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FOOD & TRAVEL

New Acropolis Museum highlights missing marbles

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece opens its long-anticipated new Acropolis Museum Saturday, boosting its decades-old campaign for the return of 2,500-year-old sculptures removed from the ancient citadel by a 19th century British diplomat.

After years of delays and legal wrangling, the museum opens its doors to the public on Sunday at a nominal euro1 ($1.40) charge — the price of a public bus ticket.

Saturday nights lavish opening ceremony, which comes with a nearly euro3 million ($4.1 million) price tag, is to be attended by foreign heads of state and government, whose attendance is seen as a tacit approval of the marbles return.

Confirmed guests include Recep Tayyip Erdogan — prime minister of Turkey, whose empire ruled Greece at the time the sculptures were looted.

The museum is the centerpiece of Greeces efforts to regain the Parthenon Marbles — sculptures that were part of a stunning 160-meter (525-foot) marble frieze of a religious procession that adorned the top of the ancient citadels grandest structure, the Parthenon.

The temple was built at the height of Athens glory between 447-432 B.C. in honor of the citys patron goddess, Athena.

Britains envoy, Lord Elgin, pried them off the building in the early 1800s while Greece was still an unwilling part of the Ottoman Empire. Facing bankruptcy, he eventually sold the artworks to the British Museum, where they have been displayed ever since.

This was an act of barbarism that can be corrected, museum director Dimitris Pantermalis said Friday. Its not an issue of pointing a finger at the British Museum, but of building bridges … that can correct the unfortunate historic event of 1800.

The return of the Parthenon, or Elgin, Marbles is an issue of national pride in Greece, and successive governments have waged a high-profile but so far fruitless campaign for their repatriation, saying the sculptures were looted from a work of art so important that its surviving pieces should all be exhibited together.

The British Museum has rejected repeated requests to send the marbles home, countering that it legally owns the collection and that it is displayed free of charge in an international cultural context.

I think they belong to all of us. We are all global citizens these days, said British Museum spokeswoman Hannah Boulton.

The Acropolis Museum is obviously going to be a fantastic new museum. … Its obviously going to be wonderful to finally be able to see all the sculptures that remain in Athens on public display, Boulton said. But … here in the British Museum, they can tell this equally important, although different story about ancient Athens place, in world cultures.

The British Museum says it only considers loan requests that recognize its ownership of artifacts, and that a loan would not be permanent nor include the whole collection.

Culture Minister Antonis Samaras has already rejected such a suggestion, saying instead he would be prepared to discuss lending Greek antiquities to the London museum to fill the gap left when the Marbles finally return to the place where they belong.

One of the main arguments against returning the sculptures had been a lack of an appropriate place to house them. Many maintained that by removing the marbles, Elgin had ultimately protected them from damage by acid rain and pollution.

But the new euro130 million ($180 million) glass and concrete museum at the foot of the ancient citadel is Greeces reply.

Holding more than 4,000 ancient works in 150,000 square feet (14,000 square meters) of display space, the museums highlight is its top story.

The glass hall displays the section of the Parthenon frieze that Elgin left behind, next to plaster casts of the works in London — which Greece hopes one day to replace with the originals from the British Museum.

In essence it will be a constant, silent denunciation of the Parthenon Marbles continued absence, Samaras said.

The new museum, the minister said, is a catalyst for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.

From the top floor, the wall of windows allows visitors to look directly onto the Acropolis. During the day, a reflection of the Parthenon shimmers from the top floor windows. By night, the illuminated sculptures seem to glow from inside.

It is a beautiful space that shows the frieze itself as a narrative — even with the plaster copies of what is in the British Museum — in the context of the Parthenon itself, said the buildings U.S.-based architect Bernard Tschumi.

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