elgin Marbles’ debate at all.

My personal opinion?  Well, I believe that we should thank the British Museum for having looked after them for the last two hundred years while all this was going on and then the Marbles should be returned and I believe that one day they will because as the poet and Grecophile, Lord Byron wrote and with whom I leave the last word:

‘Dull is the eye that will not weep to see                                                                             Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed                                                     By British hands, which it had best behoved                                                                      To guard those relics ne’er to be restored.                                                                     Curst be the hour when from their isle they roved,                                                       And once again thy hapless bosom gored,                                                                        And snatched thy shrinking gods to northern climes abhorred!

Greece 2009 – Athens, from Elgin to pickpockets, a city of thieves

The Acropolis Museum and the Acroplois

‘Marvellous things happen to one in Greece – marvellous good things which can happen to one nowhere else on earth’  Henry Miller – The Colossus of Maroussi

But then, on the flip side…

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Acropolis Museum and Lord Elgin

Athens Parthenon Lord Elgin

After four years of visiting Athens on the way to a Greek island-hopping holiday I  finally managed to see the new Acropolis Museum in September 2009.  It was originally planned to be completed in 2004 to accompany the return of the Olympic Games to their spiritual Athenian home but construction setbacks and various outbreaks of controversy along the way have meant that it did not finally open to the expectant public until June 2009.

Read the full story…

Athens Parthenon Acropolis