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Greek push for return of Parthenon Marbles March 18, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Shows & Conferences, Vote For Return Greek Marbles.
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Changes in museum policies and an increase in instances of cooperation between different countries for the repatriation of looted artifacts could pave the way for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, Culture Minister Michalis Liapis told an international conference in Athens yesterday.

“More and more museums are adopting tighter ethics codes and governments are promoting cooperation, so the ideal momentum is being created for clear solutions,” Liapis told the UNESCO event at the New Acropolis Museum.

Museum officials and archaeologists gave several examples of repatriated artifacts, such as the Obelisk of Axum, returned to Ethiopia from Rome in 2005. Experts also remarked upon the increase of works being smuggled out of war zones.

Christiane Tytgat, former curator at the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels and director of the Netherlands Institute in Athens, said the Parthenon Marbles, currently in the British Museum, should be sent back too.“I support their return unreservedly… this is where they belong,” Tytgat said.

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International conference at the New Acropolis Museum March 15, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Museums, Shows & Conferences, Vote For Return Greek Marbles.
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The place, the viewpoint and the general atmosphere of the conference on the return of cultural property for the first international meeting at the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.

15-03-08_new_acropolis_museum.jpg  The photograph is from the Greek Cultural Foundation’s leaflet ‘The New Acropolis Museum’

Nobody can stop an idea whose time has finally come. This blog has written on several occasions about how the issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles has gone from being a national demand to an international imperative, supported by leading figures from around the world who want to see the parts of the UNESCO-listed monument reunited.

But it will take more than being in the right to get back the marbles that Thomas Bruce, the seventh earl of Elgin, dismantled, stole and took away in 1801, when Athens was under Ottoman rule. With the permission of the sultan, Lord Elgin, then the British ambassador to Constantinople, had the Parthenon friezes cut up and transported to England, where they were bought by the British government. It, in turn, donated them to the British Museum in London where they have remained since.

What was needed, as Melina Mercouri told a plenary session of UNESCO in 1982, when, as the country’s Culture Minister, she initiated her campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, was “a new museum to house them,” given that the existing Acropolis Museum was already full. In order to build the Museum, Mercouri’s husband, the noted American-born French filmmaker Jules Dassin created the Melina Mercouri Foundation, to which he donated his fortune.

The state undertook the project, putting distinguished architect Dimitris Pantermalis at the helm. Renowned architect Bernard Tschumi collaborated with Greek architect Michalis Fotiadis in designing the project that is today coming to fruition opposite the Acropolis.

While the British Museum continues to insist that the Parthenon marbles should stay in the English capital where visitors from all over the world come to see them in the Duveen Gallery, its position is weakening. The upper floor of the New Acropolis Museum will showcase the surviving marbles, together with copies of those in the British Museum so as to show a complete picture of this matchless work of art.

This blog believes that they will return to their place of origin under pressure from the public and governments. One promising indication is that countries and museums around the world are starting to return works of art to the places from which they were removed due to wear, bombardment or illegal activities.

An international conference on the return of cultural property starts Monday, March 17, at the New Acropolis Museum, organized by UNESCO and the Greek Culture Ministry. It is the first in a series of international gatherings organized by UNESCO and its member states to foster awareness and provide a forum for reflection and exchanges on the issue of the return of cultural property.

Greek President Karolos Papoulias will attend the opening of the conference. Culture Minister Michalis Liapis and UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture Francoise Riviere will greet the participants. The event is coordinated by Vivi Vassilopoulou, the general manager of antiquities and cultural heritage at the Greek Culture Ministry.

For two days, the conference will address the issue, with examples ranging from Italy’s return of an obelisk to Ethiopia to the return by Edinburgh of Aboriginal remains to Australia. There’s a strong feeling among journalists that Elena Korka, the head of the Culture Ministry’s directorate of prehistoric and classical antiquities, will seize upon the opportunity presented by the conference to raise the issue of the Parthenon Marbles, because nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.

Awaiting the Marbles’ return, and Melina March 8, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Arts Museums, Vote For Return Greek Marbles.
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Ever since her grandfather, Spyros Mercouris, the Mayor of the Greek capital, used to take her out for a walk and tell her “This is your Athens”, Amalia-Melina Mercouri knew that this was her home town.

The woman who had everything – beauty, dynamism, an unquenchable thirst for life, love and service – managed to fit it all in to her glittering life, which was not without its shadows during the years of the dictatorship. Exiled to New York at the time, where she was starring on Broadway in a production of “Never on Sunday” she was at the head of all the demonstrations for freedom and democracy in Greece. Recruited to serve her country again in the government of Andreas Papandreou in the 1980s, she was the first to demand the return of the Parthenon sculptures from the British Museum.

Fourteen years ago on March 6, Melina died in New York after an operation. Her beloved companion, the film director Jules Dassin who gave up his career for her, also gave his fortune after her death to found the Melina Mercouri Foundation for the purpose of building a new Acropolis Museum, now completed.

08-03-08_melina.jpg  “When the sculptures come back to Athens, so will I,” she promised.

Acropolis Museum > A new home for old artifacts October 15, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Arts Museums.
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acropolis_moving_artifacts.jpg  A container with ancient artifacts inside is lowered from the Acropolis yesterday at the start of the process to transfer more than 4,000 antiquities from the Sacred Hill to the new Acropolis Museum some 400 meters away using three giant cranes.

The beginning of the historic operation was watched by hundreds of onlookers, including protesters who want the government to halt plans to knock down two listed buildings that are partially blocking the view of the Parthenon from the new Acropolis Museum, which is due to fully open to the public late next year.

Acropolis move > the transfer of the century October 13, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Arts Museums.
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Transfer of artifacts begins tomorrow > The transfer of antiquities from the old Acropolis to the new Acropolis Museum is set to begin tomorrow in an operation involving three giant cranes that will be used to transport thousands of artifacts. The museum is expected to be fully open to the public by the end of next year.

acropolis_move1.jpg  Ancient masterpieces moving houses. Some stress, others moan as controversial new Acropolis Museum enters final stretch for phased opening starting next year

It’s amply lit, spacious and brand new. But its greatest asset will be over two-and-a-half millennia old. The glass-and-marble purpose-built Acropolis Museum will tomorrow welcome the first of over 4,000 ancient treasures currently waiting in its cramped precursor on the hilltop in the heart of the city.

acropolis_move2.jpg  Following a successful dress rehearsal in front of dozens of anxious pairs of eyes earlier this week, a team of experts is ready to transfer a 2.5-ton marble sculpture, part of a frieze depicting a religious procession honoring Athena, the divine guardian of the ancient city.

Officials certainly hope they have the gods, as well as the weather, on their side. Save some heavy rain and strong winds or some technical snag, the transplant should be completed in six weeks’ time. Costs will hover at 1.6 million euros ($2.2 million), while the priceless antiquities have been insured for 400 million euros ($566 million). The artifacts will be ferried by a crane relay in what will be a meticulous and delicate process. Three 50-meter-tall cranes have been installed between the ancient temple and the new museum. Archaeologists and engineers will hold their breath as the carefully packed masterpieces will soar over the 5th century BC Theater of Dionysos before landing at their new home, which will open its doors in stages, beginning next year.

The modern structure looks like a big spaceship parked on top of the crammed Makriyianni district. Designed by the US-based Bernard Tschumi, it is one of the rare examples of monumental architecture in Greece. And, like most big architecture, it has not been without controversy. Even before the design emerged, there were doubts about the selected spot. The truth is that the decision to have a museum facing the ancient monument came with a hefty price. The building seems to be struggling for space, squeezed as it is within a sea of ugly concrete apartment buildings spread along the southern foot of the hill, as well as the heritage-listed Weiler Building.

Some blocks of flats were actually razed to make room for the gigantic newcomer, often prompting charges of dubious expropriation procedures from the exiled inhabitants. But no issue stirs greater controversy than the planned demolition of two listed buildings next to the entrance of the new Museum, a 1930s art deco structure and a neoclassic house, the property of Oscar-winning composer Vangelis Papathanassiou. The two buildings block the view to the Parthenon from the lower floors of the new Museum and the government insists that they must come down.

But most architects, with a majority of people apparently on their side, are campaigning to save the buildings. Some officials have suggested they may eventually try to preserve the facades and reconstruct the buildings elsewhere. «Demolishing them is unacceptable,» said Stella Ladi, who rents a flat near the site. «A tourist will visit the Museum and perhaps drink a coffee overlooking the Acropolis once in their lifetime. But the locals walk up Aeropagitou Street and see the houses every day.»

Critics say the Museum is too modern and out of tune with the trademark classical style of its impending collection. «The building doesn’t suit its surroundings. It’s ugly, out of place and extremely anti-ecological,» said Christina Karanatsi, who lives in the neighborhood. She fears that the the extensive glass surface implies a power-hungry building that will have a dire impact on the microclimate of the area.

The renowned architect has rejected criticism, at least the aesthetic side of it. «Some people have said it is disrespectful to the Parthenon not to have Doric columns, but I am not interested in imitating the Parthenon,» Tschumi has said, adding that his aim was for modern architecture to match its perfection in its own way.

Others say it’s a beautiful building, expressing the view that the customarily skeptical public will eventually come to embrace the museum. «Greeks are always like that. They never like anything new. But with time, the design will grow on them. I personally think it’s a great building,» said a worker at the site.

acropolis_move3.jpg  Only a few people have had a chance to check out the interior, but those who have agree it is imposing and aesthetically pleasing. Its 20,000 square meters (215,000 square feet) are spread over three levels. The ground floor hovers above the archaeological remains of the ancient neighborhood unearthed during construction. Extensive use of glass flooring incorporates the finds into the museum structure in a near-dizzying effect. The ground level is set to host temporary exhibitions and artifacts retrieved from the surrounding area. The first floor will host the Archaic and Roman galleries, while a bar and restaurant with a great view of the Acropolis will serve visitors on the mezzanine.

The most hyped hall of the museum however is the Parthenon Gallery, sitting on top of the building. A rectangular glass gallery will showcase the temple’s marbles, replicating their exact size and orientation. Visitors will get to see the items as they originally appeared.

But not all of them will be here. Copies of the friezes will be on display behind a symbolic, transparent veil in the place of those showcased at the British Museum in London. The artifacts, also known as the Parthenon Marbles, were removed in the early 19th century by the Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin when Greece was still under Ottoman occupation. Persistent calls for their repatriation since the early 1980s have fallen on deaf ears. Officials hope that the new Museum will help heighten the pressure on Britain to return the marbles, as one of the central arguments for their keeping them hostage, namely superior exposure, has been put to rest. «We are all obliged to intensify our efforts for the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum because only then will we have fulfilled our historic duty,» Culture Minister Michalis Liapis said after the test run.