Dimitrios Pandermalis talking about the new Acropolis Museum

Yesterday evening I went to the Mill Lane Lecture Rooms to attend the Severis Lecture about the new Acropolis Museum. Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis treated us to a informative and witty overview of the planning and construction of the museum.

Designed by the architects, Bernard Tschumi and Michael Photiadis, the building is a rather clever feat of engineering. Not only is it a very modern building using light and motion cleverly, it is also built in an earthquake zone and on top of that it wasn’t possible to allow it to have normal foundations.

When clearing the site, ancient ruins were uncovered. It would have been a sad state of affairs if these had just been concreted over, so they were incorporated into the building. This led to the tricky problem of foundations. Huge pillars were sunk into areas that archaeologists had excavated to ensure there were no remains. I guess it was lucky that part of the site had previously had military bunkers on, so no remains were found there, and this area at least offered a solid base for the foundations.

The museum is an interesting synthesis of the ancient and modern. It sits on an ancient road that led up to, affords wonderful views of and houses priceless ancient sculpture from the Acropolis. But it is a state-of-the-art modern building with a modern take on museology. As the Makrygianni excavations so elegantly demonstrate – its foundations are ancient but its approach is modern.

And like many modern things it’s controversial. Perhaps the most controversy it has caused is that it is a monument to a request the Greek government has been making for many years. They haven’t just built the museum to house their collection but also to try to convince the British government to return the Elgin Marbles – portions of a sculptured frieze that comes from the Parthenon temple. The top floor of the new museum, the part with the giant glass walls that give you the most fantastic views of the Acropolis, is home to an exact replica of the 160m-long frieze. 36 panels are originals – the rest are paster casts – a glaring challenge to the British government. The panels that the British Government have now have an interesting new home. The only question is will they get to see it?

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