A look at the permanent collections of the New Acropolis Museum – part 3

The New Acropolis Museum will be officially inaugurated on Saturday afternoon, and ANA-MPA concludes its three-part tour of the Museums five Permanent Collections: The Acropolis Slopes, divided into sub-categories on The Settlement, and The Sanctuary; The Acropolis during the Archaic Period, with sub-categories on The Hekatompedon, The Ancient Temple, and The Votives; The Parthenon, with sub-categories on The Monument, The Metopes, The Pediments, and The Frieze; Other Monuments of the Classical Acropolis, with sub-categories on The Propylaia, The Temple of Athena Nike, and The Erechtheion; and Other Collections, with sub-categories on The Sanctuary of Artemis Vravronia, The Votives of the Classical and Hellenistic Periods, and The Votives of the Roman Period. The Museum opened its electronic gates (www.theacropolismuseum.gr) on Monday.


Once the Sacred Rock had been cleared of the ruins left behind from the Persian Wars, the Athenians quickly repaired the ruined temple of Athena Poliados and continued their worship. A new temple was not built on the Acropolis until the middle of the 5th century BC. At that time, Pericles launched a new construction program. He assigned the direction of all work on the Parthenon to the sculptor Pheidias and the program began in 447 BC. The temple, dedicated to the Athena Parthenos, was constructed in 15 years and was the collaborative work of a large number of architects, sculptors, painters and others.

The Monument

Architects Iktinos and Kallikrates designed the Parthenon, while for the carving of the sculptures, Pheidias collaborated with his pupils Agorakritos, Alkamenes and other great sculptors. Pheidias himself created the gold and ivory statue of the armed Goddess that adorned the cella interior.

The Parthenon architectural sculptures, namely the metopes, frieze and pediments, were made of Pentelic marble and were embellished with the addition of metal attachments and paint.

The Metopes

The 92 metopes were the first of the sculptural decoration to be made for the Temple. They were carved on the ground by different teams of sculptors and stone-cutters, who undertook the work in separate teams. Among them were also metics, (resident aliens), who had come to Athens mainly from the Aegean islands. This explains the slight differences of style in the metopes.

On the metopes of the Parthenon there are four main themes, known from the sculptures of many other Greek temples, as well as from various other works of art. The themes are connected with The Contest, the struggle between two adversaries, whoever they may be. This expression of The Contest is unsurpassed and stands as a symbol of the eternal fight between the opposing and counterpoised forces in nature, in human society and in the human soul.

The Pediments

The pediments, the triangular spaces formed by the horizontal and raking cornices of the roof at each end of the Temple, were the last parts of the building to receive sculptural decoration (437-432 BC). They comprised colossal statues in the round and the themes were drawn from Attic mythology.

The East pediment above the Temple entrance depicted the birth of the Goddess Athena from the head of her father, Zeus, in the presence of the Olympic gods. The West pediment illustrates the dispute between Athena and Poseidon for the claim of the land of Attica, a legendary fight that resulted in Athenas victory.

The Frieze

In contrast to the mythological subjects of the metopes and pediments, on the Parthenon frieze, Pheidias chose to depict the Great Panathenaia, the greatest festival of the city in honor of the Goddess Athena.

The frieze consisted of 115 blocks. It had a total length of 160 meters and was 1.02 meters high. Some 378 human figures and deities and more than 200 animals, mainly horses, are presented in the process. Groups of horses and chariots occupy most of the space on the frieze. The sacrificial procession follows next, with animals and groups of men and women carrying ceremonial vessels and offerings. The procession concludes with the giving of the peplos, the gift of the Athenian people to the cult statue of the goddess, a xoanon (ancient wooden statue). Left and right of the peplos scene sit the twelve gods of Mount Olympos.

From the entire frieze that survives today, 50 meters are in the Acropolis Museum, 80 meters in the British Museum, one block in the Louvre, and several fragments are scattered in the museums of Palermo, the Vatican, Vienna and Munich.

The campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles

Replicas of the Parthenon Marbles that are in the British museum are supplementing the original Marbles in Athens in the new Museum.

Greece has long been vigorously campaigning for the return of the priceless 5th century B.C. Parthenon Marbles — friezes and other architectural parts of the Parthenon — from the British Museum to Athens.

The Marbles, which date from between 447 BC and 432 BC, were removed from the Parthenon — the temple dedicated to the ancient goddess Athena that crowns the Acropolis — by British diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th century with the tacit permission of local Ottoman administrators then ruling in the area. Elgin removed the friezes and other parts of the impressive Parthenon temple and later sold them to the British Museum.

Greeces campaign for the repatriation of this important part of its cultural heritage has been consistently gaining support worldwide, with a plethora of national Committees for the return of the marbles having been created in a plethora of countries, including Britain.

An International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures has also been established. It is an association of various national committees with the shared goal of The reunification of all the surviving Parthenon Sculptures in the New Acropolis Museum in Athens where, as Greek President Karolos Papoulias said recently, there is a spot awaiting them, referring to the Museums Parthenon Galleries.

The International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures

In the week before the New Acropolis Museum opens, the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures wrote to both the British Museum and the British Government, reminding them of some of the facts surrounding the marbles. The letter, signed by the Chairman of the International Association, appears below:

On behalf of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures I would like to draw to your attention to the inauguration on June 20, 2009, of the magnificent new Acropolis Museum, which provides an ideal opportunity for the Parthenon sculptures currently held in the British Museum to be returned to Greece.

We believe the Parthenon sculptures could be returned to Athens in an arrangement that could be mutually beneficial to both Greece and the British Museum.

The International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures has member organisations in sixteen countries, including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Cyprus, Finland, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA. (www.parthenoninternational.org ). The International Association is a powerful indication of the growing and now overwhelming support around the world for the Parthenon sculptures to be returned to Greece.

The new Acropolis Museum has been designed specifically to allow for the proper exhibition of all of the surviving two and a half thousand- year – old sculptures of the Parthenon in their original configuration. This cannot be done in the Duveen Gallery of the British Museum, which is too small even for the Elgin collection to be correctly exhibited.

Also, more people now visit the Acropolis each year than visit the Parthenon Sculptures in the Duveen Gallery of the British Museum. The opening of the new Acropolis Museum and the prospect of reuniting the currently dispersed collection of Parthenon sculptures will provide yet further accessibility for the people of the world to study and enjoy the wonders of Classical Greece. The event also provides an opportunity for collaboration between two great cultures and two great institutions, the symbolism of which would further advance the standing of the British Museum as a museum of the twenty first century.

We would urge the British Museum to now investigate ways in which a cultural exchange agreement with Greece involving the return of the Parthenon sculptures could yield benefits to both the British Museum as well as Greece.


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