Antiquities to be Transported to the New Acropolis Museum

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ One of Greeces most modern buildings is about to become home to some of the countrys most treasured antiquities.

In a painstaking operation set to start Sunday and last up to 10 months, more than 4,000 ancient statues, friezes, and other artifacts will be eased off the Acropolis and transported by a series of three cranes to the glass-and-concrete structure near the foot of the ancient hill.

*quot;Its going to be like a … ballet of cranes _ or like James Bond,*quot; Bernard Tschumi, the U.S.-based architect who designed the museum, told The Associated Press.

The long-awaited 20,000 square meter (215,000-square foot) museum is not due to open to the public until next autumn. Some have criticized it for its size and its location, saying it clashes with its surroundings.

But many Greeks hope the building will give a push to the governments longstanding campaign to persuade Britain to return Parthenon sculptures currently housed in the British Museum. One of the reasons London has cited for refusing to return the antiquities is that Greece lacked proper facilities to ensure their preservation.

A British diplomat, Lord Elgin, removed the sculptures now often known as the Elgin marbles from the Parthenon in the 19th century.

*quot;One of its goals is to reunite all the sculptures of the statues of one particular period, including some of them that are now far away, like part of the Parthenon frieze which is in the British Museum,*quot; said Tschumi.

*quot;It was important … to have this building in Athens, with the light from which they were born at the time,*quot; Tschumi said.

A glass hall at the top of the two-story museum _ with a wall of windows allowing visitors to look directly onto the 2,400-year-old Acropolis _ will house the parts of the Parthenon frieze still in Athens.

For now, the space set aside for the missing sculptures will hold replicas, covered with veils, Tschumi said.

Initially scheduled for completion before the 2004 Athens Olympics, the new museums construction was delayed by long-running legal fights and archaeological discoveries at the site.

To protect the finds _ including the remains of a 3rd-7th century Athenian neighborhood _ the entire building is supported on columns that allow visitors to view the ruins through reinforced glass floors.

*quot;There (were) a lot of arguments, especially among archaeologists, whether the building should be … placed somewhere else,*quot; Tschumi said.

*quot;In my mind, my love of cities and my understanding of them as a layering of history made me feel that it was a perfect location, as we would place the building … hovering over the archaeological remnants.*quot;

Determining exactly where the columns would go was not easy.

*quot;I remember walking and negotiating with the archaeologists the location of every one of the columns that supported the building,*quot; the architect said, adding that *quot;you cant put columns anywhere you want in a country that has earthquakes.*quot;

While the conditions were challenging, they also helped shape the museum.

*quot;Sometimes architects say constraints have prevented them from doing what they want to do. But most of the time you will find that constraints are an extraordinary creative excuse,*quot; Tschumi explained.

*quot;You can transform constraints into opportunities.*quot;

It is not only the antiquities unearthed at the site that have caused problems.

Greeces culture minister recently cleared the way for the demolition of a protected art deco building considered an architectural gem that stands between the museum and the Acropolis, in order to improve the view from the new structure.

The decision by George Voulgarakis has outraged architects, conservationists and residents, who have launched an Internet campaign to save the building and an adjacent house owned by Vangelis Papathanassiou, the composer who wrote the Oscar-winning score for *quot;Chariots of Fire.*quot;