Tag Archives: Elgin Marbles

Entrance Tickets, The Temple of Apollo at Didyma

It is claimed by some to be the finest single ancient monument in this part of Turkey and this is a part of Turkey which has an awful lot of ancient monuments.

I can confirm that it is very impressive indeed although little of the original structure remains standing; it was destroyed by the Persians in 494 BC, ravaged by time, rearranged by earthquakes and plundered over the centuries for convenient building material, but regardless of the damage I found this to be a stimulating place with history literally oozing out of the cracks and fissures in  the columns and the stones.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Victory

001

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.

Read the full story…

Elgin Marbles Quiz Answers

Disputed Museum Exhibits

Just to close things off:

One correct answer…

1. Winged Victory, in possession of the French and claimed by the Greeks
2. Rosetta Sonte, in possession of the British and claimed by the Egyptians
3. Samsat Stele, in possession of the British and claimed by the Turks
4. Bust of Nefertiti, in possession of the Germans and claimed by the Egyptians
5. Venus de Milo, in posession of the French and claimed by the Germans

It is a good site, pop across and have a look…

One final piece of trivia; the Samsat Stele is claimed by Turkey, the hole in the middle of it is because sometime in the past someone made alterations to use it as a vine press.  No wonder the British Museum thinks they should continue to look after it!

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: Gone But Not Forgotten – The Elgin Marbles (1) and a Quiz

 Parthenon Acropolis Athens Greece

‘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 snatch’d thy shrinking gods to northern climes abhorred!‘                            Lord Byron

The Elgin Marbles debate/controversy reared its ugly head again when it was reported that the British Museum is going to loan a piece to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg in Russia.  Howls of anguish and cries of foul have broken out in Athens who say this action is the equivalent of poking  the Greeks in the eye with a very sharp stick!

In 1817 the British Museum took possession of the Elgin Marbles but the Greeks have built a museum especially for them.  Unlike any other museum in the world the Acropolis Museum in Athens is one has been designed to exhibit something it does not own and cannot yet exhibit but hopes that it will be the catalyst for the permanent return of the disputed artefacts.  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.

The gloves are off and the battle is now on between the new state-of-the-art Acropolis Museum and the more traditional British Museum for the right to exhibit them.

The Museum 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.

After four years of visiting Athens on the way to the Greek islands I finally managed to see the new Acropolis Museum in September 2009.  I purchased tickets on line a week or so before for just €1 (prices rose to €5 in 2010, so it was a bargain) and arrived at my allotted 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 have visited the old inadequate museum at the top of the Acropolis a couple of times before in 2000 and 2006 and I have been genuinely looking forward to seeing this magnificent replacement.  I have to say that anticipation was mixed with trepidation because having followed the saga of the open wound debate about the Elgin Marbles (or the Parthenon Sculptures, depending on your point of view) I genuinely wondered how I was going to feel.

The British Museum argues that London is a better place to make them available to the public because with 6.7 million visitors in 2013 it is the second most visited museum in the World after the Louvre in Paris.  This is a powerful argument and one they can probably rely on for many years to come because in the same year the Acropolis Museum attracted only 1.4 million visitors which puts it way down the most visited list at about sixtieth.

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  ancient 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.

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 having skilfully avoided the café terrace and the inevitable shop on the way.

Parthenon Sculptures

After an hour passing through 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 (or the Elgin Marbles, depending on your point of view) but for the time being has only about half of the originals and the rest are plaster casts made from the remaining treasures currently remaining in London.

It is truly impressive and with the Acropolis Hill and the Parthenon looming up dramatically outside I can only explain it rather inadequately as a very memorable experience.

Today, not only the Greek Government but most of the Greek people as well would rather like the sculptures back but have consistently turned down a British Museum offer to give the Marbles to the Acropolis Museum on a loan basis for just three months on a similar basis as the arrangement with the Hermitage.

The Culture Minister explained that: “The Government, as any other Greek Government would have done in its place, is obliged to turn down the offer.  This is because accepting it would legalise the snatching of the Marbles and the monument’s carving-up two hundred years ago.”

After due consideration I am inclined to agree with this and believe that the place for the sculptures are in Athens and not London but this is a very complex debate for archaeological scholars to resolve that cannot be rushed for the sake of wounded national pride and a few more years sorting it out is hardly going to matter.

To be continued…

Quiz Time:

Similar Elgin Marbles disputes over ownership of museum exhibits…

Disputed Museum Exhibits

In each case, What are they, Where are they and Who wants them back?

Have a go, it’s just a bit of armless fun!

 

 

Turkey, The Temple of Apollo at Didyma

TURKEY - Didyma

It was day four already, three days had carelessly slipped through our fingers almost without noticing like sand spilling through an hour glass  so today we decided to do something different and walk to the ancient site of the Temple of Apollo at the northern end of Didim (previously called Didyma).

This was a long way which required walking once more along the Kemal Atatürk Boulevard but on this occasion there was no option to give up half way along because to get to the temple we had to walk the full six kilometres or so, uphill all the way with the midday sun getting hotter and hotter.  To be absolutely honest however we couldn’t make it all the way without taking a break half way along the route.

Finally we began the final approach to the ruins of the ancient site which were predictably surrounded by tourist shops selling all manner of cheap rubbish and carpet shops selling all manner of expensive floor coverings.  The owner was quite persistent that we should go inside and seemed quite unable to interpret our response that we had come to Turkey for a holiday and not to buy a carpet not least because we were travelling skinflint class on Monarch Airlines and only had a ten kilogram baggage allowance.

Temple Didyma Turkey

We carried on to the entrance and then paid the entrance fee of ten Turkish Lira (about £3.50) and then went inside where there was a crowd of people whose attention was grabbed by two mating tortoises.  I have often wondered how they manage this so I was intrigued to watch the smaller male chasing the love of his life and head butting her rear end to get her attention until he had her wedged in a crevice and could have his wicked way.  She wasn’t very attractive I have to say and after all that head butting and finally getting a good look at her I am surprised he didn’t suddenly claim to have a headache and show no further interest!

With the tortoise bonking show over the assembled crowd dispersed and we carried on down the steps and into the ancient site.  Next to Delphi in Greece, Didyma was the most important oracle of the Hellenic world, first mentioned among the Greeks in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo.

Temple of Apollo Didyma

This place would have been huge, one hundred and twenty columns, fifteen metres high and each taking an estimated twenty thousand man days (fifty-five years) to cut and erect.  It was never completely finished however because during the construction process the money kept running out but if it had been then it is said that this would have been one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World in precedence over the Temple of Artemis at nearby Ephesus.

It is claimed by some to be the finest single ancient monument in this part of Turkey and this is a part of Turkey which has an awful lot of ancient monuments.  I can confirm that it is very impressive indeed although little of the original structure remains standing; it was destroyed by the Persians in 494 BC, ravaged by time, rearranged by earthquakes and plundered over the centuries for convenient building material, but regardless of the damage I found this to be a stimulating place with history literally oozing out of the cracks and fissures in  the columns and the stones.

Didyma Turket 01

At the centre of the structure was the inner temple and in ancient times the only person to go inside was the Oracle who would take water from a sacred natural spring and then deliver predictions and advice.  In Classical Antiquity an Oracle was a person considered to interface wise counsel or prophetic predictions or precognition of the future. Oracles were thought to be portals through which the gods spoke directly to people.  Some now believe the water contained something that induced a hypnotic or psychedelic state in the drinker.  Alcohol probably!

We walked around the entire site and then as we left and read the information boards it was suddenly time to feel guilty again.  Apparently there were once statues and friezes surrounding the temple but at some point British archaeologists uncovered them and carted them away and they are now in the British Museum.  I felt my palms getting sweaty, my pulse rate increasing and an Elgin Marbles moment coming on!

Kim at Didyma Turkey

Our plan now was to walk back the way that we had come but a convenient Dolmus came by just as we approached a bus stop and neither of us had the willpower to resist the lure of a ride back to the apartment.  The cost of a Dolmus ride is a flat rate two Turkish Lira and this particular fare turned out to be very good value indeed as it took us back via a long winded circuitous route which provided us with a thorough introduction to the town.

By late afternoon we were ready for a swim so we took the track to Paradise beach, which today, in contrast to only the day before was almost completely deserted.  This might have been because it was a week day or because the holiday season was now over or it might have been because today the sea was rather rough and agitated with a keen wind that whipped up the surface into waves and which made swimming rather difficult.

In addition to the wind it was becoming increasingly cloudy now so we dried ourselves off and took the track back to the apartment where we closed the door behind us, prepared a second self-catering evening meal (kofti meat balls in a spicy tomato sauce with rice and salad) and over a few hands of cards worried about the weather for the next day.

Walking in Altinkum Turkey

Weekly Photo Challenge: Relic

Acropolis Parthenon Athens

“We climbed up the hill to the theatre whence we overlooked the splintered treasures of the gods, the ruined temples, the fallen columns, trying vainly to recreate the splendour of this ancient site.”                                                                Henry Miller

Read the full story…

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…

 

The Acropolis Museum in Athens

APTOPIX Greece Acropolis Museum

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

Read the full story…