Thursday 21 August 2014

The Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis Museum, Athens.

Designed by Bernard Tschumi and located near the base of the Acropolis in the Makryianni district, the museum is a wonderful building. The photograph above is a side view of the museum, as seen from the entrance to the metro.

This is the main entrance on Dionysou Aegopagitou street.

The protrusion of the roof like an arrow points straight to the Acropolis - one of the many devices that make explicit the relationship between this building and the Acropolis

As with everywhere else in Athens, any digging or excavation will uncover at least one layer of a previous civilization. The museum had to be mounted above ground on 100 huge reinforced-concrete pillars which allow you to survey the remnants of villas, drains, bathhouses and mosaics of the recently unearthed neighbourhood below. Parts of what has been revealed are exposed
as here, which is by the entrance. This is the section of a large building dating from the 7th century A.D., featuring a circular hall-tower, a dining area with three niches, a reception hall, a private bath, wells, cisterns and other utility or service areas.

Other parts of the excavations are covered with glass as here, which is also by the entrance, so that you can look down and see what has been revealed - these will eventually be opened to the public.

A better view in this photograph.

A small garden on the right,


and the old Military Hospital on the left.
Designed by Wilhelm von Weiler in 1836, this building is one of the first examples of the neo-classical style that was characteristic of Athenian architecture before developers moved in during the late 20th century and turned everything into concrete. Today, the building houses the administration offices of the museum.

One more (side) view of the entrance before going in,

Even though I have visited the museum a number of times, I had forgotten the security arrangements which are similar to those at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam: you have to put your stuff on a tray and then it gets X-rayed.

Much of the ground floor is made of glass so that natural light filters down to the excavations and gives the effect of transparency throughout.


Two terracotta Nikai dating from the 1st to the 3rd century A.D. face us before we go up the slope. They may have been architectural ornaments mounted at the apex of the pediment of an edifice on the southern slope of the Acropolis.

There are very complicated and confusing rules about taking photographs in the museum so the slope/ramp is not very clear from here

but you can see it more clearly from a photograph I took from the first floor where photography was allowed. The glass ramp echoes the slope of the Acropolis - a nice touch and one of many in this wondrous museum.

The collection is installed in chronological sequence, from pre-history through the late Roman period, reaching its high point with the Parthenon Frieze. The visitors' route is therefore a clear, three-dimensional loop, going from the lobby to the double-height galleries for the Archaic period, culminating to the Parthenon gallery, then back down to the Roman Empire galleries and out towards the Acropolis itself.

First floor - the Archaic period

looking out: the museum entrance, and the Acropolis in the distance


looking out at the von Weiler building with the Magic Sphere inside

Magic Sphere, 2-3 centuries A.D.
On the sphere are presented the god Helios, a lion, a dragon and magical symbols. It was found buried near the Theatre of Dionysos which hosted duels and other contests. It has been suggested that the sphere was used in magic to achieve victory in these contests.

Statue of Athena


Head of female statue, 2nd cent. A.D., representing a goddess, perhaps Aphrodite. The colour that has leaked below her eyes is probably a product of the oxidation of the statue's bronze eyelashes.

And while walking along the gallery, one keeps looking out - it's its immediate and constant connection to the ancient monument that it relates to, that makes this museum so fantastic

looking out and down at the excavations by the entrance


part of the frieze from the Temple of Athena Nike

looking closer


On a balcony, in the centre of the first floor, stand the caryatids from the Erechtheion - a focal point

and as seen from the third floor


This is a building made predominantly out of glass and this includes all the interior floors so that at any time you can look down and see what is happening below, or look up and see people walking on the floor above

The other side of the first floor is dominated by this big gallery where archaic and early classical statues mill about like a crowd in an agora.

I took this photograph just before being told that photography was not allowed in this section of the  first floor


so I took another from the first floor

The restaurant is on the second floor and this includes a terrace that affords great views of the surrounding area

including the Acropolis 
and Lycabettus hill


zooming in


 Philopappou hill

as well as of the building itself.


The escalator takes us to the third floor

The sculptures from the Parthenon are housed in this light and airy gallery. This floor has the precise dimensions of the Parthenon, it's oriented to face it directly on the hillside opposite, and attempts to recreate the outer series of metopes showing mythological battles and the inner frieze depicting a procession of Athenians paying homage to Athena. Originals from the Parthenon frieze, the ones Elgin left behind, are combined with plaster casts of what's in London.

The Parthenon gleams through the wraparound windows.

The high-relief metopes are arranged above head height (they are supposed to be seen from below) and the frieze is running at eye level along the innermost wall. This does not only allow one to follow the frieze round the four walls and see the sculpted tale unfold, but it also creates a natural wish to see the actual re-assembly completed, so see the whole before parts were so crudely amputated.


At any time you can turn your head to look up and across at the architectural context for which the originals were carved.


This is a wonderful building, not just because it's so light and airy, beautifully designed and absolutely gorgeous, but also because it's in constant dialogue with the ancient monument that it serves.
When I started writing this post, (and it has taken me a while, mainly because I had so many photographs and so much information, and needed to condense it to a post that was not too long while at the same doing justice to this wonderful building), I had decided not to engage in the debate about the marbles that are still in London. Then, coincidentally, Jonathan Jones' article appeared in the Guardian and it felt like an omen, so I changed my mind. Jones had previously argued that the sculptures should stay in London, but having seen the museum he has changed his mind. 'The great thing about the Acropolis Museum's display of the Parthenon sculptures - which currently includes pieces left by Elgin, plus casts - is that it makes it easy to see how the sculptures fitted on the building, and how they work as an ensemble. It also has one advantage London can never rival - you can look from the sculptures to the museum's glass wall and see the Parthenon itself, making a sensual connection between the art and its architectural home'. What matters, says Jones is 'the best way to show this stupendous art so everyone can feel its power... ' Athens 'deserves to be custodian of the world's greatest art, for the world. And for art'.

You can read the whole of the article here.



  1. Eirene, the museum looks absolutely stupendous, and I'm delighted that at last the Parthenon and the Acropolis, and Athens generally, has such a wondrous resource. Thank you for your photographs.
    I wonder if the Dora Stratou dancers still perform on Philoupappou - I suppose she herself is probably no longer alive. Every time I visited Athens as a youngster one uncle would take me there, and another would take me to a classical concert at the foot of the Acropolis.

    1. It's a great museum Olga, and I don't know if I did it justice in my post - it's amazing being in there - those glass floors, the light pouring in, the minimalism....

      More uncles... what an amazing extended family you must have! Do you ever see any of them now, I wonder?

      I was taken to every concert, dance production and ancient Greek play that was on at the Irodou Attikou theatre (I presume that this is where you went for the classical concerts) from the age of 7 until I hit adolescence. I used to go with my mother: we had complimentary tickets because my father was an archaeologist and always sat on the second row. I fell in love with the tragedies.

      I have never seen the Dora Stratou dancers, but the company's apparently still going strong. Here's the link:

  2. Yes, the concert uncle was really a great uncle - he had played the cello when he lived in Trepizond. The concert which still stays in my memory is Vivaldi's Four Seasons played by I Musucci. Both uncles are dead now, as are almost all of the folks who were around in Greece when I was a child. So many were childless - and the majority of them were the remnants of my grandmother's generation or older from Trepizond or Russia.
    Amazing that the Dora Stratou company are still going. My uncle was trying to fill me full of Greek tradition! He even once gave me one of those machines into which was put a circular collection of 'slides' to click round. Those were regional Greek costumes. He would also give me a costume doll every year. I recently gave the collection to my cousin's nieces - with their tablets and iphones they were very sniffy about them!

    1. Amazing that you kept the collection of dolls. This was a side of Greek culture I never had anything to do with. I remember we had to learn traditional Greek dances in primary school and then on sports day we would have to perform them. I have pictures of myself and of my sister dancing away on sports day - I don't remember any of the boys having to dance, and I now wonder if it was just the girls who had to do that. I used to hate it.